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A Violent Universe - Crashing Asteroids, Exploding Stars, and Hungry Black Holes  

The Violent Universe: Crashing Asteroids, Exploding Stars, and Hungry Black Holes This non-technical class introduces some of the most violent things that happen out there in space (and the consequences for us on Earth). We will discuss the rocky and icy pieces that can collide with Earth (and that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago), stars that blow up and wreak havoc with neighbor planets or stars, and black holes where gravity runs amuck and things that venture too close can get swallowed. We’ll carefully evaluate the odds of any of these happening to Earth in the near future and what we could do about them if they did. No background in science required. Week by Week Outline 1. Introduction to the Realms of the Universe and Our Place in Space a. The 3 realms: Solar System, Galaxy, Universe b. A tour of our local neighborhood and our place in it c. A brief history of how humans fit into the scale of cosmic time 2. Asteroids and Impacts a. History of how asteroids fit into the Solar System b. Near-Earth asteroids and the threat c. Known asteroid strikes: Tunguska, Chelyabinks, the giant Chixulub hit (the great dying), and more d. How modern telescopes and computers allow us to survey the threat and where we stand 3. Asteroid Protection Schemes and the Lives of Stars a. How scientists and the military are thinking about protecting Earth from asteroid impacts b. Why early warning is essential and what we can realistically do c. The comet threat and how it’s different from asteroids d. The life story of the stars e. Why all stars have to die 4. Exploding Stars a. Massive stars and supernova explosions b. Supernovae that have been seen through human history c. Consequences of nearby supernovae: it giveth and it taketh away d. Next supernova candidates 5. Hypernovae, Gamma-ray Bursts and Black Holes a. Different types of star explosions b. The Gamma-ray Burst mystery and how it’s being solved c. Consequences of bigger explosions for life d. Black holes introduced 6. Black Holes and Cosmic Safety Issues a. Black Holes and their event horizons: How they eat b. Super-massive black holes and getting an image c. Black Holes and space: Gravity waves d. Life on Earth: Evaluating the hazards e. Moving our genetic material to space repositories Objectives of the Course This course is designed to acquaint those with an interest in astronomy (but no background in science) with some of the most violent and energetic things going on in the universe. After an overview of what’s out there, the course will specifically address three important phenomena: near-Earth asteroids and their impacts with Earth, supernovae (stars that explode at the end of their lives) and their effects on their cosmic neighborhoods, and black holes and how their powerful gravity can pull in nearby objects and help them to grow. The course will also help students estimate the risks of each of these to our planet and to the future evolution of homo sapiens.


This class is not available at this time.