Teaching Astronomy In The Classroom

Taken From Here and slightly edited…A very good read!

Teacher: Everything began with a Big Bang before this, there was nothing, but suddenly everything came together and exploded.

Student: But prof, “nothing” can’t explode.

Teacher: Our theoreticians have theorized that nothing might be able to explode under the right conditions, if compacted enough.

Student: But prof, there would be nothing to press “nothing” together; gravity surely wouldn’t.

Teacher: It was an immense explosion, fueled by a massive amount of energy.

Student: But prof, if there were nothing there, then there was no matter and no energy there. Only matter can explode, and it takes a source of energy to fire it.

Teacher: This hydrogen shot outward, then stopped, and then began whirling, and formed itself into stars.

Student: But prof, out-rushing hydrogen would never stop in outer space, and there is no way it could start whirling.

Teacher: Wait, there is more! This hydrogen pushed itself together into stars. This is because there is immense gravitation exerted by a star.

Student: But prof, hydrogen in the vacuum of outer space never jams itself together. Instead, it continually flows outward and becomes less dense, not more. Yes, stars have immense gravity, but only after they are formed, not before.

Teacher: Then many of those first stars exploded. The extra-large explosions—the supernovas—made all the post-helium elements in the universe.

Student: But prof, because of the helium mass-4 gap, very few—if any—heavier elements could be made from hydrogen or helium. Analysis of outflowing gases from the Crab supernova explosion of A.D. 1054 revealed the presence of only hydrogen and helium, and none of the heavier elements.

Teacher: Each supernova explosion compacted and produced more stars.

Student: But prof, an exploding star would only produce outflowing gas, not another star. Loose, gaseous matter never compacts itself together in the vacuum of outer space. It does not even do it here on earth.

Teacher: The Big Bang, and later random explosions of stars, produced all our present stars. And then they got together into intricately balanced orbits. We theorize that random motion can do that.

Student: But prof, random explosions could never produce carefully balanced orbits of stars, binaries, clusters, and galaxies.

Teacher: Then all those stellar explosions suddenly stopped. By coincidence, we think the explosions stopped just before human civilization and records suddenly began a few hundred years ago.

Student: But prof, that means it is only a theory that says all those explosions occurred. Why then did they suddenly stop? Thousands of supernova explosions—brighter than our planets—should occur each night.

Teacher: We have been searching for years for the missing mass, which is 90 percent of all the matter produced by the theoretical Big Bang. We finally think we have found it: It is invisible and all around us!

Student: But prof, this is just another example of evidence which is no evidence. It’s storytelling.

Teacher: Thus, because of the Big Bang, we have stars and galaxies all through space.

Student: But prof, a Big Bang explosion would only produce gas that would keep flowing forever outward toward the edges of space. It would not turn around and go back in, much less from itself into stars.

Teacher: Son, don’t make this harder than it already is. Planets are just gas spun off from the stars, which then compacted themselves together.

Student: But prof, why then do planets have a totally different elemental composition? And how could outflowing gas from stars squeeze itself into planets?

Teacher: Now here comes some of the more interesting parts. I want to explain celestial mechanics. It is because of angular momentum—the turning motion (revolutions) of stars, binaries, planets, moons, and galaxies, along with their orbits around other bodies (rotations), that they are able to maintain their precise relationships to one another—without all crashing together or flying apart.

Student: But prof, how could outward explosions of Big Bang—and later of stars—produce spin and orbit? How could linear motion change into angular momentum?

Teacher: That Big Bang produced all our present matter and, fortunately, almost no antimatter. If both had been produced in equal amounts, the two would have instantly destroyed one another—and no matter would have remained.

Student: But prof, every calculation requires the production of equal amounts of both matter and antimatter. And, yes, they then would have totally destroyed one another.

Teacher: We think we have solved that problem: Our theorists suspect that all that antimatter traveled off somewhere else by itself. It has been suggested that perhaps it has been hidden behind some stars and galaxies, and has just so far eluded us. We just need to invent the tools to find it, but in the meantime all you need is the scientific community’s approval for it to be factual!

Student: But prof, that antimatter would not—could not—travel off by itself. Under laboratory conditions, the two instantly fly to one another, annihilating both.

Teacher: The Big Bang theoretically produced only smooth gas; and, as it flowed outward, it changed itself into all our stars and galactic systems.

Student: But prof, even the theoreticians know that smooth gas could never do that.

Teacher: The very best evidence of the Big Bang is background radiation. We consider it the “last whisper” of the Big Bang, which exploded 15 billion years ago.

