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Duke University

Introduction to Astronomy

Duke University via Coursera

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In this class, we will be studying, quite literally, everything in the universe.  We will start with "classical" astronomy, describing the night sky and organizing what we see as was done in ancient times.  We will then embark on a journey, starting here on Earth and progressing outward, to study the Solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the wonderful and strange objects we observe in deep space, such as black holes, quasars, and supernovae.  We will end with some discussion of what scientists know today about the universe as a whole.  Along the way we will introduce some of the methods, theoretical and experimental, that have been used to understand all of this, from Newton's laws, through our understanding of light and matter, to Einstein's theory of relativity, and from Galileo's telescope to WMAP.


Week 1: Positional Astronomy (naked-eye Astronomy)
We will spend our first week familiarizing ourselves with descriptions of the positions and motions of celestial objects.

Weeks 2-3: Newton’s Universe
Newtonian physics revolutionized the way we understand our Universe.  We will discuss Newton’s laws of mechanics, the conservation laws that follow from them, his theory of gravity and some applications to Astronomy, as well as some properties of radiation.  The last clip will be a quick look at the features of quantum mechanics relevant to our course.  This will be a particularly busy and challenging unit, but hard work here will pay off later.

Week 4: Planets
We will not have time in this course to do justice to the broad and exciting field of planetary science.  We will spend the week 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.

Week 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

Week 6: Post-Main-Sequence Stars
Final stages of stellar evolution and stellar remnants.   Giants, white dwarfs, novae, variable stars, supernovae, neutron stars and pulsars.

Week 7: Relativity and Black Holes
We will spend most of this week 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.

Week 8: Galaxies
Galactic structure and classification.  Active galactic nuclei, quasars and blazars.  Galactic rotation curves and dark matter.  Galaxy clusters and large-scale structure.

Weeks 9-10: Cosmology
What we can say about the universe as a whole.  Hubble Expansion.  Big bang cosmology. The cosmic microwave background.  Recent determination of cosmological parameters.  Early universe physics.

Taught by

Ronen Plesser


3.7 rating, based on 18 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Introduction to Astronomy

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Sorry cannot like this class. The lectures are good to watch, and the Professor is enthusiastic about his subject, but the homeworks have little in common with the videos you've just watched. I was spending 20 hours on the homework alone. The homewo…
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I have a poor experience with this course. The instructor was difficult to listen and understand. The instructor did not seem to be aware of his speech pattern which made the course difficult to learn. I have to agree with previous reviewer, the homework has nothing to do with lectures and seems to be there to discourage students. The worst part is, I feel I could complete this course with little trouble, except I was not given the tools to complete the work. I have a science degree and I am very interested in the subject. I am very disappointed in this course.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Great class! Started out by describing the principles of navigation/locating astronomical features, then went into describing the solar system. Before long, we were deep into astronomical physics and my concept of matter and the universe had changed.

    This class is very math-centered, but requires no more than basic algebra. Expect to be 'drinking from a firehose', and expect to have your notions of space, time, and matter irreversibly altered!
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Dissapointed, bought software on recommendation of course, then never required to use it, course suggestion is 8-12 hours a week, takes an average
  • Michal
    The best course on astronomy I ever had. The professor Ronan Plesser embodies my idea of perfect teacher - passionate, has impressive knowledge on his subject and knows how to communicate it to others. The lectures are pure gold, it is a pleasure…
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I just finished this so-called class (got a grade of 100% of homework assignments) and now I regret I spent so much time on this kind of "teachings". For professional this teacher made awful lot of factual mistakes. There was course correc…
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This class was very challenging and not for everyone, but the professor was one of the most enthusiastic lecturers that I ever experienced (live or online). I went to Duke as an undergraduate many years ago, and I felt that the quality of the Coursera class was comparable to those that I took while in college. The professor's online interaction, ample help from the TA and other students, and a flexible quiz structure helped me to succeed in this class. If you are interested in astrophysics you will learn a lot from this course.
  • Kristina Šekrst completed this course and found the course difficulty to be hard.

    Beware, this is not an introduction in the right sense of the word. It takes a lot of your time, but it's worth every second. In this course you'll even get an introduction to relativity and string theory from professor Plesser who's a string theorist himself! This was the first astronomical course I have taken, and it changed my life for the best, since I couldn't get away from astrophysics. Teaching style is great, and professor actively participated in the forums. It was a fun ride!
  • Virendra

    Virendra completed this course.

    Worked through all but the last two sessions due to my personal other commitments. Wonderful course. Challenging concepts and homework. You get a lot of satisfaction and clear the concepts after completing the assignments which are based on the equations introduced in the lectures. It helps if one has knowledge and understanding of elementary math as it is not a course in which one just passively listens to the lectures.

    Highly recommended ..
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This was a terrific course. I will not pretend it was easy because it wasn't. It required a lot of time to do the homeworks but worth it as they consolidated the teachings. The forums were very active and the staff and TAs were prepared to coach us through the difficult parts. It is possible to enjoy this course without doing the homeworks but if you are not afraid of hard work then the greatest benefit comes from doing it all.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course requires a background in Mathematics too. The previous reviewers could not connect the lectures with the quizzes, but I could. The teacher is quite enthusiastic about his subject and the TAs are quite helpful. Yes, the level of difficulty of quizzes was quite high, but I had a wonderful time solving them.
  • Anon completed this course.

    Enthusiastic teacher. Very hard. Homeworks did not follow lessons. Did not learn much. Withdrew from course. Probably useful for someone with some experience or who is doing astronomy courses. Do not recommend.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Disappointed by the same reasons as 3 previous reviewers here. Wouldn't recommend this class or this teacher, especially to someone new in astronomy or physics.
  • Maria Eduarda completed this course and found the course difficulty to be very hard.

    Não sei nada sobre astronomia não sei inglês mas quero me forma em astronomia restou começando a estudar sobre agora
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    awesome knowledge, interesting video lectures and hard/challenging homework
  • Marat Minshin

    Marat Minshin completed this course, spending 10 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very hard.

  • Tonolmo completed this course, spending 7 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very hard.

  • Heey completed this course.

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