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Understanding the Universe:
An Introduction to Astronomy

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If you're interested in all aspects of astronomy, at an introductory level, there's nothing better than this.

Prof. Alex FilippenkoProf. Alex Filippenko of U.C. Berkeley has put together a package of 96 half-hour DVD lectures, available through The Teaching Company. It's titled Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy, 2nd Edition. This is a recent product - published in early 2007 - so the information is quite up-to-date. The retail price of this product is $800 WAIT KEEP READING but is frequently on sale for about $230. This is about the cost of one decent eyepiece. (As a matter fact, it's currently on sale as I compose this page, Feb 1, 2008.)

This amounts to about $2.40 per lecture (divided by the number of persons watching), or $4.80 per hour. Your dinner will probably cost more than that.

Click here for the course/lecture organization.

You'll also find these other significant, but less obvious, attributes of this lecture series:

bulletYou can go through a DVD lecture a second time if you feel you need to. As a matter of fact, you'll almost certainly want to go through the entire series a second time. Many early lectures introduce concepts that are important in later ones, and you may not pick them up the first time around. I, personally, am going through them for the third time, and on every pass I've picked up things that sailed past me the previous time through.
 
bulletAlthough not as prestigious as live lectures, DVD lectures require no travel time, can be scheduled at your convenience, and they have 'pause' and 'rewind' buttons. And you won't have worry about not being able see the very many visual aids used in this lecture series.
 
bulletThis is a "survey" course, meaning it doesn't go into the mathematics very deeply at all. There is some math for those that are math-prone, but if you're not, you can ignore the math and miss nothing. This isn't to imply the topics are given a mere broad-brush. Every topic is covered in surprising detail, but at the conceptual and visual levels. You don't need to know what's in the paint to appreciate the detail in the picture.

Regarding Prof. Filippenko, those of you who watch the astronomy programs on the educational channels will recognize him as a frequent contributor. You can view his many qualifications here, but what's most important is that Prof. Filippenko is an excellent instructor, and you will not find a boring lecture in the lot. Alex is a lively speaker and keeps things moving, and interesting, at a pace I find quite enjoyable.

Now, I know that web-pages such as this are supposed to be 'non-bias'. But the simple fact is, when it comes to the topic of learning astronomy, I haven't found anything else that even closely compares to this DVD course. If there were one, this page would be covering that product.

If you're looking for a conversational understanding of all that's out there, this is shortest and most effective way to achieve it. This DVD course brings the study of astronomy right into your living room, with an excellence comparable to Carl Sagan's "Cosmos".

Course Organization

Stringing out 96 lecture titles front-to-back is kind of one-dimensional and doesn't convey the depth of the course. Below is an outline of how the course and lectures are organized.

1. Introduction - 1 Lecture

    1.A Grand Tour of the Cosmos

2. Observing the Heavens - 23 Lectures 2-24

bulletCelestial Sights for Everyone - 10 Lectures 2-11
2.The Rainbow Connection 3.Sunrise, Sunset 4.Bright Objects in the Night Sky 5.Fainter Phenomena in the Night Sky 6.Our Sky through Binoculars and Telescopes 7.The Celestial Sphere 8.The Reason for the Seasons 9.Lunar Phases and Eerie Lunar Eclipses 10.Glorious Total Solar Eclipses 11.More Eclipse Tales
 
bulletThe Early History of Astronomy - 5 Lectures 12-16
12.Early Studies of the Solar System 13.The Geocentric Universe 14.Galileo and the Copernican Revolution 15.Refinements to the Heliocentric Model 16.On the Shoulders of Giants
 
bulletBasic Concepts and Tools - 8 Lectures 17-24
17.Surveying Space and Time 18.Scale Models of the Universe 19.Light - The Supreme Informant 20.The Wave-Particle Duality of Light 21.The Colors of Stars 22.The Fingerprints of Atoms 23.Modern Telescopes 24.A Better Set of Eyes

