Online reading assignment: Milky Way history, big bang clues (NC 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 history of the Milky Way and big bang clues, a comic strip adaptation of of Neil deGrasse Tyson's "The Most Astounding Fact" 2008 interview for TIME magazine, and Minute Physics' video explanation of Olbers' paradox.

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 the idea that the universe has an edge in time rather than space pretty interesting, because it means that we'll never see an edge, but rather a time before time."

"The outermost layers of stars that have different materials and elements because it takes a certain amount of time to develop those metals or materials so it helps put a date on the star."

"I found it very interesting that the universe is not infinite, but actually has a beginning. I also found it interesting that when we see light from other stars we are looking into the past"

"I really liked the 'no gaps' analogy. It really helped me to grasp the actual quantity of stars that reside in the universe."

"I thought the part of the blog about us being made of the same things as stars in our galaxy interesting because it puts into perspective how alike and different space is from us."

"I found interesting that the universe is actually expanding. This is interesting to me because I never knew that the universe used to be smaller than what it is, I thought it was about the same in the past as it is now. But in fact, it's actually expanding and in the future it will expand even further."

"The idea that telescope are time machines."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"I found it a little confusing about how new stars have metal outer layers, I thought they all still had hydrogen on the outer layers."


"I don't know yet."

"Cosmic microwave background."

"The endless universe."

"Uh, how are we made from stardust?"

Indicate how the amount of these elements in the universe have changed over time.
(Only correct responses shown.)
Hydrogen: decreased [55%]
Metals (elements heavier than hydrogen and helium): increased [75%]

The outermost layers of __________ are more abundant in metals (elements heavier than hydrogen and helium).
extremely old stars that formed a long time ago.  ***** [5]
young stars that formed very recently.  ************ [12]
(There is a tie.)  [0]
(Neither, as stars cannot have metals.)  [0]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  *** [3]

Indicate what produced these elements.
(Only correct responses shown.)
Helium in the sun's core: the sun [35%]
Carbon in your body: another star, in the past [30%]
Calcium in your bones: another star, in the past [40%]
Iron in your blood: another star, in the past [45%]
Gold and silver from mines: another star, in the past [5%]

People breaking up a relationship are most likely to update their Facebook status to "single":
on Valentine's Day.  ** [2]
during spring break.  ************* [13]
just after Thanksgiving.  ** [2]
on Christmas Day.  [0]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  *** [3]

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Is the big bang the creation of everything, and if so, what was there before it?" (As far as we know, the big bang started the process of creating everything around us that we know of. We can't rule out things that happened before the big bang, as in that case we would be talking about stuff that isn't around today that we don't know of.)

"The concept of the big bang confuses me and is not something I personally believe in." (I still need you to understand how the evidence for the big bang is interpreted, which is something I can test you on; rather than why (or why not) you believe in the big bang, which is something I can't test you on.)

"What's your favorite galaxy?" (Jackson Galaxy.)

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