ASTR 220 Collisions in Space

Spring 2006 Course Introduction

ASTR 220 Collisions in Space is a 3-credit CORE Physical Science course. It does not have a laboratory section. There are no pre-requisites for this class.

As its name suggests, this course focuses on the many different types of collisions that occur as part of astronomical phenomena, from impacts between solar system bodies to binary stars to merging galaxies. Astronomers once believed that collisions within the solar system were unimportant today, but one event we will study is the crash of a comet into Jupiter in 1994. Possibly the most important large impact on Earth was the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, which is a topic we will study in detail.

Once we have finished discussing impacts in the solar system, we will learn about the lives and deaths of stars and see that some stars die in supernova explosions. We will learn about the strange properties of stellar ``corpses'': white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. We will see how stars that have companions can sometimes collide or even explode.

From there, we will move onto the galactic scene and learn about our galaxy, the Milky Way. We will contrast it to other types of galaxies and learn about how galaxies evolve -- often through collisions. We will learn about supermassive black holes in the centers of galaxies and about the dark matter that exists in galaxies, including our own. Finally, we will end the class by talking about the fate of the universe: will it expand forever, or will it collapse back on itself in the Big Crunch?

This class is aimed at non-science majors. It will emphasize the scientific method and means scientists use to determine what we know about collisions in space. The only math skills required are those you should possess upon entry to the university: some simple algebra, the use of scientific notation, and how to interpret graphs.

The image in the background of this page was taken by Debra Meloy Elmegreen and colleges at Vassar College and the Hubble Heritage Team at the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The material on these webpages is Copyright © 2006 by Melissa N. Hayes-Gehrke and may not be reproduced without my permission.