Taken from the fall, 2006 Course Catalog of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The history of astronomy is rich in the competition of ideas, personality conflicts and serendipitous discoveries. Many of these led to paradigm shifts in the way we view ourselves and the universe. This course will consider six outstanding examples:

1. Copernicus, Kepler, Tycho and Galileo; the beginning of awareness.

2. Newton’s gravity and orbital mechanics; the discovery of Neptune and the non-discovery of Vulcan; Einstein’s gravity

3. William Hershel’s structure of the Milky Way and Immanuel Kant’s island universe hypothesis; the Curtis Shapely debate on the nature of the spiral nebulae

4. Stellar spectroscopy and the beginning of astrophysics; the nature of nebulium; a triumph for quantum theory

5. Hubble’s discovery of the nature of galaxies and the expansion of the universe; the origin of the “big bang” theory

6. Modern cosmology and what is the nature of “dark matter?”




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