Planets, Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe

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Not registered? Students who register for this Penn State course gain access to assignments and instructor feedback and earn academic credit. Find information about registering for this course and about the online Masters of Education in Earth Sciences at the M.Ed. in Earth Sciences website. 

Quick Facts about ASTRO 801

Candid photo of Dr. Christopher Palma demonstrating a model for a comet nucleus.
Dr. Christopher Palma, center, during a workshop for teachers in the early 2000s
Credit: Dick Ackley, Penn State Campus Photography
  • Author / Instructor - Dr. Christopher Palma, Senior Lecturer of Astronomy & Astrophysics is the original author, and he and Dr. Darren Williams, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, Erie PA share the instructional duties. During the fall, 2018 semester, Dr. Palma will be the instructor.
  • Overview - ASTRO 801 is a required course in Penn State's online Masters of Education in Earth Sciences. The course is designed specifically for secondary science teachers who seek to enrich their knowledge (and bring a contemporary understanding of Earth’s place in the Universe to their classrooms) but who are able to study only part-time and at a distance. ASTRO 801: Planets, Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe will provide science educators with a strong foundation in astronomy, allowing them to critically evaluate the evidence for the most recent advances in our understanding of the Solar System, our Galaxy, and the Universe.
  • Learning Environment - This website provides the primary instructional materials for the course. The Resources menu links to important supporting materials, while the Lessons menu links to the course lessons. Canvas, Penn State's course management system, is used to support the delivery of this course and also provides the primary communications, calendaring, and submission tools for the course.
  • Topics of Study - There are 12 lessons that will be completed at a rate of approximately 1 week per lesson. ASTRO 801 will be conducted entirely on the World Wide Web. There will be no set class meeting times, but students will be required to complete weekly assignments. Each lesson contains interactive exercises, links, animations, movies, and novel explanations of the basic scientific principles related to the objects in the Universe and their environments. Each lesson will conclude with an open book, online assessment, which will rely on a variety of types of exercises. These exercises will include brief math problems and short essay questions, some of which will require additional Internet research to complete. Several simulated lab exercises will also be required, which will allow students to enrich their understanding of the concepts through inquiry-based, active learning. Each student will also complete a capstone project, where they will use content knowledge and skills to create material for their classrooms. ASTRO 801 students will be granted licenses to use the courseware developed for this course in their own secondary classrooms.
    • Lesson 1 - Motions in the Sky and the 3D Geometry of the Sun, Earth, Moon System
    • Lesson 2 - Orbits and the Laws of Kepler and Newton
    • Lesson 3 - Electromagnetic radiation and Astronomical Observations
    • Lesson 4 - The Properties of Stars and Stellar Classification
    • Lesson 5 - The Early Stages of Stellar Evolution
    • Lesson 6 - The Late Stages of Stellar Evolution
    • Lesson 7 - Star Clusters
    • Lesson 8 - The Milky Way Galaxy
    • Lesson 9 - Galaxies in the Universe
    • Lesson 10 - Cosmology
    • Lesson 11 - The Solar System
    • Lesson 12 - Life in the Universe


This course is offered as part of the Open Educational Resources initiative of Penn State's John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. You are welcome to use and reuse materials that appear in this site (other than those copyrighted by others) subject to the licensing agreement linked to the bottom of this and every page.