PHYS P15/3.0 - Astronomy I: The Solar System
Science and technology are a major part of modern human culture, which have radically changed human society and our outlook on the Universe in which we live: so much so, that we cannot claim be fully-informed, well-rounded members of modern society without at least an intelligent layperson’s understanding of some of the main aspects of science, and of how it developed historically. As one of the oldest and broadest of sciences, astronomy provides an excellent example of the scientific method at work, encompassing aspects of physics, chemistry, geology, and biology, in a field that not only excites the imagination --- with its constant stream of dramatic discoveries in recent times --- but also drives technological innovation that brings wider benefits to society (for example, in terms of navigation and medical-scanner technology).
This course is suitable for any student, but particularly for those without a strong science or math background; accordingly, the course material is taught mostly descriptively, with only occasional use of very basic mathematics. Despite this, the content of the course is not trivial; this is a physics course, which aims to convey some real understanding of the physical processes that have shaped the Solar System in particular --- and also the Universe in general, since the Solar System cannot be fully understood without referring to its place within a wider spatial and temporal context.
The expected learning outcomes are an understanding and appreciation of the following:
- The current state of knowledge about the Solar System, including its origin and age, its evolution and present state, its expected future, and its relation to the wider cosmic context.
- The historical stages in the development of human understanding of the Solar System and of the wider Universe - the main aspects of what we know, and how that knowledge was obtained, from both theoretical and observational advances.
- The relevance of astronomy and space exploration to everyday life, through such aspects as navigation, the use of satellites for communication and monitoring of the Earth, and so on.
- The basics of astronomical observations of the night sky, using some telescopes available on-site.
- The broader range of tools and techniques used for modern astronomical observation, including satellite-based instruments, large ground-based observatories, underground facilities for detecting weakly interacting particles, and the exploration of space by robotic spacecraft and by humans.
- The origin and development of life on Earth, and the prospects for finding life elsewhere in the Solar System, or in other parts of the Universe.