ASTR 101
Stars: From Suns to Black Holes Fall 2022
Division III

Class Details

For the new era of “multimessenger astronomy” (not only light and its like but also particles from space and gravitational waves): What makes a star shine? For how long will the Sun keep shining and what will happen to it then? What are black holes and how can they form? How and what have we found out about the gravitational radiation resulting from two giant black holes merging and, with additional signals in the spectrum, from the merger of two neutron stars? What is the James Webb Space Telescope revealing about the earliest epochs of the Universe and about the atmospheres of planets around stars other than our Sun? What do we learn about our own Sun, and therefore about other stars like it, from total solar eclipses? Astronomy 101, a non-major, general introduction to the part of contemporary astronomy that includes how stars form and die, will provide answers to these questions. We pay special attention to recent exciting discoveries, including regular briefings and current emails plus bonus coverage of NASA’s Perseverance rover on Mars with the participation of Williams alumni/ae. Topics include discoveries with the Hubble Space Telescope, the new James Webb Space Telescope, missions to discover planets around other stars, the latest huge telescopes such as the one that will be part of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, and plans for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope; how astronomers interpret the light received from distant celestial objects; and the Sun as a typical star. We discuss how pulsars and black holes result from the evolution of massive stars and how supermassive black holes lurk in galaxies/quasars. We discuss the discovery of thousands of “exoplanets” around stars other than the Sun. We regularly discuss the latest news briefs and developments in astronomy and relate them to the topics covered in the course. This course is independent of and on the same level as Astr 102 (solar system)/104 (galaxies/cosmology); students who have taken those courses are welcome.
The Class: Format: lecture/laboratory; lecture (two sessions per week), observing sessions (scattered throughout the semester), afternoon labs (five times per semester), and a planetarium demonstration. Planetarium and Roof-Observatory TAs will be available for consultation, in addition to the instructors, throughout the semester.
Limit: 30
Expected: 20
Class#: 1036
Grading: yes pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: two hour tests, a final exam, an observing portfolio, and lab reports
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: first enrolled
Unit Notes: non-major course
Distributions: Division III

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