An Audio Course in Astronomy

During my final year year at The Ohio State University, I lived about two miles from my office and walked to campus nearly everyday. While I enjoyed the daily walks, I also wanted to make good use of the time. I have always been a bit ashamed of my lack of knowledge in the physical sciences, so I decided to listen to general science lectures.

The podcasts of Richard Pogge—an astronomy professor also at The Ohio State University—came highly recommended.  I admit that astronomy was one subject I was reluctant to spend time learning.  The public school system had left a terrible impression.  The focus of previous astronomy lessons had been memorizing constellations—some teachers would even masquerade astrology as science.  While I have always had little interest in memorizing random facts, memorizing arbitrary names for groups of stars seemed particularly asinine.  It is amazing that a subject so fascinating can be made so boring.  Luckily I gave the subject another chance and have since worked my way through the three courses Richard Pogge offers as podcasts.

Most of the material is easy enough to follow based on the audio alone—even when he discusses equations, they are simple enough to visualize—but some visual aids are needed. For instance, he makes much use of the Hertzsprung Russell diagram for stellar evolution and I just could not visualize it without seeing it.  I also found that my general interest increased and I would spend time searching for the hubble telescope images he discussed; the Astronomy Picture of the Day site is also a daily stop now for me.

It is amazing how much you realize you don’t know when you learn more about a subject.  There is so much information that I simply take for granted and do not question.  Here are some questions these podcasts helped me answer.

  • How exactly is radiometric dating used to determine the age of the earth?
  • How do we measure distances to stars and distant galaxies?
  • How can we detect planets orbiting other stars?
  • Why was it so difficult to believe the earth orbited the sun?
  • What is the general structure of the visible universe?
  • If life exists on other worlds, why have we not seen it yet?

If you are not convinced yet, then I suggest listening to one just to give it a chance.  My favorite was the final lecture in the Astronomy 141 course.  He quickly recaps the major developments discussed throughout the course, while stressing the importance of imagination in finding new discoveries.  He ends with a prediction that an earth-sized planet will be discovered within the habitable zone of its star within this decade.  If that lecture is not enough to drive you to learn more, then you may have no soul.

I want to continue to learn more about general science in this format.  Does anyone have any recommendations for podcasts of this nature? Most other podcasts I have seen either do not work without the visual component or only discuss topics very superficially. Hopefully similar podcasts exist for biology, physics, and chemistry.

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3 Responses to An Audio Course in Astronomy

  1. Pingback: Pale Blue Dot | William Hartmann

  2. Pingback: Modeling the Solar System, Part 1: Plotting the Planets | William Hartmann

  3. Pingback: The History of Rome Podcast | William Hartmann

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