New Astronomy Class Offers More Variety to Course Selection

By Emory Bowdler

With the 2020-2021 school year already half over, students are choosing next year's classes.  A new class being offered is astronomy, which is a science-based class being taught by physics teacher, Mr. O'Keefe. This class will expand student knowledge on our solar system and planets, as well as things outside of our solar system. 

“Astronomy can be defined a few different ways,” O’Keefe says.  “One helpful definition is the study of the natural world outside of Earth, so in that sense, you can say it's the study of everything in space. That's why some people define astronomy as the study of celestial objects (planets, moons, stars, galaxies, etc.). We'll cover a variety of interesting questions, from "How do stars shine?" and ‘Why does Saturn have rings?’ to ‘What are black holes?’ and ‘Is there alien life?"

Astronomy has been studied by humans since the dawn of time. Since ancient times, people have looked up at the stars and wondered what's beyond.  We have all, at least once in our lives, looked up in the sky and wondered what was out there. And in this class, you will learn about what is out there and how it all works. Mr. O'Keefe says he is eager to engage students in the natural world since the natural world is all around us and can help you in your daily life. 

This class is a non-AP elective, so it will not be as challenging as an AP course or a core class. However, Mr. O'Keefe recommends that students have already passed physics and algebra since they'll be using math and science to explain how things work.  This is a science-heavy class, so he will be discussing how the universe was created and how it works. There will also be a little bit of astrophysics and laws of gravity used to explain how things in our universe work.

Mr. O'Keefe explains how his students will learn about astronomy: “This class will cover six units and span a wide range of topics, from the Big Bang and dark energy to black holes and asteroids. We're not going to use a traditional textbook, but we will have access to a lot of really good images, videos, simulations, and datasets. Astronomy has also been a source of inspiration for so much art in human history, from music and dance, to painting and photography. My goal is that we're able to integrate the arts effectively and creatively.” 

Mr O'Keefe recently unearthed an interesting find for his students to use.  “Lusher has an old telescope that I've cleaned up and got working, so we'll definitely do some observing. Everyone who takes Astronomy should have the chance to look through a telescope and observe, with their own eyes, another world. But lots of modern astronomy is also done using computers, so we'll also be using a lot of digital tools to collect and analyze data and to do research.” 

“My ultimate hope is that this course helps students be more scientifically literate but also more curious about the natural world,” O’Keefe says.  “No matter what you do in life, I think being more scientifically educated and more curious about the world makes you a better thinker. I also think all humans share a natural curiosity about the cosmos. Every human being on Earth today, and every one of our ancestors, has looked up at the same sky and wondered about our place in the universe. Learning astronomy is learning our best scientific answers to those questions.”