Online reading assignment: Milky Way history, big bang clues (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 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.
"How heavier elements were formed because it is in our bodies and that is just very cool, interesting, and somewhat weird."

"I found Olbers's paradox most fascinating only because I had a very fuzzy understanding of it prior to the reading. This helped quite a lot."

"The part about the big bang interested me a lot, I know there are a lot of different opinions on what happened so it's interesting to finally know."

"To really think in depth about the universe. I rarely consider how it began so to me that was interesting to read about."

"How a telescope is basically a time travel device, because I had never thought about that before."

"That there is some evidence behind the big bang theory."

"The video regarding why it is dark at night was interesting."

"That we and everything that exists are made of stardust. This is interesting to me because it all seems pretty magical."

"All elements, including what we are comprised of, were made from the original elements of hydrogen and helium through the processes occurring in Stars. This makes me a star."

"I didn't find anything interesting this week."

"How when we are looking up in the sky, we are actually looking into the past."

We can see an edge in time, not space. This was just a fascinating idea."

"I found the concept of 'dirtification' fascinating. I found this fascinating because dirt is usually looked st as a bad thing but for the universe, dirtification allows for the formation of new galaxies.""

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"The whole 'edge of time' not 'edge of space' concept."

"Honestly nothing was confusing to me about it."

"Metallicity of different types of stars."

"Olber's paradox. I just don't get it."

"I do not understand how there can be an observable universe which is finite and another universe as a whole which is infinite. How do you separate the two if it is one entity?"

"I find the big bag confusing. I do not understand the concept or idea. I've never really understood it."

"At first, it was confusing to me how the metallicities could show someone how old a star is. Now that I have read into the chapter I can understand how the metals I the star show how old a star is. The older star, or first generation, will be more metal-poor than a newer star."

Indicate how the amount of these elements in the universe have changed over time.
(Only correct responses shown.)
Hydrogen: decreased [50%]
Metals (elements heavier than hydrogen and helium): increased [92%]

The outermost layers of __________ are more abundant in metals (elements heavier than hydrogen and helium).
extremely old stars that formed a long time ago.  ******** [8]
young stars that formed very recently.  *********************** [23]
(There is a tie.)  [0]
(Neither, as stars cannot have metals.)  *** [3]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  ** [2]

Indicate what produced these elements.
(Only correct responses shown.)
Helium in the sun's core: the sun [47%]
Carbon in your body: another star, in the past [67%]
Calcium in your bones: another star, in the past [64%]
Iron in your blood: another star, in the past [61%]
Gold and silver from mines: another star, in the past [56%]

People breaking up a relationship are most likely to update their Facebook status to "single":
on Valentine's Day.  ********* [9]
during spring break.  ********************* [21]
just after Thanksgiving.  ** [2]
on Christmas Day.  [0]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  **** [4]

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"WE ARE ALL STARS!!! Literally. Or at least parts of different stars. =D"

"Since there is a finite amount of hydrogen (and helium), will the universe eventually change it all into heavier metals causing stars to not form anymore or would they 'adapt' to these heavier metals and create something new we have never seen before?" (Our current understanding of the universe is that the expansion of space will eventually move everything apart so much that new stars can no longer form, and that existing stars (if any) would be pulled apart in the 'big rip' long before all the hydrogen is exhausted.)

"Are you happy with the class' midterm grades?" (Meh. I could be happier.)

"How did astronomers come to the idea that the big bang was what started everything?" (Reasons. That is to say, careful interpretation of observed evidence. Which we will talk about in class, from the online reading assignment.)

"Did you ever take a rock from Death Valley and throw it in the ocean here?" (Just memories. Mrs. P-dog and I took only memories back with us from Death Valley.)

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