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Astronomy: Observations & Theories


Play Overview Video

Astronomy: Observations & Theories explores a broad range of astronomy topics, concepts, and principles, from the motions of the visible sky to dark matter, from our own planet to the stars and galaxies.

The videos examine evidence for the big bang and continuing evolution of the universe and track the formation, life, and death of stars. Throughout the course, special emphasis is placed on the scientific evidence that astronomers use to support their conclusions. The video segments include interviews with leading experts, original computer graphics, footage from NASA, and images from leading observatories throughout the world and the Hubble Space Telescope. The videos are available in DVD or can be streamed.

The online course includes all videos for each lesson, as well as separate, smaller clips of video covering the various learning objectives of each lesson. Interactive exercises, reading instructions, quizzes and other activities are also contained in the online version.

The textbook to accompany this course is Horizons: Exploring the Universe, written by Michael A. Seeds and Dana Backman. Additional information is provided under the “How to Adopt Course & Print Materials” tab below. To request access to an electronic review copy of the textbook, please contact Cengage Learning.

For access to Coast Learning Systems’ online course preview site, please complete a Preview Request Form.

Lesson Titles and Descriptions

1. The Study of the Universe

Engaging interviews with professional astronomers and researchers, including Dr. Michael Seeds, Dr. Phil Plait,
and Dr. Brent Tully, take students on a virtual tour of our solar system, the galaxy, and beyond, introducing the
many facets of the science of astronomy while presenting a sense of scale to our universe. This lesson opens the
door to the study of astronomy through the enthusiastic comments and insights of a group of amateur
astronomers. Their remarks are reinforced with spectacular footage, images, and three-dimensional animations,
helping students understand why everyone should stop and look up at our amazing universe.

2. Observing the Sky

The celestial sphere is one of the most important concepts to teach in an introductory astronomy course. With
the use of advanced video techniques and computer-generated graphics, students follow two star-watchers as
they present the sky through their interactions within a digital skyscape. The lesson covers historical
interpretations of the sky by earlier civilizations and the models of the cosmos they created. Comet hunter and
astronomy writer David Levy anchors a diverse group of experts to deliver this dynamic lesson.

3. Celestial Cycles

Astronomical events and cycles in the sky had a great influence on society prior to the development of the
scientific method, allowing humankind to move beyond a sky filled with superstition and to understand and
accurately predict celestial events based on the sun–Earth–moon system. Students will learn what causes the
seasons, and they will be able to define terms such as “solstice” and “equinox.” This lesson concludes with
what causes one of the most spectacular sights a sky watcher can witness—a solar eclipse.

4. The Birth of Astronomy

Astronomy is one of the oldest of the sciences, and the astronomers who set the course for our understanding of
the universe are illustrated in this lesson with narratives by their modern successors. From ancient China to Sir
Isaac Newton, this lesson introduces students to the thoughts and observations that brought about major
paradigm shifts and explains how the preceding generation went on to improve our model of the cosmos.

5. Astronomical Tools

Footage from premier observatories around the world and interviews with the astronomers who use these facilities
are highlighted in this lesson on the electromagnetic spectrum and the instruments used to collect and analyze it.
From Galileo’s small, simple telescope to the Hubble Space Telescope, the development and purpose of both
optical and radio telescopes are introduced. Modern advances in optical systems, such as active and adaptive
optics and charge-coupled devices, are also presented in an easy-to-comprehend and engaging presentation. Dr.
Roger Angel of University of Arizona Mirror Lab, Dr. Frank Drake of the Center for the Study of Life in the
Universe, and Dr. Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute are just a few of the onscreen experts who guide this lesson.

6. The Science of Starlight

“Starlight, star bright, the first star I see tonight…” are the opening words to a simple poem we learn as
children, but few people know the enormous amount of information contained in each beam of starlight. This
lesson deals with the hidden data embedded in the electromagnetic emissions of stars and galaxies and how
astronomers extract that information, revealing the mysteries of the cosmos. Students learn how “light” is
generated and how observing the resulting spectrum can show chemical composition, temperature, motion and
direction of the emitting object. The video concludes with Dr. Geoff Marcy explaining how he uses the Doppler
effect to detect the presence of unseen planets around distant stars.

