Ronen Plesser


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Course Description

In this class we will take a lightning tour through our understanding of the universe and a bit of the history of how we came to know this. Our primary interest will be to gain an understanding of the nature of astronomical objects: planets, stars, stellar remnants,galaxies, clusters, and ultimately the universe as a whole. To do this we will need to become familiar with some aspects of modern physics, starting with Newtonian mechanics and moving through waves, electromagnetism, elementary statistical physics, atomic physics and quantum mechanics, special and general relativity, and particle physics. Those that are not familiar to students already will be introduced at a level adapted to students' command of physics and the relevant mathematics.

Unit 1: Positional Astronomy

We will begin with a quick survey of the apparent motions of the sky, the way we designate the position of celestial objects and the observations we can understand from these concepts: lunar phases, eclipses, seasonal variations, and precession of the equinoxes.

Unit 2: Newton's Universe

Newtonian physics revolutionized the way we understand our Universe. We will discuss Newtons laws of mechanics, the conservation laws that follow from them, as well as his theory of gravity and some applications to Astronomy. Exactly how we do this unit will depend on what students alreadt know about physics, as well as their command of calculus and multivariate calculus.

Unit 3: Modern Physics

We will look at some properties of radiation and the features of quantum mechanics relevant to our course. This will be a particularly busy and challenging unit, but hard work here will pay o later. Again, how much we assume and how deep we go will depend on students' previous experience.

Unit 4: Solar Systems

We will not have time in this course to do any justice to the broad and exciting field of planetary science. We will spend some time on a general review of the properties and structure of our Solar System and our understanding of its origins and history. We will end with some discussion of the exciting discoveries over the past decade of many hundreds of extrasolar planets.

Unit 5: Stars

What we know about stars and a bit about how we found out. We will begin with a quick review of the best-studied star of all, our Sun. We will then talk about classifications; H-R diagrams and main sequence stars; distance, mass, and size measurements; binaries; clusters; and stellar evolution through the main sequence.

Unit 6: Stella Evolution

Early and final stages of stellar evolution and stellar remnants. Giants, white dwarves, novae, variable stars, supernovae, neutron stars and pulsars.

Unit 7: Relativity and Black Holes

We will spend most of this unit acquiring an understanding of the special theory of relativity. We will then discuss the general theory in a qualitative way, and discuss its application to black holes, gravitational lensing, and other phenomena of interest.

Unit 8: Galaxies

Galactic structure and classification. Active galactic nuclei, quasars and blazars. Galactic rotation curves and dark matter. Galaxy clusters and large-scale structure.

Unit 9: Cosmology

What we can say about the universe as a whole. Hubble Expansion. Big bang cosmol- ogy. The cosmic microwave background. Recent determination of cosmological parameters. Early universe physics.