Learn about the universe, the origin and development of humans on Earth, and the possibility of life on other planets, in two Western Nevada College astronomy classes offered this fall. Planetary Astronomy and Introduction to Astrobiology will offer the opportunity to learn from a scientist with ties to the space industry.
“Fortunately, the Jack Davis Observatory, where both Astronomy 109 and Astrobiology 120 are taught, is a well-equipped facility,” said Marla Moore, a semi-retired National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist who will teach both classes. “There are many telescopes to use, lots of equipment for demonstrations, and several classroom hands-on activities. For each course we try to highlight current events such as the September lunar eclipse.”
In the Planetary Astronomy class, offered 4 to 5:15 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Moore will teach the properties of the planets, the moon, asteroids and various icy bodies in the Solar System, including comets and Kuiper Belt objects. She’ll provide a foundation in celestial mechanics, light and telescope design.
“The course follows the story of modern astronomy, but I attempt to always stay focused on the big picture view of the Solar System and how our fragile world is part of the vast universe,” Moore said. “We spend time covering current events relevant to astronomy, including the Rosetta Mission to a comet and the Dawn Mission to an asteroid.”
Moore encourages her students to ask questions and develop their science knowledge.
“I try making learning exciting so each student will become a better critical thinker, become more curious, and acquire a basic science vocabulary and understanding of science,” she said.
Use of the observatory’s telescopes fascinates students and attracts them to learn about planetary science, she said.
“One thing that lures many students to the study of astronomy is a view of the moon or planet through a telescope,” Moore said. “During each semester there are one or two dedicated evenings set aside for observing for the class.”
Introduction to Astrobiology, which is set for Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m., familiarizes students with the origin, evolution, distribution and destiny of life in the universe.
“Astrobiology is a new hybrid course that combines astronomy, mechanics, chemistry, biology, geology, oceanography and atmospheric science to try and understand the conditions for the evolution of life on Earth and the possibility of extraterrestrial life,” Moore said.
She said the topics of study promote lively discussions.
“I often present nonscientific speculations found in the press for the students to discus,” Moore said. “Certainly our ordinary human understanding is based here on our tiny planet. Who knows what vast and different exotic biologies and technologies exist in the universe.”
Go to www.wnc.edu or phone 775-445-3000 to learn about registration. Fall semester classes begin Monday, Aug. 31.