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Course Overview

This semester-long course provides the basic foundation for understanding both the components and evolution of the universe as well as the way in which these are studied. Students will gain an understanding of the many different scales in which we study the universe, from the local planetary neighborhood, to the solar system, our own Milky Way Galaxy, and the local group of galaxies, up to the largest known scales of the universe including galaxy filaments, made up of galaxy sheets and walls and supercluster complexes, and the even larger voids between them. They will learn about the processes by which these different scales of the universe come into existence and evolve and the many paths that have led to our understanding of all of this.

Course Content

Unit 1: Observing & Measuring in Astronomy

The focus of this unit is on setting students up for success as they do observational astronomy while learning astronomy fundamentals. Students will explore the size of our solar system. They will learn how astronomers, including Galileo, Kepler and Brahe, have contributed to our understanding of our universe. Finally, the students will dig into how the light and radiation emitted from objects in the universe can help us to understand their properties without ever leaving Earth.

During this unit, students will set up their observation journals, which they will maintain throughout the semester, by recording their observations, using Stellarium and other night sky apps as guides. Students will also create scale models of the solar system using materials of their choice to demonstrate their understanding of seasons, lunar phases, eclipses, tides and the need for a celestial coordinate system as opposed to simply using longitude and latitude. They will submit a reflection document after completing a PhET simulation on Blackbody Radiation.

Unit 2: The Solar System

This unit is project based. Students will be given a set of resources to begin their work on a group project on the solar system, but will have to add to this list to complete the project. They will work collaboratively in small groups to research several key components crucial to understanding our solar system, including chemical composition and internal structure of each planet, comets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt, the Oort cloud, and dwarf planets.

Students will work together to produce a video designed to teach others about the solar system. They will be given checkpoints throughout the project to submit an outline and list of resources prior to submitting their final video. Students will be given a set of criteria to include in their videos. Final projects will be graded based on the accuracy of information, inclusion of recent research regarding the solar system, and production quality.

Unit 3: Stars & Celestial Distances

This unit begins with an in depth look at the sun’s structure and atmosphere. They will then turn their focus to stars in general, studying basic properties including, temperature, masses, energy produced, spectra and motion. Finally, the students will learn how astronomers determine the mass of stars using binary star systems and Newton’s version of Kepler’s third law.

To demonstrate mastery throughout this unit, students will produce an infographic to share with their peers that compares the sun’s properties to the Earth’s, including Mass, Diameter, Temperature, Rotational Period. They will also build and complete a table to classify stars based on their spectra. Finally, the students will develop their own system for classifying stars based on their spectra and submit an explanation of their system and an example of how it functions.

Unit 4: Stellar Evolution

In this unit, students will explore how stars are made from raw materials present in the solar system. They will work with an H-R diagram to determine the age of a star based on its luminosity and temperature. Students will also learn how exoplanets are discovered and explore the most current research on exoplanets. Finally, students will investigate the role of globular clusters to help understand the processes of stellar evolution.

In addition to the student’s observation journal entries, they will work through and submit answers to high level questions that require them to demonstrate mastery of stellar evolution and perform relevant calculations. They will also complete a project on globular clusters, where they will evaluate the color and brightness of the stars in the Jewel Box star cluster to determine the age of the cluster. They will submit their plotted measurements to Blackboard with their analysis of the cluster age.

Unit 5: Cosmology

During this unit, students will explore Einstein’s general theory of relativity to support their understanding of spacetime and gravity. They will apply this knowledge as they explore black holes and the Milky Way galaxy. They will then work to learn the properties of galaxies and classify them based on their visual appearances. This unit finishes up with the students applying their knowledge of galaxies to explore further how galaxies interact with one another as well as working to understand how astronomers determine the size of the universe.

Understanding of this unit’s content will be determined by students submitting reflection documents where they answer questions from the online text. In addition, they will create a presentation that demonstrates their knowledge of Quasars and black holes. Finally, they will watch several videos in order to develop a written argument for the expansion of the universe. This argument will include evidence from the provided resources as well as their own conclusions.