Online reading assignment: the Milky Way (NC campus)

Astronomy 210, spring semester 2014
Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA

Students have a weekly online reading assignment (hosted by SurveyMonkey.com), where they answer questions based on reading their textbook, material covered in previous lectures, opinion questions, and/or asking (anonymous) questions or making (anonymous) comments. Full credit is given for completing the online reading assignment before next week's lecture, regardless if whether their answers are correct/incorrect. Selected results/questions/comments are addressed by the instructor at the start of the following lecture.

The following questions were asked on reading textbook chapters and previewing presentations on the Milky Way's shape, size and composition and spiral arm structure and formation.

Selected/edited responses are given below.

Describe something you found interesting from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally interesting for you.
"I found it very interesting that we can deduce what type of galaxy we are just using the naked human eye. Personally, I'm continually impressed by the sheer observational power of humans, and the intelligence required to think about something as large as a galaxy."

"The spiral arms because it is constantly changing and almost like a circle of life but for stars."

"The beautiful shape of our galaxy. It's interesting because it is elegantly pretty."

"The formation of the spiral spurs was interesting to be because I think it's fascinating how they are self-sustaining."

"The fact that the Milky Way contains billions of stars and planets and it's just a tiny part of the entire universe. Not sure if amazing or terrifying."

"I found spiral arms interesting because one from our own galaxy can be seen on a clear night. It gives me the sense of how small I really am in the grand scheme of things."

"Learning about them cool spiral galaxies."

"I thought that the part about the spiral arms of galaxies was really interesting. I thought it was interesting how some have more spirals than others. All the forms it can take are really cool and beautiful."

How our galaxy absorbs dwarf galaxies is pretty cool."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"Dark matter. Definitely going to need some explaining on this one. What I am most confused about is the two types of possible dark matters, MACHOS and WIMPS, and how dark matter could be so dense that it would move the galaxy. Mind blowing..."

"That we don't really know what dark matter is."

"Dark matter. It is confusing because we know something is creating a lot of gravity in the galaxy, but we are unsure exactly what it is--called 'dark matter.'"

"The gas and dust compression [for new star formation in the spiral arms] is a little confusing. Why does it happen at particular times?"

In your experience, how much of the "Milky Way" (the band of faint stars across the celestial sphere) have you been able to see in the night sky?
As much as can be seen with the naked eye.  ******** [8]
Not very much.  ******* [7]
Barely seen it.  ** [2]
(Never been able to see it.)  ** [2]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  [0]

Using the most powerful light-gathering telescopes in the darkest skies, up to how much of the stars in our entire galaxy can be observed from Earth?
1%.  **** [4]
5%.  * [1]
10%.  ******* [7]
50%.  ** [2]
100%.  [0]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  ***** [5]

If you did not have access to a mirror while camping, what could you do to find out whether or not you're having a bad hair day?
"I would use the reflection of my sunglasses."

"I would suggest trying to find water first so you can see somewhat of your reflection but if there is no water you can feel your hair with your hands and then you can tell what shape it is and if its unruly or not."

"A spoon."

"Well, first off, I am camping, it doesn't matter what my hair looks like! BUT, if I did worry about it, I would take a 'selfie' if I had my phone, or look in a river, lake or stream. If I was camping and had my car around, I would use a mirror. But I reiterate, I am camping--what my hair looks like, or how my breath smells--doesn't matter! HA!"

"I would find the nearest bear and ask if it had a mirror I could borrow briefly."

"Being the turbo nerd that I am, I usually bring my laptop with me everywhere--I'd just turn on the webcam and use that to tidy myself up."

"Dunk your head in water and you don't have to deal with the problem again until it dries. Or you could ask someone, but people lie to make you feel good. You may never really know."

"We're are but tiny ants in this humongous galaxy, does it really matter what our hair looks like one day out in the wilderness? Yes--you don't want people mistaking you for an animal that lives in the forest."

Look at PimpStar Rims (*.html) for cars, or MonkeyLectric Rims (*.html) for bikes. Briefly explain how they work.
"LEDS in the rim light up, and I would imagine the created image would have to rotate equally to the speed of the tire spin... $12,000 is a lot of money for pimpin' rims."

"The rapidly blinking lights can be coordinated to create patterns when swept across our field of view."

"The PimpStar Rims or MonkeyLectric Rims are visual illusions. Some lights blink shortly or are on for a brief period of time and while in motion, there is a pattern."

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Do you have pimp wheels?" (Yes, on my bicycle. So if you see me rolling at night, don't be hating.)

"I've seen a good portion of the Milky Way a couple of nights. It's pretty cool."

"This might be a really stupid question, but where does the stuff that goes into a black hole go?" (Well, from an outside observer's viewpoint, that stuff just circles closer and closer inwards without actually getting "into" the black hole. From the viewpoint of your spaghettified atoms, they just fall "onto" the point-like singularity in a finite amount of time, and become part of its mass...thereby making the black hole gravitationally stronger!)

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