Astronomy Education Opportunity

Rita D'Angelo

Ever think about taking an astronomy course at the local college? Ever want to learn more about the theory behind what you're looking at through a telescope? I did, so I took "Introduction to Astronomy" during the Spring 2004 semester at the College of Lake County.

The course was meant to provide an overview of astronomy. And it certainly met (and, in my opinion, exceeded) its objective. Topics included: The Scale of the Universe, Influences of the Moon and Eclipses, Archaeoastronomy, Tools of Astronomy, The Nature of Light and Radiation, Atomic Structure, The Sun, Nebulae and Star Formation, Main Sequence Stars, Stellar Death/Supernovae, Neutron Stars, Black Holes, The Milky Way, Galaxies, AGN and Quasars, The Nature of the Universe, Cosmology, Planetary Sciences, and Life in the Universe. The textbook for the course was Horizons, Exploring the Universe by Michael Seeds, published in 2004. I thought it was an excellent text (we had read the entire text by the end of the semester) which explains complex phenomena clearly, and it includes some great photos.

The course met two nights per week for two hours for 16 weeks. It consisted of lectures, indoor and outdoor labs with the college's telescopes, five exams, and a small project at the end of the semester. Although the number of outdoor labs was dictated by weather conditions, the indoor labs provided some hands on telescope time too. Both indoor and outdoor labs were required to be documented in an observation notebook. I would estimate that the course was 80% lecture and 20% lab. So if you're looking for a course that focuses primarily on the hands-on use of the equipment, then this course is not for you. If you want some hands on experience mixed in with an overview of the science of astronomy, then I think you'd be happy with this course. I did not audit the class (i.e., I did all the work and took the exams), which was rather time consuming, however, I believe I learned much more that way.

The biggest difference I have noticed since taking the class is that I get more enjoyment out of observing the night skies with my own telescope. I believe this is due to the deeper understanding that I now have as a result of taking this class. The class is not offered every semester, and when it is, it's popular. So if you're considering it, I suggest you register early. Enjoy!

Published in the August 2004 issue of the NightTimes