Astronomy 7: Paper Assignment
This course has been focused on learning what we know about the
origin and structure of the Universe, and how we have come to learn
this over the history of science. Hopefully, you have gained an
appreciaciation from this course of what science is all about, and
what type of questions we can hope to answer with science.
The purpose of this paper is for you to explore a topic of your choice
related to some facts in astronomy that you have learned in the course,
or to your opinion on the way that science works, or about the
importance that science has to us. The paper
should be an independent piece of work that expresses your thoughts,
ideas or impressions on the topic you choose. I encourage you to read
about some subject in astronomy, possibly from one of the optional books
given in the syllabus (which you can find in the library), or another
book or magazine of your choice. This will help you to develop an idea
for writing your paper; however, your paper should not be just a
summary of something you have read. Do reference any books or articles
you have read that have helped you in writing the paper.
Reading the textbook by Bless will also give you ideas for your paper.
Use the knowledge you have gained in the course to write your paper.
Be careful not to make wrong statements about things you should know
from the course, since that would lower your grade.
Below I give you some guidelines and suggestions for topics to choose.
Please use a computer to write and print your paper, or type it.
Your paper should not
exceed a length of approximately 2000 words; for example, if you have
30 lines per page and about 10 words per line on average, your paper
should not be longer than about 7 pages.
The paper will be due on December 6.
Suggestions for topics for your paper
- How do you think astronomy affected the development of
civilization and society, of philosophy and theology? How do you think
it is affecting it today? How do you think it may affect it in the
future? You could give an example of some astronomical discovery that
has affected the development of society in a profound way, and explain
what the effect has been.
- What do you think is the real motivation of scientists to
work hard on their research, and to try to understand the world? Do
you think this was similar in the past and at present? You may want
to use examples of the scientists you have learned about who
contributed to the development of astronomy and cosmology. A useful
book here, in addition to Bless's, is Kolb's ``Blind Watchers of the
Sky'', which has more biographical and anecdotal information on the
scientists we have talked about in class.
- A paradox of our time may be that, while we live at a moment
when our knowledge of the universe we live in is advancing faster than
ever before, many people today might know less about astronomy than the
ordinary people of ancient civilizations. Even though in ancient
civilizations the skies were understood in terms of the primitive
geocentric model and the crystalline celestial sphere, people were
generally aware of the events in the sky. Today, most people living
in cities do not have a chance to look at the night sky without light
pollution, and the sky is often replaced by luminous displays filled
with advertising! Inadequate education might also contribute to a
problem of public ignorance in astronomy and other sciences.
Your paper could discuss some of these questions:
What do you think is the best way to educate people in science?
How important is science education for everybody in our society (not
just for technical experts)?
What should the objective and the role of science education be?
What impact could science education have in the future of our society?
- Write an essay on some fact, question, or mystery about the
universe that you think is particularly inspiring or mind-boggling for
our view of the world and our place in it. A few examples might be:
The Earth being an inconspicuous, tiny part of a vast universe. The limit
of the speed of light for transmitting any information, and the fact that
our observations of the universe are restricted to the present
cosmological horizon. The origin of all matter in the Big Bang, and the
origin of the elements in the interior of stars. The existence of black
holes, as pits of no return. The possibility of extraterrestrial life,
and of the existence of intelligent civilizations elsewhere in the
universe. How do you think any of these discoveries or questions are
affecting our philosophical or religious attitudes and beliefs?
- Is there something you have learned in the course about the
nature of our universe and its relation to us, or an astronomical
phenomenon, or the relation of our cultural development to the
discoveries in astronomy, which particularly evoked in you some
emotional feelings? If so, you could try writing a poem about that!
- The assignment is due Monday, December 6.