AAS Meeting #194 - Chicago, Illinois, May/June 1999
Session 70. Astronomy and Education
Display, Wednesday, June 2, 1999, 10:00am-6:30pm, Southwest Exhibit Hall

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[70.06] An Inquiry-based Undergraduate Course Investigating Unseen Matter in the Universe

A. J. Lovell, G. S. Greenstein (Five College Astronomy/Amherst College)

We present a new inquiry-based college astronomy course, devoted to the investigation of unseen matter. This course takes advantage of a ``technology classroom," set up to facilitate both the seminar/discussion format of the course and the use of computers for hands-on investigation of astronomical data. Students make use of software, to learn about calculation of mass via measurements of orbiting astronomical bodies, with the ultimate goal of discovering and investigating dark matter. The initial investigation is of a system with at least two visible, moving objects. After the students have employed Keplerian and Newtonian physics to estimate the mass of the central body in this simple case, they learn to employ spectral lines and Doppler shifts to determine masses in the case where the bodies do not appear to move. Ultimately, they employ Doppler velocities to determine extended masses, such as a circumstellar disk or a galaxy. Real astronomical data are presented, or, where real data does not exist, it is simulated in physically realistic fashion. Course software acts as both a visual aid and a data-gathering tool to assist the students in their inquiries. Once they have ``discovered" dark matter, then they form groups and embark on research projects to investigate how to account for it. This phase of the course will allow them to encounter a wider range of data, spanning the electromagnetic spectrum. The course culminates in a conference in which each group presents their findings to the entire class, and the instructors summarize topics not investigated by students. In this poster, we present details of the course and demonstrate the associated software.

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