An Introduction to Solar System Astronomy
Prof. Richard Pogge, MTWThF 2:30
Rainbow over Kitt Peak, Arizona, July 2001 [R. Pogge]
Gravitation binds together all masses in the Universe, governing the fall of an apple and the orbit of the Moon about the Earth. The dance of the planets around the Sun is choreographed by the interplay of gravitational forces. Newton's laws are not mere empirical descriptions, but powerful physical tools we can use to explore the Universe, both figuratively and literally! The first half of this Unit explores gravitation from its first formal description by Newton to how gravity choreographs the dance of the planets in the Solar System.
The second part of the Unit is an exploration of the properties of Light and Matter. Nearly everything we know about the Universe beyond the Earth has been learned from a distance. We cannot directly measure a star, or scoop up a bit of its material to study in a laboratory. We only have to us the light that comes to use from across effectively unbridgable distances. Because light, or more precisely, Electromagnetic Radiation, is produced by and interacts with ordinary matter, what seems at first an insuperable handicap becomes a source of great strength. It is when we began to understand the nature of light, how it is produced and how it interacts with matter, that marked the end of "Astronomy" as a simple cataloging of the heavens as it had been primarily from its very beginnings, and the beginnings of the modern study of "Astrophysics" at the end of the 19th Century.
We end the unit with a discussion of Telescopes, the tools used by astronomers to read and "decode" the message of light from space.
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