7. The Sun — Our Star

The astronomers of the National Solar Observatories at Kitt Peak in Arizona and at Sacramento Peak in New
Mexico guide this award-winning lesson about our sun. Starting in the core, with the proton–proton nuclear chain
reaction, students are taught how astronomers developed the current model of the magnetic dynamo that drives
the sun. The historic impact of solar activity on Earth’s environment and the current global warming debate are
presented in a thought-provoking manner to conclude this lesson.

8. The Family of Stars

There is no better illustration in science of how one piece of data leads to another than the story of how
astronomers built the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram to classify the family of stars that fill our universe.
Students are taken step by step through the processes of determining the distance, luminosity, temperature,
diameter, and mass of stars that appear only as pinpoints of light in a seemingly two-dimensional sky.

9. Stellar Births

This lesson on the processes involved in the birth of stars begins a three-episode sequence covering the
elegant process of stellar evolution. From clouds of interstellar medium and dust to the raging nuclear
furnace in main-sequence stars, students learn the roles that gravity and pressure play in the formation
and, ultimately, the existence of stars. Dr. Gibor Basri and other renowned astronomers are featured in
this easily understood and engaging video.

10. Stellar Deaths

The story of stellar evolution continues with this lesson on stellar deaths. Students are shown that the various
results of the death of stars depend on their initial masses. Dr. Alex Filippenko explains the changes in the nuclear
reactions in stars that sometimes lead to spectacular ends. Students also learn that the elements that form our
world were once components located in the bellies of stars.

11. Stellar Remnants

Nothing engages the imagination of students more than the phenomenon of a black hole, except perhaps even
more exotic objects, such as white dwarfs and neutron stars. This lesson concludes the stellar evolution series by
discussing the exotic products of stellar death that are woven within the story of chalkboards, little green men, and
atomic bombs.

12. Our Galaxy: The Milky Way

In 1609, Galileo opened our eyes to the heliocentric solar system and opened the door on a vast and dynamic
universe. During the following 400 years, astronomers mapped the cloud of stars that appeared to be the extent of
our cosmic home until Edwin Hubble, a young lawyer-turned-astronomer, revealed that our Milky Way galaxy is
only one of the more than 100 billion galaxies that fill our universe. Astronomers from the University of Hawaii
Institute of Astronomy, as well as other notable researchers, explain the composition and structure of our galaxy
and the theory of its formation.

13. Galaxies

Dr. Steve Beckwith, Dr. Brent Tully, and other galactic experts explain how astronomers in the 20th century
defined the expanse of the universe with the ability to measure the vast distances to galaxies using various distant
indicators. The lesson includes the classification of galaxies, their evolution, and interaction with other galaxies.

14. Active Galaxies

The perspective of an observer to his or her object of study highlights the science of active galaxies and how
astronomers have gained an understanding of what powers these once-bright enigmas. Various astronomers
explain the classification and differences in the family of active galaxies, including radio galaxies and quasars,
and the quest for a unified model that drives these dynamic objects.

15. Cosmology

This lesson delves into the complex subject of cosmology, in which some of the most profound questions are
asked. What shape is the universe? How did it begin? How will it end? Evidence is presented that supports
the Big Bang theory, and the exciting notion of dark energy is introduced. The lesson ends with our quest for
a grand unified theory—a single theory capable of describing the nature of everything in the universe, from
the largest clusters of galaxies to the smallest subatomic particles.

16. Solar Systems

This lesson introduces students to solar nebulae and the processes that form stars and planets into solar systems.
Astronomers from the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Lab explain the differentiation of material in a
proto planetary disk, creating terrestrial and Jovian planets alongside comets and asteroids. Dr. Geoff Marcy
shows how the solar nebula theory is reinforced with discoveries of solar systems orbiting other stars in our

17. The Terrestrial Planets

The first in a two-part sequence covering the origin of planets in the Milky Way galaxy, this video takes the
students on a comparative tour of the inner planets to show how similar and how different each is in comparison
with Earth. Processes in the solar nebula are discussed that explain our current understanding of how the
terrestrial planets formed and how they evolved geologically over 5 billion years.

