"The summer Milky Way was out and it was extraordinary. There was an almost surrealistic quality of the shimmering pearly light against the black velvet sky ... of how it lit the desert. I have tried capturing moments like that in words and pictures and have always failed. You have to be there ... you have to be looking."
The course begins with a quote from a poem by Walt Whitman. It has a narrator listening to a lecture by a famed astronomer until the narrator grows tired of the equations, charts and numbers and instead goes outside to sit and look at the stars "in perfect silence". This perfect silence … a moment of wonder while looking at the stars … is something I want for my students. However, I also value the equations and numbers. Einstein once said that there is a moment of wonder that is the birthplace of both art and science. But first comes the wonder.
Be able to appreciate the wonder of the physical universe and to begin to understand the size, variety, complexity and beauty of the physical universe.
To cultivate the spirit of critical inquiry used in science. That is be able to actively formulate questions which have driven the development of astronomy, find answers, critique those answers, and generate new questions.
Be able to explain our understanding of the physical universe by applying a few physical principles.
Be able to explain how our ideas of the physical universe change constantly as we learn more … that our ideas are subject to intense review and study before being accepted. Be able to differentiate between an observation of a physical phenomenon and our interpretation of that phenomenon.