Physics 1060: Introduction to Stars & Galaxies....Fall 2007

Instructor: Kirk Korista
Office: 2226 Everett Tower
Office phone: 387-4971
Physics Department Office: 1120 Everett Tower
Physics Department phone: 387-4940
Western Michigan University home page is here

This course's textbook: The Essential Cosmic Perspective (4th Edition) by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, & Voit. To gain access to Mastering Astronomy, our textbook's wonderful on-line tutorial, go to the above webpages and click on our book. If you haven't registered with the on-line tutorial, then do so using the access code number printed in Mastering Astronomy packet, included with your textbook if you bought it new. First time users will be asked to register and to set a login name and password. If you bought your textbook used, and you want access to this optional yet valuable on-line tutorial, you'll have to purchase an access code on-line (click on "buy now") for $27. We have received tremendous positive feedback from students who have taken advantage of our book's on-line tutorial. If you bought your textbook new, you've already paid for the service, so why not check it out? If not, you might consider paying the extra little bit or working with a buddy who has access to the site.

image of Earth from billions of miles away
What is this?->
The white dot of light is Earth as photographed in 1990 by the Voyager 1 from more than 4 billion miles away (the band of light in the center of the image is due to scattered light in the camera due to the glare of the Sun, just off to the top). Read this very short essay, Reflections on a Mote of Dust, by Carl Sagan, and then think for a bit. Moving at a speed relative to the Sun of over 50,000 mph, Voyager 1 is now over 15 billion km (100 AU) away from home.

Earth and Moon as observed by Cassini Orbiter at Saturn
This pale, blue dot (a dot of light appearing above and to the left of Saturn's bright outer rings, with enlarged view inside upper left box) is the Earth (the Moon is seen as a 'bulge' on Earth) as observed from Saturn (it's outer ice rings seen here) by the Cassini orbiter, 1.4 billion km distant. In the cold, vast, empty void of space - that dot is all we've got.

Some quotable quotes about the scientific process

Science is built up with facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house. -Jules Henri Poincare is not a database of unconnected factoids but a set of methods designed to describe and interpret phenomena, past or present, aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation. -Michael Shermer (Scientific American, September 2002)

Like all sciences, astronomy advances most rapidly when confronted with exceptions to its theories.... -from Modern Astrophysics (Bradley Carroll & Dale Ostlie)

Science is a way of trying not fooling yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool. -Richard P. Feynman (Physics Nobel Laureate)

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars - mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is 'mere'. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination - stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern - of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent? - Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988), Physics Nobel Laureate, from The Feynman Lectures on Physics, 1963.

People may come along and argue philosophically that they like one better than another, but we have learned from much experience that all philosophical intuitions about what nature is going to do fail. - Richard P. Feynman, Physics Nobel Laureate.

It seems to me that what’s at issue (at the end of the day) between serious investigators of the foundations of quantum mechanics and the producers of the “what the bleep” movies is very much of a piece with what was at issue between Galileo and the Vatican, and very much of a piece with what was at issue between Darwin and the Victorians. There is a deep and perennial and profoundly human impulse to approach the world with a DEMAND, to approach the world with a PRECONDITION, that what has got to turn out to lie at THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE, that what has got to turn out to lie at THE FOUNDATION OF ALL BEING, is some powerful and reassuring and accessible image of OURSELVES. That’s the impulse that the "What the Bleep" films seem to me to flatter and to endorse and (finally) to exploit - and that, more than any of their particular factual inaccuracies - is what bothers me about them. It is precisely the business of resisting that demand, it is precisely the business of approaching the world with open and authentic wonder, and with a sharp, cold eye, and singularly intent upon the truth, that’s called science. - David Alpert, physicist and philosopher of science at Columbia University.

I always discuss the words, "It’s only a theory" by saying that for practical purposes that’s the same as saying "It’s only science", and the price we can pay for such contempt for science is high. - Michael Peshkin, physicist (2006, Physics Today, July, p. 46)

  • A wonderful, yet brief, essay describing what science is and how it works
  • Do you know the difference between science and pseudoscience? If you don't, read this.
  • Do "unlikely" events confuse you? Then read this and this.
  • What's wrong with teaching "intelligent design" in the science classroom? and where's the science in ID?
  • An example of how ignorance and lack of critical thinking skills can it!
  • What's that, you say? Astrology is rubbish?
  • And why should anybody care about Physics? How does it affect the life of the average person?

  • Class Announcements

    Exam essentials...
    Reading assignments, important dates, supplementary notes, sample exam questions, and other timely announcements...

    Unit 1 Introduction and Tools of Astronomy Reading Assignment:  Become familiar with the existence of Appendices A (a list physical and astronomical constants) and B (a summary of many of the equations used in text). If you think your math skills and metric units knowledge might be rusty, then definitely read Appendix C (math and units review - especially C.5 Finding a Ratio). Chapter 1 (all - it introduces the key concepts of the "astronomical unit" and "light year", describes our place in cosmic space and time, and paints a broad overview of what's to come); Ch. 2 (just two small sections: Section 2.1 through "Constellations", and "Angular Sizes and Distances"); the short discussion of "The Magnitude System" on pp. 304-305; Ch. 3 (3.1 to middle of p. 56, then section 3.4, and finally section 3.3 with special emphasis on "Kepler's Laws" of planetary motion); Ch. 4 (through "Escape Velocity" on pp. 97-98); Figure 6.26 on p.170 (and the accompanying text), and Chapter 5 (section 5.1 through "The Many Forms of Light", and section 5.3). These readings constitute Unit 1and you are responsible for this material plus what we cover in lecture.