18. The Jovian Worlds

Continuing the tempo and the comparative approach used in the previous lesson, this lesson on the Jovian worlds
features planetary astronomers who explain how these massive gas giants formed in the cool outer regions of our
solar system. This lesson is not limited to just the four Jovian planets of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune but
includes their satellite systems and the exciting research involved in seeking possible life on these distant, cold

19. Solar System Debris

This lesson concludes the series on our solar system and the different bodies that orbit the sun. The study of
minor bodies, including meteors, comets, and asteroids, may seem secondary to research of the planets, but if
some planetary astronomers are correct, these chunks of rock and ice played a major role in the establishment
and the extinction of life on Earth. Comet hunters Carolyn Shoemaker and David Levy, along with other
scientists, guide this visual journey to the outer reaches of our solar system and the space debris that fills it

20. The Search for Life Beyond Earth

Are we alone? This question has driven individuals to look up at the starry sky and ponder this question since
the beginning of human existence. As a first step toward answering this question in our search for life
amongst the stars and distant planets, we are required to define what life is. In this video, leading
astronomers from the SETI Institute and other planetary scientists reveal how current research may (or may
not) uncover life beyond Earth within the next few decades. Each result will affect how we look at ourselves
and our place in the cosmos.

National Academic Advisory Team

Scott Blair, M.S., Riverside Community College
John Carzoli, Ph.D., Oakton Community College
George Jacoby, Ph.D., Astronomer and Director of the 4-Meter Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory
Stephen P. Lattanzio, M.A., Professor of Astronomy at Orange Coast College
Joel M. Levine, M.A., Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy at Orange Coast College
Kevin Murphy, M.A.E., Moraine Valley Community College
Peter K. Schoch, M.S., Sussex County Community College
Michael A. Seeds, Ph.D., Textbook Author and Professor Emeritus at Franklin & Marshall College
Kendra Sibbernsen, M.S., Hawkeye College and Metropolitan Community College
George R. Stanley, M.A., San Antonio College
Dennis Tabor, MPH, Cowley County Community College
Chandra Vanajakshi, Ph.D., College of San Mateo and San Francisco State University
J. Wayne Wooten, Ed.D., Pensacola Junior College and University of West Florida

On-Camera Experts

Roger Angel, Ph.D., University of Arizona
KS Balasubramaniem, Ph.D., National Solar Observatory
Howard Banich, Amateur Astronomer
Gibor Basri, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
Natalie Batalha, Ph.D., NRC Research Associate, NASA
Steven Beckwith, Ph.D. Space Telescope Science Institute
Sue Benedik, Amateur Astronomer
Karen Bjorkman, Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Toledo
William J. Borucki, Ph.D., NASA Ames Research Center
Robert H. Brown, Ph.D., University of Arizona
Benjamin Burress, Ph.D., Chabot Space & Science Center
Nathalie Cabrol, Ph.D., NASA ARC/SETI Institute
David Charbonneau, Ph.D., Harvard University
Paul H. Coleman, Ph.D., University of Hawaii
Fr. Chris Corbally, Ph.D., Vatican Observatory

G.B. Cornucopia, Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Charles Corson, WIYN Observatory
Richard Crowe, Ph.D., Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii
Roger Davies, Ph.D., University of Oxford
Frank Drake, Ph.D., Center for the Study of Life in the Universe
Michael J. Drake, Ph.D., University of Arizona
Denton Ebel, Ph.D., American Museum of Natural History
Alex Filippenko, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley
Wendy Freedman, Ph.D., Carnegie Observatories
Marla Geha, Ph.D., Carnegie Observatories
Mark Giampapa, Ph.D., National Solar Observatory
Robert Goodrich, Ph.D., W. M. Keck Observatory
Richard Green, Ph.D., Kitt Peak National Observatory
Alan Hale, Ph.D., Southwest Institute for Space Research
William K. Hartmann, Ph.D., Planetary Science Institute