3. Contents of the Universe - 46 Lectures 25-70

bulletOur Solar System - 12 Lectures 25-36
25.Our Sun, the Nearest Star 26.The Earth, Third Rock from the Sun 27.Our Moon, Earth's Nearest Neighbor 28.Mercury and Venus 29.Of Mars and Martians 30.Jupiter and Its Amazing Moons 31.Magnificent Saturn 32.Uranus and Neptune, the Small Giants 33.Pluto and Its Cousins 34.Asteroids and Dwarf Planets 35.Comets - Gorgeous Primordial Snowballs 36.Catastrophic Collisions
 
bulletOther Planetary Systems - 6 Lectures 37-42
37.The Formation of Planetary Systems 38.The Quest for Other Planetary Systems 39.Extra-Solar Planets Galore! 40.Life Beyond the Earth 41.The Search for Extraterrestrials 42.Special Relativity and Interstellar Travel
 
bulletStars and Their Lives - 10 Lectures 43-52
43.Stars - Distant Suns 44.The Intrinsic Brightnesses of Stars 45.The Diverse Sizes of Stars 46.Binary Stars and Stellar Masses 47.Star Clusters, Ages, and Remote Distances 48.How Stars Shine - Nature's Nuclear Reactors 49.Solar Neutrinos - Probes of the Sun's Core 50.Brown Dwarfs and Free-Floating Planets 51.Our Sun's Brilliant Future 52.White Dwarfs and Nova Eruptions
 
bulletStellar Explosions and Black Holes - 14 Lectures 53-66
53.Exploding Stars - Celestial Fireworks! 54.White Dwarf Supernovae - Stealing to Explode 55.Core-Collapse Supernovae - Gravity Wins 56.The Brightest Supernova in Nearly 400 Years 57.The Corpses of Massive Stars 58.Einstein's General Theory of Relativity 59.Warping of Space and Time 60.Black Holes - Abandon Hope, Ye Who Enter 61.The Quest for Black Holes 62.Imagining the Journey to a Black Hole 63.Wormholes - Gateways to Other Universes? 64.Quantum Physics and Black-Hole Evaporation 65.Enigmatic Gamma-Ray Bursts 66.Birth Cries of Black Holes
 
bulletThe Milky Way and Other Galaxies - 4 Lectures 67-70
67.Our Home - The Milky Way Galaxy 68.Structure of the Milky Way Galaxy 69.Other Galaxies - "Island Universes" 70.The Dark Side of Matter

4. Cosmology - The Universe as a Whole - 26 Lectures 71-96

bulletCosmic Expansion and Distant Galaxies - 8 Lectures 71-78
71.Cosmology - The Really Big Picture 72.Expansion of the Universe and the Big Bang 73.Searching for Distant Galaxies 74.The Evolution of Galaxies 75.Active Galaxies and Quasars 76.Cosmic Powerhouses of the Distant Past 77.Supermassive Black Holes 78.Feeding the Monster
 
bulletThe Structure and Evolution of the Universe - 12 Lectures 79-90
79.The Paradox of the Dark Night Sky 80.The Age of the Universe 81.When Geometry Is Destiny 82.The Mass Density of the Universe 83.Einstein's Biggest Blunder? 84.The Afterglow of the Big Bang 85.Ripples in the Cosmic Background Radiation 86.The Stuff of the Cosmos 87.Dark Energy - Quantum Fluctuations? 88.Dark Energy - Quintessence? 89.Grand Unification & Theories of Everything 90.Searching for Hidden Dimensions
 
bulletThe Birth of the Cosmos and Other Frontiers - 6 Lectures 91-96
91.The Shape, Size, and Fate of the Universe 92.In the Beginning 93.The Inflationary Universe 94.The Ultimate Free Lunch? 95.A Universe of Universes 96.Reflections on Life and the Cosmos

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Course outline and lecture titles copied and reformatted from "Lecture Transcript and Course Guidebook, Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy 2nd Edition", p.4, copyright The Teaching Company 2007, and DVD cases for the aforementioned course, copyright The Teaching Company 2006. Please note that I am in no way associated with The Teaching Company, U.C. Berkeley or Prof. Alex Filippenko and receive no compensation whatsoever from any of them, no matter how much I deserve it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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