Astronomy A and B

Course Title: 
12041, 12042
Course Description: 

• During this course we will explore the following topics:
• Starting the first semester we will cover:
• Discovering the Night Sky—we will look at scales of the universe, patterns of stars in the sky, cycles on earth (seasons, months, years, time zones). With a focus on the detailed mechanics behind the phases of the moon.
• Gravity—We will review the history of astronomy, looking at the evolution of the mathematics through Kepler and Newton. Then we will apply Newton’s Laws to the idea of gravity and the motion of the solar system.
• Light and Telescopes—What is light, how does it behave, and how can we use our understanding of light to further our knowledge of objects in space. Terms like blackbody radiation, flux and luminosity. We will discuss these ideas mathematically and through spectroscopy.
• Visible Light and Electromagnetic radiation—Spectroscopy will take center stage as we look at their interactions with atoms, identifying elements by their spectrum, and calculating Doppler Shift to identify what is moving toward or away from us and how fast they are moving.
• Formation of the Solar System—Moving on to a more traditional approach to astronomy we will look at theories of how our solar system was formed, including how moons came into being.
• The Earth and Moon—Our study of the planets is focused on comparing each planet to Earth, therefore we spend a significant amount of time learning about Earth, the atmosphere, oceans, erosion, tectonics, and remote sensing of the Earth’s interior.
• The Planets—Looking at the inner and outer planets, the vagabonds within our solar system (comets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt Objects, etc.). Everything from the cores to the atmospheres of each planet and how they differ from Earth.
• Starting the second semester we will cover:
• The Sun—The Sun is a very active star, we will look at how it generates heat through nuclear fusion, how the Sun’s structure moves the energy created in the core out to the solar system, and the formation of elements in the Sun. We will do a 2-3 week survey of the Sun with solar telescopes, diagraming and tracking all sun spots, flares, prominences, etc.
• Characterizing Stars—having an understanding of the Sun we can now translate that knowledge to other stars. Students will walk through the discovery of the Hertzprung Russell Diagram learning out to identify stars by their mass, luminosity, spectral type, etc.
• Early and Mid-life Stars—We will look at Main Sequence stars and how they are formed and what happens inside of them during this time of their lives. Predictions will be made about what will be the demise of a star, how long it would last given its mass, etc.
• The Death of Stars—From low-mass starts to the super giants in space, we will examine the demise of each size star and discuss the different conditions that must be met to create white dwarfs, black holes, and everything in between. We will survey the night sky for red giants and research their history. We will also look at quasars, pulsars, and neutron stars.
• Black Holes—A favorite topic of astronomers and YouTube viewers, black holes are not so mysterious and we will pull back the veil of these light-eating giants after looking at Einstein’s theory of relativity and modern ideas of space-time. We will look at different sizes of black holes and discuss the topic of supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies.
• Galaxies—Since we are on the subject of galaxies, we will examine different types, search for them in the night sky during the warming spring nights, and participate in the Zooniverse Project where we will do work as citizen scientists. We will also discuss interactions between galaxies including the predicted merger between the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxies.
• The Search for Extraterrestrial Life—we will look at differing methods of finding exoplanets, their typical characteristics, identifying the Goldie Locks zone, and speculating what might be waiting for us on differing worlds! We will also look at the Drake Equation to predict if we’re alone in the universe.
• Time permitting, we will look at Cosmology and/or other ultrahigh energy sources in the universe

School Information: 
Vail School District
12775 E. Mary Ann Cleveland Way
Zip code: 

Requested competency code:


Approved competency code:

Wednesday, March 16, 2016