PHY1101 - Astronomy 1
In the first semester of the year at USQ, I take great pleasure in teaching Astronomy 1, a course designed as an introduction to the wonders of the night sky, to astronomy and astrophysics. The course lays the groundwork for students who want to study astronomy at higher levels at USQ (including my second level course 'Planetary and Exoplanetary Science'). It is, however, designed to be fun and welcoming for all students, regardless of their backgrounds and future study plans.
In the early part of the course, students are introduced to the history of astronomy - the story of how we reached our current understanding of the cosmos. After that, the students are introduced to the traditional knowledge of the first Australians, through guest lectures delivered by the amazing Gamilaraay woman, Karlie Noon.
The third week of study sees the students learning how telescopes work, and how astronomers use them to study the universe. In week four, I introduce and explain the concept of 'The Celestial Sphere', including the astronomical coordinate system that locates objects on that sphere - Right Ascension and Declination. Students then use this information in the rest of the course, as they learn how things move through the sky and in space, and how astronomers determine how bright celestial objects are, and how far they are from the Earth.
The final two weeks of lectures in the course bring the various topics covered together - taking the students on a whistle-stop tour of the scale of the Universe, from our nearest neighbours to the most distant objects ever observed, and then discussing the future of astronomy - the many and varied projects that help expand our knowledge still further in the decades to come.
The course content for Astronomy 1 is delivered in the form of pre-recorded lectures, which are then discussed by myself and the students in weekly two-hour tutorials. Those tutorials are held at USQ's Toowoomba campus, with remote students connecting in to participate using Zoom.
A spectacular view towards the middle of the Milky Way, taken by Stéphane Guisard at the European Southern Observatory, CC BY 4.0
The Emu in the Sky, above Nambung National Park in Western Australia, taken by Trevor Dobson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Artist's impression of the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission, HabEx, which might launch in the mid-2030s to study alien worlds - if it is funded by NASA! Image credit: NASA/JPL, Public Domain