    Unit 2 Light, Matter, and the Observed Properties of Stars Reading Assignment: review the subsection "Thermal Energy" on pp. 91-92 in Chapter 4, Chapter 5 (section 5.1 beginning with "What is Matter?", and section 5.2; pp.122-123 provide a nice summary of how we interpret light spectra), page 142 ("The Sun" in Chapter 6), Chapter 10 (in 10.1: "What's the Sun's structure" up to and including "The Sun's Atmosphere" on pp. 281-282, and section 10.3: "The Sun-Earth Connection" up to and including "The Sunspot Cycle" on pp. 293-294), and Chapter 11 (sections 11.1 and 11.2 only). These readings constitute Unit 2 and you are responsible for this material plus what we cover in lecture.

    Unit 3 Stars: How They Work and Their Life Stories Reading Assignment:  Chapter 10 (all of sections 10.1 and 10.2), Chapter 11 (11.2 - review all, but especially the discussions of "Masses of Main-Sequence stars" and "Stellar Lifespans"), Chapter 12 (all except "How are the lives of stars with close companions different?" in 12.4), Table 14.1 on p.390 (in connection to the discussion of star formation in 12.1), Section 11.3 of Chapter 11, and Chapter 13 (13.1 up to the top of p. 357, 13.2 - just "What is a neutron star?", and 13.3 to the middle of p. 365).  Finally, pp. 346-347 and 376-377 provide some excellent summaries on the workings and evolution of stars. These readings constitute Unit 3 and you are responsible for this material plus what we cover in lecture.

    Also, you may want to look at the recommended articles in the Universal Inquirer section (below) relevant to this unit. I have also written a  highly recommended overview of how main sequence stars work and an overview of why stars evolve as they age, and eventually die.

    Unit 4 Galaxies & Cosmology Reading Assignment:  Chapter 14 (14.1, 14.2: skim to p. 391, then read pp. 392-394, and 14.3), Chapter 15 (15.1, 15.2, 15.3), Chapter 16 (16.1, 16.2 through p. 443 and then skim rest of this section, plus 16.3), Chapter 17 (17.1, 17.2 and 17.4). Note: the word "skim" does not mean "skip". A nice summary of the evolution of structure in the universe is provided on pp. 492-493. These readings constitute Unit 4 and you are responsible for this material plus what we cover in lecture. Roughly 45 questions on the Final exam will cover Unit 4.

    Review session for Final Exam:  TBA, in 1104 Rood Hall.

    Final Exam (about 100 questions, comprehensive, i.e., it covers all 4 units): TBA. Bring a couple of #2 pencils and an eraser. As on the unit exams, no calculator will be necessary or allowed.

    The Universal Inquirer...inquiring minds1 want to know...

    Unit 1
    Unit 2
    Unit 3
    Unit 4
    1And students with inquiring minds generally earn higher scores on the exams...The "Recommended" articles might prove helpful toward improving your overall understanding in this class. The other articles discuss topics related to those in class, but are provided only for the very curious.

    The following set of links contain information on topics related to but beyond the content of this course. Nevertheless, some of you may find them interesting.

    Your Chance to view through a telescope
  • Free Public Telescopic Observing Sessions of the night sky for 2007 at the Kalamazoo Nature Center (usually beginning after twilight, if skies are clear; here is a map), sponsored by the Kalamazoo Astronomical Society (KAS). I am a member and often go to these events. Here is the scheduled list of events.

  • For all observing sessions: dress appropriately; events are outdoors, and there are no restroom facilities. The KAS will supply the telescopes; all you need is a pair of eyes. However, if you have binoculars or your own telescope, feel free to bring it out. KAS members will also be happy to help you use your telescope.

    A few selected web sites relevant to astronomy

    A link to the web page of other introductory astronomy course I teach, Physics 1040
    My personal page on the issue of light pollution
    The Kalamazoo Astronomical Society (local amateur astronomy club) page is here
    Astronomy Picture of the Day

    The musings of a a local amateur astronomer
    All the latest and greatest from the Hubble Space Telescope
    The new sciences of astrobiology and astrochemistry - finding life's building blocks in the cosmos.
    See the Earth having a bad day.
    An editorial from the Kalamazoo Gazette, March 12, 1998, illustrating a common misunderstanding of how science works (and a poor understanding of cosmology), and here is my response to that editorial, Viewpoint March 25, 1998.

    Some really cool JAVA animation demos in astronomy concepts are here & here.
    Another really nice set of computer simulations illustrating the concept of an expanding universe and cosmological redshift (towards the bottom).

    Links to Astronomical Images, Movies, Demos....

    This is the best part of the class web pages. While I'll be showing many of these in class, you should feel free to browse them on your own. You may find them both useful and wonderful, and they are found here.

    Kirk Korista
    Professor of Astronomy
    Department of Physics
    Western Michigan University
    Kalamazoo, MI 49008-5252