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.
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