Explore the Solar System with new astronomy course

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(CONTRIBUTED/ Maurice Clark)

A close-up photo of the moon taken by Troy Professor Maurice Clark through a telescope

Rakshak Adhikari

Staff Writer

Starting next fall, the Department of Physics and Chemistry will offer a new course in astronomy titled “Exploring the Solar System.” The course does not have any prerequisites and will count toward a general science with lab.

“The course was created on principle because it was impossible to do an honest job of teaching solar system astronomy and large-scale structure in one semester,” said Govind Menon, the chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics.

“The only reason to take (the course) is because some of us might be curious about our place in the Universe,” Menon added.

“The night sky is art in itself, but when you understand what is happening in the picture it becomes a lot more interesting,” said Caroline Howell, a junior physics major from Blountstown, Florida, who is currently taking astronomy and is considering taking the solar system course.

“I also never knew how far one could see with the naked eye,” Howell added. “For example, Jupiter is one of the brightest objects in the sky, and I never knew I could see actual planets without aid.”

“The course is different from the currently offered astronomy course in that it not only focuses on the solar system but also emphasizes the different discoveries through different space missions that led to our current understanding of our solar system,” said Maurice Clark, an assistant professor of physics and the instructor for the course.

The class will include labs where students will learn about different techniques such as measuring the mass of a planet by studying the motion of its moon, detecting planets outside the solar system by studying the light coming from a star and more.

The class will also feature at least two night sky observations using a 10-inch telescope where students will be able to see different planets and get a close look at the moon and its craters.

“Apart from learning about the solar system and the variety of objects that comprise it (sic), students will learn to think skeptically, and to realize that science is more about searching for understanding than it is about knowing ‘the truth,’” Clark said.

According to Clark, students who have taken this class will have the tools needed to continue enjoying astronomy on their own as a hobby, if desired, including using a simple telescope to make observations of and identify celestial objects.

Students can also commit to research in astronomy with Clark, who is currently working on modeling shapes of asteroids as well as binary stars and quadruple star systems (a system of two and four stars that rotate around a common center). Clark can be reached at maclark@troy.edu, and his student research opportunities are open to any student who is interested in astronomy and is willing to learn.

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