Student: But prof, background radiation does not fit the theory. It is the wrong temperature, is totally smooth, has the wrong spectrum, and comes from every direction—instead of just one.

Teacher: Our other best evidence of the Big Bang is a theory we devised about the redshift. We think the spectral shift of distant stars is caused because they are speeding away from us. The farther a star is from us, the faster it is moving outward.

Student: But prof, there is an abundance of evidence against the speed theory, and for the other redshift theories.

Teacher: Let us now turn our attention to the expanding universe theory. It is based on the speed theory, which in turn is based on the Big Bang theory. That is why we know the universe is expanding outward.

Student: But prof, it is just one theory piled on top of another theory. Everything is theory without serious evidence.

Teacher: Then there are quasars. According to the speed theory, they are rushing away from us nearly as fast—and some eight times faster—than the speed of light!

Student: But prof, the quasar problem would be solved if we would admit the speed theory is incorrect.

Teacher: It is really no problem at all: We are thinking of changing the speed of light to fit the theory. Quasars are also remarkable in that, although extremely distant from us, they are still bright enough to see through our telescopes.

Student: But prof, this is but another evidence that the current speed theory and quasar theory are both incorrect. Visible quasars so far away would be impossible, and would violate the inverse-square law.

Teacher: Our matter and stellar origin theories demonstrate that, everywhere throughout the universe, there is a continual production of matter and a continual progression from disorder to order.

Student: But prof, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics make it impossible for either of those possibilities to occur.

Teacher: Some stars are older and others are younger. We know this for three reasons. The first is that many of the first generation of stars (Population III stars) exploded, producing second and third generation stars (Population I and II) which have heavy metals—elements above hydrogen and helium.

Student: But prof, if that were true, there would be some Population III stars in the sky somewhere, but none are to be found.

Teacher: The second reason is that we have theorized that red giant stars are very old, blue stars are younger, and dwarfs are the oldest of all. This shows variations of age in the stars and proves our theory.

Student: But prof, you are using a theory to prove a theory. The metalicity of all those stars is essentially the same! Then all show essentially the same chemical composition. If the theory were correct, then the youngest stars would have the highest content of heavy elements—elements above helium,—and the oldest would be non-metalicity stars—and only have hydrogen and helium. In addition, red giants and dwarfs are both found in each galaxy. The mass-luminosity law requires that the brightest, hottest stars burn themselves out the fastest,—yet they are all found together in the same galaxy, and there is no evidence that new stars are being formed.

Teacher: The third reason is that we have theorized that the central stars in galaxies are much younger while nearly all of those in the outer disk are much older. In addition, we have decided that the stars in globular clusters must be much younger still. These are outstanding evidences that our general theory of stellar origins and evolution must be true.

Student: But prof, the metalicity of both types of stars in the galaxies is essentially the same! And the same holds true for the globular cluster stars in relation to the disk and central sphere stars. The theory requires that the youngest stars have extremely high metalicity and the oldest extremely low metalicity or none at all.

And so ends teaching Astronomy in the classroom, we hope you enjoyed the observation!

18 thoughts on “Teaching Astronomy In The Classroom

  1. Hi Michael, did you make all this up yourself ?

    That teacher should immediately be fired for gross ignorance and stupidity. And the student should be sent back a class or two for the same reason.

    So what is the point of the story ? Are American classrooms filled with idiots ? Can’t believe that to be so …

  2. Well, for the first time, you didn’t try to undermine the content of a post in here…lol…Yes, that is why I put my quote in black with one exception…But your right, I should have put the link out there, an oversight but you did that for me so I didn’t have to do it…lol…Thanks!

  3. Which quote ? I still don’t see a quote ? Or are you saying that the *whole post* is a quote ? If you literally copy something from the web and post it as your own writing, I think you’d be expelled from class in any normal school.

    As was my point about the teacher: he should be fired. Such gross ignorance and stupidity (almost anything this teacher says has *nothing* to do with astronomy, but is made up by the author of this “piece”). Same goes for the student: he has no idea what he is talking about, mostly. One nice example of something that is completely false: “But prof, background radiation does not fit the theory. It is the wrong temperature, is totally smooth, has the wrong spectrum, and comes from every direction—instead of just one.”

    If you feel that I undermine you a lot: well, unfortunately ther e is not scientific basis to creationism. It is a religion, so pretending it to be science is dishonest, as there is no scientific foundation to it at all. This is what I try to demonstrate time and time again. You usually end up walking away from the arguments.

