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Confronting The Big Questions: Highlights of Modern Astronomy

An introduction to modern astronomy's most important questions. The four sections of the course are Planets and Life in The Universe; The Life of Stars; Galaxies and Their Environments; The History of The Universe.


Course at a Glance


About the Course

This course provides students with a short overview of structure and content of the Universe.  Each week will cover one question.  In week one we address the issue of extra-solar planets - planets orbiting other stars and ask what do we know about these alien worlds touching on issues of life in the Universe as well. In the second week we explore the life of stars.  The third week looks at galaxies their history and their distribution across space.  The last two lectures explore cosmology - the history of the Universe as a whole.

By the end of the class students will have gained an overview of the Universe they inhabit and an understanding of its biggest unresolved questions.

Course Syllabus

Week 1: Planets and Life in The Universe

Exoplanets searches, exoplanet census, astrobiology

Week 2: The Life of Stars

Star formation, fusion and stellar middle age, black holes and stellar death

Week 3: Galaxies and Their Environments

Galaxy types, Active Galactic Nuclei, Clusters of Clusters of Galaxies

Week 4: The History of The Universe

Why the Big Bang? A History of Time, What Happened Before the Big Bang

Recommended Background

Students with a background in mathematics and an interest in science and astronomy are welcome!

Suggested Readings

No required readings.

Course Format

The class will consist of lecture videos, which are between 8 and 12 minutes in length and interactive exercised developed for the textbook. There will be quiz for each week and a final exam.


  • Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

    Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

  • What resources will I need for this class?

    For this course, all you need is an Internet connection, a copy of the text, and the time to read, write, discuss, and enjoy our exploration of the big questions in astronomy.