Stonehenge to Hubble: An Introduction to Astronomy

Discipline: Astronomy
Instructor: Campbell
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 08:00
End: 09:15
Field Work: Day multiple days at sea | Stonehenge to Hubble: An Introduction to Astronomy Download Syllabus

Astronomy, one of the oldest of the sciences, is also one of the most all-encompassing – it comprises modern astro-physics and ancient mythology; it deals with both the largest of scientific scales of distance (inter-galactic space) and also with the smallest (subatomic particles); it ranges from the eminently practical (marine navigation) to the philosophically challenging (the concept of space/time and the origins of matter). It is also a subject that makes a grand life-long avocation – an avocation that can provide pleasure to oneself, one’s family members and one’s friends. This course seeks to provide a smorgasbord of these various aspects of the subject. We will begin with a description of what we can see from the ship’s decks by day and by night, to wit: the Sun, the Moon and the planets, stars, star clusters, galaxies, shooting stars, etc. We will distinguish between ‘asterism’ and ‘constellation’ and, partly in class, partly on deck at night as the voyage progresses, we will learn how to recognise major constellations. Ancient constellational mythology will be introduced. The second topic of the course will deal with how humankind has used celestial events practically to chart the passage of time – days, months, years – and to predict the arrival of the seasons. We will look at calendar development. As an off-shoot of this topic and as part of the course’s field work, students will use a sextant to determine the position (latitude and longitude) of the ship on those days we are at sea. The third topic of the course will deal with the history of our understanding of what this universe of ours, actually is. We will focus on the thinking of Plato, Aristotle and Ptolemy, noting how their models were incorporated into the Medieval Christian (Vatican) canon of belief. We will then turn to the Renaissance thinking of Copernicus, Brache, Kepler and Galileo, outlining their heliocentric model of our solar system. The Inquisitional trials of Galileo will be studied. The insights of Newton and Einstein on the nature of gravity and astronomical space-time will also be covered. The last part of the course will review the life-histories of stars, large and small, and our modern understanding of the ‘Big Bang’. So will our journey from “from Stonehenge to Hubble” be completed.

Field Work

Day: multiple days at sea

Using a sextant to determine the ship's position. On the first day of class, I will group class-members in pairs and assign them observation dates. If the sky is/becomes overcast on any given day, I will reschedule the observation for the group affected. On Day 1, I will also demonstrate how a sextant is used, how to take the readings and how to process the data. Complete instructions will also be found in the Lecture Notebook available in the ship's Bookstore (Lecture Topic 7). Within 7 days of data collection students will provide me with (a) their graph of solar altitude readings against time and (b) a record of their calculations of the ship's position. The quality of the submitted material will constitute 5% of the student's final grade. Part B: Practical observation of the night sky. This second practical aspect of the course will be run evenings (2200-2300 usually) at sea on Deck 8 forward on the ship, provided the weather is suitable. Thereon, with prior arrangement with the ship's captain, we will be able to douse the ship's lights to allow better viewing of the sky. I will introduce students to the major constellations and asterisms in both the northern and southern hemispheric skies; teach students, through use of asterisms, how to navigate their way around the northern and southern hemispheric skies; highlight for students, celestial features such as: five of the eight solar system planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), the Galileo Moons of Jupiter, optical and true binary stars, variable stars, open and globular star clusters, gas/planetary nebulæ, the two Magellanic Clouds, the Milky Way and other galaxies. Over the voyage, students will be required to log six (6) hours at such sessions. A student 'log' will consist of a written, dated record of each of six evening sessions. I will allow students to replace one of the required hours by validated attendance at other astronomy presentations, for instance, the Kagga Kama overnight field trip in South Africa and any single meteor shower viewing. The quality of the submitted 'log' will constitute 15% of the student's final grade.