  4. Your funny as you state…

    Oh dear. Michael, you lifted this “conversation” straight from…

    The teacher should be fired? lol…What? I thought for sure you would expel the student first for asking too many questions, lol…not the teacher who was trying to teach the origin of the Universe by using the Big Bang Theory. No, the teacher was pretty accurate when it comes to explaining the big bang theory. Before the big bang, there was nothing (unknown origin), then there was the big bang. It’s like ID, when they advocate unknown origin for intelligent agents but wham, it’s there. There is no scientific basis nor evidence for the big bang coming into being and then exploding. It defies the laws of physics!

    I could go on for a long time with my arguments, but move on to other things, at times I come back to past arguments. There is no need for me to always get in the last word on everything like some people believe is needed.

  5. What is funny about what I said ?
    I always enjoy being called humorous, so thanks for the compliment, but I can’t spot the joke … ?

    Anyway, you show gross ignorance about the ‘big bang’ theory yourself – it is fine if you criticize a theory, but then you should criticize the theory as it is, not one you made up yourself. What you depict as the big bang theory has nothing to do with what cosmologist like myself, who teach this stuff at universities, depict as the big bang theory. Just in passing, professional astronomer don’t use the term ‘big bang’ at all, we just talk about cosmology. It has nothing to do with an explosion anyway: the universe expands, it does not explode.

    By the way, I am quite unhappy if students do not ask any questions during or after my lectures … they are encouraged to do so ! That is what science is about – asking questions, and then trying to find answers together.

  6. I’m afraid you don’t write like a cosmologist who teaches at universities. The likes of Professor Robert M. Hazen from George Mason University and Carnegie in Institution of Washington teaches in his lectures for example, “The big bang” theory. Your reply is very strange, perhaps avoiding a tough subject is more likely your motivation. It’s like saying “fields and forces” have nothing to do with particle physics. It’s also like saying why talk about the history of physics when your only into particle physics. One more example on lectures in Astronomy, the Expansion of the Universe and the Big Bang is taught, as well as Cosmology—The Really Big Picture is also in the same series. Alex Filippenko University of California, Berkeley Ph.D., California Institute of Technology teaches it like what you say isn’t taught that way in certain topical courses…

    Do you believe the Universe had a beginning or it’s without a beginning? Well, it’s good that you believe that students ask questions which also helps you identify how well they are learning and that’s your job to teach them.

  7. Well, I am a cosmologist – don’t know how I am supposed to write … but usually cosmologists don’t like the term “big bang”. Some use it in lectures, some in public talks, but very rarely in the scientific literature. Remember, the term “big bang” was mockingly coined by Fred Hoyle during a radio broadcast in 1949. Hoyle didn’t believe a word of it. Its name was a joke, which somehow stuck. But there is no ‘bang’, it is not an explosion. From a human perspective, it sure is ‘big’, though.

    I have no idea whether the universe had a beginning – that is hard to say. The laws of physics as we know them are likely to break down the closer you get to the ‘singularity’, if there was one. It is great fun speculating about this, but it currently is still hard to get solid data ‘beyond’ the epoch of the ‘last-scattering surface’ of the microwave background. Sorry to get technical, but that’s one of the problems with science communication, I guess.

    I would not dare to say whether there was a beginning, or whether the universe cycles through expansion and contraction forever. To early to tell, but again, fun to speculate.

  8. That whole “conversation” is a giant straw man. As Eelco said, the teacher should be fired for gross ignorance because they are not in any way, shape, nor form representing the state of cosmology.

    In fact, the teacher almost sounds like a creationist because of the oft-used tactic of, instead of answering the question, just moving on to something else. Any teacher worth their salt would NEVER do that, they would answer the question as it’s asked and not dodge it.

    And, you lifting this entire post from someone else would get YOU censured or fired from almost any academic institution for academic dishonesty or plagiarism.

  9. Then the likes of Richard Dawkins should be fired…lol…He lifts posts all the time, it’s also practiced in other blogs. However, research fraud in evolution is a major problem. Back in June 2008, Nature had an article about it and some researchers responded by saying; “The academic and financial rewards of calculated, cautious dishonesty on the part of some scientific leaders are, we believe, all too apparent to the junior scientists they supervise,” they said. “No amount of tutoring, stricter supervision or courses in research ethics will fix this problem.”

