Ultimate Universe

I. Course description

How do we know the age of the Universe? Is there life on Europa? When will we send humans to Mars? Do wormholes exist? How does the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Columbia affect us? How can I find all those constellations? Can you really see the rings of Saturn from Earth? What is a Schwarzschild Radius? Does anyone else share my love for astronomy? Scholars will explore questions such as these in this “spacey” major.

II. Instructor’s educational preparation and current employment

Ericca Thornhill earned her bachelor’s and master’s of education in science at the University of Missouri –Columbia. She is currently teaching chemistry and middle school science at Blair Oaks High School, near Jefferson City.

III. Rationale for inclusion in a program for gifted students

This program is a science enrichment class. It is a symposium style format so that gifted students have a chance to give their own unique style of input. The course allows for in-depth study of science phenomena that are not often covered in usual science classes. It offers advanced concepts and chances for critical thinking.

IV. Major topics covered
  • constellations and star charts
  • astrobiology
  • human space exploration and its related technology
  • the moon
  • the solar system, including planets, asteroids, comets, Kuiper belt objects
  • space suit design
  • age, size, development and fate of the universe
  • telescopes
  • rocketry
  • the big bang
  • extrasolar planets
  • stellar evolution and spectroscopy
  • eclipses and occultations
  • microgravity
  • dark matter
  • gamma ray bursts
  • galaxy formation
  • meteorites
  • black holes
  • the effect of astronomy and its technology on our civilization
  • the search for extraterrestrial life/intelligence
V. Pre-requisite knowledge

None. Students will learn as they go.

VI. Learning objectives

At the end of this course,the learner should:

  • Explain the basics behindhow astronauts live in space.
  • Develop a logical and persuasive argument for issues related to astronomy including: human space travel, human impact on extraterrestrial environments, the truth of Apollo, nuclear reactors in space exploration, extraterrestrial causes for mass extinctions and future catastrophes, future developments on other planet(oid)s, affect of science fiction on the public’s view of astronomy, .
  • Show an understanding of the principles of rocketry through writing and inquiry activities.
  • Be able to find major stars and constellations using a star finder.
  • Use a telescope and explain how it works.
  • Explain current understandings of lunar history and structure.
  • Describe current research and findings on bodies in the solar system.
  • Be able to develop space suit designs for a particular location in the solar system.
  • Make a model to show the difference between solar and lunar eclipses and occultations.
  • Explain current understandings about the size, age, origin and fate of the universe.
  • Be able to describe rocket workings and history.
  • Be able to report on the discovery of planets orbiting stars other than our sun.
  • Be able to describe the life cycle of stars and tell how we know about stars using spectroscopy.
  • Conduct an interview with a current NASA astronaut.
  • Explain the workings of a black hole.
  • Describe the life cycle of stars.
  • Give ten facts about meteorites and asteroids.
  • Explain our current understandings about gamma ray bursts.
  • Explain our understandings about conditions needed for life.
  • Describe what SETI is doing to try to find life on other planets.
VII. Primary source materials
  • Astronomy: Journey to the Cosmic Frontier by Fix
  • Exploring the Sky by Moeschl
  • The Space Shuttle Operator’s Manual by Joels & Kennedy
  • Entering Space: An Astronaut’s Odyssey by Allen
  • Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe by Dickenson
  • Current articles taken from: Discover Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, and Popular Science
VIII. Supplementary source materials
IX. Computing and the Internet
X. Typical classroom strategies
  • Discussion
  • Reading
  • Student centered teaching of the class
  • Hands on/inquiry projects
  • Field trips