Michael Havanek, Ph.D., Sloan Digital Sky Survey
David J. Helfand, Ph.D., Columbia University
Klaus Hodapp, Ph.D., University of Hawaii
Martin Houde, Ph.D., University of Western Ontario
Catherine Ishida, Ph.D., Subaru Telescope NAOJ
George Jacoby, Ph.D., WIYN Observatory
Stephen Keil, Ph.D., National Solar Observatory
John A. Johnson, University of California Berkeley
Patricia Knezek, Ph.D., Wisconsin Indiana Yale NOAO
Laura Kraft, Public Information Officer, W.M. Keck Observatory
Kevin Krisciunas, Ph.D., University of Notre Dame
Rolf Kudritzki, Ph.D., University of Hawaii
David H. Levy, Jarnac Observatory
Jonathan I. Lunine, Ph.D., University of Arizona
Geoffrey Marcy, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Karen Meech, Ph.D., University of Hawaii
Jay Melosh, Ph.D., University of Arizona
Steve Miller, Steward Observatory Mirror Lab
Robert Millis, Ph.D., Lowell Observatory
Jeremy Mould, Ph.D., National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Dara Norman, Ph.D., Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory
Sean O’Neill, University of Hawaii, Hilo
Alison Peck, Ph.D., Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Matthew Penn, Ph.D., National Solar Observatory
Cynthia B. Phillips, Ph.D., SETI Institute
Mark Phillips, Ph.D., Las Campanas Observatory
Philip Plait, Ph.D., Sonoma State University
Claude Plymate, MS, National Solar Observatory
Andreas Quirrenbach Ph.D., Leiden University
Kathy Rages, Ph.D., SETI Institute

Jim Regas, Ph.D., California State University, Chico
Bo Reipurth, Ph.D., University of Hawaii
James Scotti, Ph.D., University of Arizona
Michael Seeds, Ph.D., Author/Astronomer
Carolyn Shoemaker, BA, United States Geological Survey
Seth Shostak, Ph.D., SETI Institute
Stephanie Snedden, Ph.D., Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Robert G. Strom, Ph.D., University of Arizona
Nicholas Suntzeff, Ph.D., National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Jill Tarter, Ph.D., Director, Center for SETI Research
Stephen C. Tegler, Ph.D., Northern Arizona University
Joanna Thomas-Osip, Ph.D., Carnegie Institute for Astronomy
Alan Tokunaga, Ph.D., University of Hawaii
Warren Tucker, Amateur Astronomer
R. Brent Tully, Ph.D., University of Hawaii

Michael Turner, Ph.D., National Science Foundation
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D., American Museum of Natural History
Mark Wagner, Amateur Astronomer
Connie Walker, Ph.D., National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Gregory Wirth, Ph.D., W. M. Keck Observatory
Ron Wodaski, Author/Amateur Astronomer

Coast Learning Systems is an outstanding partner for the Riverside Community College District’s distance education program, by providing quality video series that our online instructors want to use to supplement their online courses."
Glen Brady, Riverside Community College District (Riverside Community College)


Instructors can customize the course by making learning assets open or closed to student view, add learning assets such as new assignments, discussion forums, web research activities, and extra credit work. Instructors also have the option to request a “copy” of their prior course each term. Finally, there is the option of turning on automatic student tracking that simplifies the evaluation process.

How to Adopt Course & Print Materials

There is no fee paid by an institution or instructor when the online course/content is adopted. Each student is required to purchase a one-time use Access Code. To adopt and offer this course online, instructors complete an Online Course Request Form prior to the start of each term, and a course shell will be provided by the date requested. Instructors also have the option to request a “copy” of their prior course each term.

This online course is hosted and provided in a Moodle® (LMS) shell, and instructors can link from their institution’s LMS or send their students directly to the class URL. Coast Learning Systems provides instructor and student technical support via an electronic help desk, which is monitored 7 days a week. Our goal is to make sure you enjoy teaching with our content and that your students have an engaging and positive learning experience.

The Online Course Request Form should be submitted at least two weeks prior to the start of your class.

Horizons: Exploring the Universe
Cengage Learning, ISBN: 978-1-1114-3020-7
The textbook is available in paperback, as an eBook with multiple access lengths, eChapter, or as a rental with multiple options.

One-Time Use Online Course Access Code
Coast Learning Systems, (800) 547-4748
ISBN: 978-1-59846-541-9
Access Codes are sold through bookstores only; we do not sell directly to students.

If you are interested in licensing just the videos as a resource for your own online, hybrid, video-based, or traditional course, please contact our office. In areas where connectivity is a challenge, DVDs are a perfect solution. All of the video lessons are available in a professionally produced set of DVDs and are available directly from Coast Learning Systems. Please contact our office for DVD options and pricing, (800) 547-4748.