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Starting in early childhood, everyone acquires ideas about astronomy that are incorrect. By the time students enter introductory astronomy courses in college, they often harbor hundreds of such misconceptions. Over the past three years I have been meeting with small groups of students who are taking introductory astronomy at the University of Maine. In these focus groups we discuss the nature and origin of the misconceptions they have. These students and their peers in the formal introductory astronomy course have supplied me with over 550 common misconceptions about astronomy.
In this paper I present the most common misconceptions and a classification scheme relating them to their origins. I classify the misconceptions as to whether they are primarily due to incorrect internal (mental) processes, to incorrect external input such as inaccurate information from teachers and parents, or from both internal and external source equally. I then present a list of specific sources, such as Aristotelian reasoning or inaccurate observations, that account for all the misconceptions I have received to date. I discussion how the misconceptions they have upon starting a course in astronomy affect students as they learn correct astronomical concepts and how being aware of these misconceptions can help teachers more effectively present the course material.
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