    Science News also had it’s take on the problem of research fraud in evolution…

    “Estimates suggest that between 0.1% and 1% of researchers commit fraud and perhaps as many as 10% to 50% engage in questionable practices. Most of these are relatively minor, said Dr John Marks, Director of Science and Strategy at ESF, “but if people get away with it and if no-one says anything about it, it might invite bigger issues of misconduct.”

    The article is more concerned about what the public might think about scientists if fraud continues to be a problem than the actual act itself unlike Nature which was concerned about the impact it would have on future research studies. Questionable practices are even higher, much higher and have much more motivation for more researches because of the gray area. More easier to get away with as well as stated previously.

    But when you have thousands of papers being submitted on a yearly basis, it is very difficult to keep track of them all and one cannot always focus beyond with a detailed investigation on what’s being said in the paper itself due to time limitations, so it’s much easier with these papers based on evolution to get away with ethical misconduct than it would for a creationist paper.

  10. In the article you linked to with Richard Dawkins, he gives credit. He says that it is reposted from another source. You did not.

    And I don’t disagree that research fraud is an issue and needs to be dealt with. That does not give one license to do so: Just because so-and-so jumps off a bridge, should you do so, too?

  11. When you generally post the whole item, in this case it was a newspaper publication, you put “used by permission.” Yes, eelco pointed that out, and I stated it was an oversight on my part as I forgot to insert it in there. I just left in the comments, but since you brought it up again, I will insert it into the regular post.

    Well if you don’t agree that research fraud is a problem in the scientific community in one form or another that’s needs to be addressed even Nature does as well as I previously stated. If not, it will become more of a problem. That’s one thing your side doesn’t need another Ernst Haeckel. I assume you know who he is, maybe not. Stephen Gould wrote about him in 2000. So it’s a little more than trying to copy bad behavior.

  12. Please read my comment again. I used a double negative, so “don’t disagree” = “do agree” that it is an issue and needs to be dealt with. And I know who Haeckel is. But Haeckel has nothing to do with astronomy and so is a non sequitur in this field. You really need to stop thinking that astrophysics has much of anything to do with evolutionary biology.

  13. You should stop debating that “astrophysics” which is a very broad subject to begin with, has not much of anything to do with “evolutionary biology” In fact, if the type of things studied in “astrophysics” wouldn’t have existed would you still believe “evolutionary biology” was still possible? Both are linked together in a way such as both work on the assumption of naturalism for secularists. There is a profound and very important connection between the two which and I know this is greatly over simplifying it but both are assumed to started out simple and evolve into something more complex whether it be living organisms or non-living material like certain types of chemical composition. If you don’t believe stars or planets evolved naturally from a simple form to a more complex form then what would you call it that doesn’t mean what I just said? Because if you use a term or terms that means basically the same thing, it makes no difference. However, this doesn’t imply one shouldn’t learn the labels of the various fields!

    Science doesn’t mean evolution nor is evolution narrowed down to just biology, while “evolutionary biology” is narrowed down to it’s field, yet science is used in a general sense to make descriptions of various areas like medicine or astronomy for example.

  14. Michael says: “if the type of things studied in “astrophysics” wouldn’t have existed would you still believe “evolutionary biology” was still possible? ”

    Well yes, as evolution only needs a planet with life already formed on it. Evolution deals with how life (species etc.) change, not how it formed. The formation of life, abiogenesis, could be more linked to planet and star formation, which is astrophysics, but astrophysics only provide the ‘boundary conditions’ (the chemical elements, energy input from the sun, a nice enough planet, etc.).

    I myself work on galaxy evolution, but galaxies evolve in a way which is very different from biological species. No sex between galaxies, for example …

    But I guess what you want to do is use the term ‘evolution’ to describe anything that changes in nature. Why you insist on going from simple to complex I do not understand. Stars, which are nice and simple, form from really complex, messy gas clouds.

  15. OK, at last you put where you copied the whole post from. That is commendable, but my criticism on the “conversation” remains. The teacher should be fired immediately, and the student put two classes back.

    But indeed, as astrostu206265, you would be fired as well if you would just copy this and use it without reference at a school or university. The US is even stricter about this than Europe.

    And the whole post reeks of creationism, with strawmen all over the place. Does the teacher have a business in strawmen, handing them out for free in the classroom ?

  16. It should be “as astrostu206265 said” in the second line of my last comment.

  17. Eelco,
    You nailed it when you said:

    “And the whole post reeks of creationism, with strawmen all over the place”.

    No Professor of Cosmology would ever have said:

    “Everything began with a Big Bang before this, there was nothing, but suddenly everything came together and exploded.”

    So the whole post was basically pointless and a waste of hard drive space.

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