Courses by semester
Complete Cornell University course descriptions are in the Courses of Study .
When civilization was young, Seneca wrote, "A single lifetime, even entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject. Our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them." We will work to understand what he and the ancients knew about the night sky, and the ingenious methods by which they came to know it, and trace the history of astronomy through the modern day. Indeed, modern astronomy abounds with strange alien worlds and exotic events that would have amazed that great classical thinker: Stars and the tantalizing planets that journey with them through the galaxies, which smash into one another over millions of years. And when they die in great explosions, stars create exotic pulsars, black holes, nebulae, and people. And somehow all of this started at the single moment of the Big Bang. What will be so plain to our descendants that would amaze us today? Will they have contacted alien intelligence? Traveled in time? Learned the fate of the universe?
Relativity, Cosmology, and Black Holes
Explanation of Einstein's theory of Special Relativity, which brought about a fundamental change in our conceptual understanding of space and time. The consequences of the theory: the relativity of simultaneity; mass-energy equivalence, nuclear fission and fusion and thermonuclear processes in starts; why we can't travel faster than the speed of light; and how it all makes sense, including the resolution of some apparent paradoxes. Cosmology, studying the evidence for the evolution and future of the universe, and the considerations and evidence driving our theories, including an introduction to General Relativity and investigation of Dark Matter and Dark Energy. The death of stars: white dwarfs, neutron stars and pulsars, and black holes.
Identical to ASTRO 1105 except for the addition of the afternoon laboratory that emphasizes mathematical problem-solving. This option is recommended for potential majors in science and engineering.
Are We Alone in the Universe?
This course surveys the possibilities for life in the universe and the search for it, against the backdrop of our modern understanding of the cosmos. It covers ideas about the origin of the universe and how structure arises, the formation of stars and planets, how life might have begun on planets, the evolution of life on the Earth, and the search for life elsewhere in the solar system and beyond.