Online reading assignment: the Milky Way (SLO campus)

Astronomy 210, spring semester 2015
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.
"That we can see galaxies from far away, but because of where we are, we cant see a whole lot of stars in our own galaxy. Freaky!"

"We have the capability to map out where in our galaxy our solar system is!"

"I really like being able to think that we are in a galaxy we can't see out of even though there are a multitude of them."

"Spiral arms are mostly made up of young massive stars that form and die in the arms and that's why the arms are so bright and beautiful."

"The fact that the Milky Way has a flat disk shape. I would have never pictured the shape to be like that."

"Dark matter, because the concept is intriguing and I love a good mystery."

"Where the word 'Milky Way' had originated from."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"I would like some clarification on dark matter. I understand it's in the outer regions of our galaxy, but it is it something I can place in flask jar and bring back with me?"

"What density waves are, and if they cause anything else to happen."

"I don't really understand how we know about our galaxy. I got the analogy about camping but I don't understand the ways or how we deduce what our galaxy looks like."

"How we know how old our galaxy is."

"Nothing confused me."

"I don't really understand the spiral arm density waves and the PimpStar Rims. If you could go over this and the 'traffic jam' reference in class that would help."

"How they figure out the mass of the galaxy did not make sense to me."

"Where is the Milky Way? I've never seen it, or at least known which set of stars it is."

"I found it confusing how to figure out where we are in the Milky Way. This is because I couldn't understand how they could identify where we where exactly without travelling outside. Now I do understand, though."

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.  ************* [13]
Not very much.  *************** [15]
Barely seen it.  ********** [10]
(Never been able to see it.)  * [1]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  * [1]

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%.  ********* [9]
5%.  *** [3]
10%.  **************** [16]
50%.  * [1]
100%.  ** [2]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  ********* [9]

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?
"Use the reflection of water. Or say screw it, I don't need to impress these bears anyways."

"You could use your phone."

"Ask a friend."

"I've never had a bad hair day."

"Throw it in a bun."

"Shave my head."

"Feel your hair to find out if its messy or not."

"The shadow created by the sun."

Look at PimpStar Rims (*.html) for cars, or MonkeyLectric Rims (*.html) for bikes. Briefly explain how they work.
"The eye perceives a synchronized pattern as the lights move, making our eyes think we are looking at consistent image."

"There's a delay between your eyes and what your brain registers so you perceive the patterns into a single image."

"P-dog should work for Pimp My Ride and put Milky Way spinners on rims!"

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"If we take more quizzes then we have to do we get those extra points or do you just drop the lowest three scores?" (The course policy is that you keep your top five quiz scores, and drop your three lowest/missed quizzes.)
"If you could take a minute or two during class to explain how we came to believe there is a supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, and what that means for the death of our galaxy." (No, I will not--I know just as much as you do on that topic (i.e., I read the two pages on the supermassive black hole in the textbook), and because it's basically just factual information, it won't be on the next quiz. And no, the supermassive black hole is not going to kill us.)

"Almost two years ago there was a meteor shower and a couple friends and I drove to the middle of nowhere, where there was no light pollution, to see it. What we didn't expect was to also see the Milky Way. It was one of the most beautiful things I have every seen."

"The H-R diagram pisses me off. Makes no sense. And supernovae of all types are not explained well in the book. You should write an astronomy book, please." (No. Because writing textbooks is a trap.)

"Star Wars or Star Trek? Do not take this question lightly." (#jedihandwave This is not the answer you're looking for. But then again, there's an "epic trailer"  that might answer your question.)
"I'm going to need a little more explanation on persistence of vision and how that relates to our galaxy. P.S. Your bike is boss. No hate."

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