by Michael Wright
The Internet has made delivering training courses easy for teachers and professors so that students and adult learners now have many options in addition to books for studying their chosen topic. This is true for astronomy too. Any amateur astronomer that would like to brush up on the hobby or deepen their knowledge has many options to do it in front of their computer or TV, or even in their car. Here’s a sampling.
CrashCourse – Astronomy – This collection of 46 videos produced and hosted by Phil Plait, author of the “Bad Astronomy” book and blog, is available on YouTube. These entry-level presentations cover everything that a beginner needs to get started in the hobby including naked eye observing, telescopes, the solar system, deep sky objects and cosmology. Thanks to John Miller for suggesting this video set.
Udemy – This astronomy for beginners course is presented by Professor Chris Impey of Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. It is intended for beginners and anyone who wants to learn more about recent astronomical discoveries. Thanks to Prasad Ganti for recommending this course.
Astronomy Cast – One can absorb a tremendous amount of knowledge by listening while commuting to work or school. With advent of podcasts, one can download a show on almost any topic to an MP3 player and listen in the car. Twenty minutes of commute time everyday adds up quickly, so before you know it, you’ve completed a semester-long course in astronomy.
Check out Astronomy Cast by Prof. Pamela Gay and Fraiser Cain. Pamela is an assistant research professor of Physics at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Fraiser Cain is the publisher of the Universe Today website.
As of 6/15/2015, 380 excellent podcasts are available on various astronomy topics. The solar system tour were my favorites (episodes 49 to 52, 55 to 57, 59 and 61 to 65). Topics include “The Fermi Paradox: Where Are All the Aliens?”, “Lagrange Points”, “Building a Career in Astronomy”, “How Amateurs Can Contribute to Astronomy” and “A Universe of Dark Energy.” Pick and choose the topics that interest you. Another podcast is available every week or two.
Great Courses offers adult learning courses made up of 30-min video lectures by prominent college professors. The course come on DVDs or streamed online to your computer or iPad. I have not take their astronomy courses, but those that I have taken on other topics are very well presented.
- Our Night Sky by Edward M. Murphy covers the basics of observing the night sky in 12 video lectures.
- Skywatching: Seeing and Understanding Cosmic Wonders by Alex Filippenko covers naked-eye observing in 12 lectures including one on observing from a dark-sky site.
- Understanding the Universe: an Introduction to Astronomy by Alex Filippenko is a comprehensive astronomy course that covers everything from rainbows to the multiverse in 96 lectures. This one is bit expensive, but the Mercer County library system has copy for loan.
If you are really ambitious and would like to earn a degree, Swinburne Astronomy Online (SAO) is a fully online postgraduate degree program in astronomy run by the Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing and the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. It concentrates on the fundamental concepts of and key issues in contemporary astronomy. According to its website, it is “designed for science educators and communicators, people working in astronomy related fields, amateur astronomers, and anyone with a love of astronomy.”
I took the Great Courses course “Our Night Sky” by Ed Murphy. It is OK but not great. Significant amount of time is spent in talking about the myths behind the constellations rather than navigating them in the sky. I liked the Udemy course by Prof. Chris Impey of University of Arizona. I also took other courses from Great Courses. The “Big History” by David Christian and “Experiencing Hubble” by David Meyer. Both these courses are very good.