Rated 5 out of 5 by Yearn2Learn True to Its Title
The course title is Black Holes Explained and the lectures deliver that. Black Holes Explained provides a conceptual understanding of how black holes likely form, what their properties are and how they interact with the rest of the cosmos. The student should keep in mind that much of the explanation is based on theoretical projections not all of which have been or may ever be verified with data. Dr. Filippenko does point this out, but the student should take note.
The course is largely conceptual with few equations or mathematics. This will appeal to the layperson. But the conceptual discussion has sufficient depth that those with a scientific bent will also gain much from this course. The bibliography and websites contained in the course guide provide opportunity for the student to explore beyond the lectures to whatever depth they seek.
Dr. Filippenko is a very good lecturer. He is enthusiastic, energetic and knowledgeable. He clearly enjoys being a bit of a showman. He goes to great lengths to try to simplify his explanations using analogies a lay person can relate to. He appropriately uses voice inflection and body language to emphasize points. He cracks a lot of corny jokes, a few of which are funny, but many seemed aimed at high school or even junior high students. He tends to overuse popular cartoons and other such caricatures of black holes but in between explanations of demanding concepts these diversions give one's mind a break. He also goes to great lengths at multiple times to explain why we are in no real danger from black holes swallowing us up; not something that has kept me up at night but he seems to think people are concerned about this.
I have a physics (not astrophysics) background yet I found many things in this course that were new and fascinating. For example, short duration Gamma Ray Burst signify the birth of a black hole, neutron stars must exceed 3 solar masses to collapse to a black hole, black holes at the center of galaxies are supermassive and the size of the "bulge" in a galaxy's center is proportional to the black hole mass, quasars only exist in the far reaches of the universe and thus are phenomena from the early universe, the merger of black holes and/or neutron stars with themselves or with each other should result in gravitation waves providing insight to quantum gravity, and Hawking radiation results when particle pairs separate at an event horizon leading ultimately to the evaporation of the black hole.
The debate between Leonard Susskind (and others) and Stephen Hawking about whether or not information is lost when particles enter a black hole is fascinating. Perhaps its not quite up there with the Bohr-Einstein debates in terms of drama and impact, but it is another example of the philosophical disagreements in theoretical physics. Lectures 9, 10, and 11 which highlight the Susskind-Hawking debates are technically and conceptually the most challenging but Dr. Fillipenko makes them understandable.
The accompanying course guide is excellent. The lecture summaries capture most of the key points from the lectures. The glossary and bibliography/websites are extensive. The timeline of discovery and the biographical notes of the principal scientists both add value to the guide. For those of us who are more mathematically inclined, a relevant equations to each lecture section, ala in Dr. Whittle's Cosmology course, would have been a welcome, nice to have, addition.
Other than a bit of an overdose of cornball jokes and popular culture items, my only criticism of this 2009 course is that a few things are dated. For example, while Lecture 8, "The Wildest Ride" spent an entire lecture explaining what would happen should we fall in a black hole i.e. "spaghettification". Since then a new, equally plausible theory has emerged that proposes that we would incinerate at the event horizon as we fell into the hole. Neither scenario is cheery. The other, very recent (March 2014), news is that the BICEP-2 detector in Antarctica does seem to have detected gravitation waves, though this awaits confirmation.
All in all, I would highly recommend this course to anyone interested in learning about black holes, whether one's background is in science or not.
June 17, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by IraV Everything you ever wanted to know
Just on the basis of this short lecture course I am not led to subscribe to the view expounded by some reviewers that Professor Filippenko is the foremost teacher in physics-related subjects. My assessment is that, no doubt, he is a first rate teacher yet not necessarily the best. I would, however, pronounce him a wizard of animations. Naturally, to reach a more complete evaluation, I have to watch his 96 Astronomy lectures which I will do soon hopefully.
The present lectures on black holes are very informative, a lot is conveyed to the viewer, conceivably one could get away with only elementary prior knowledge of physics (better be familiar with the Doppler effect, wave interference and the idea of entropy though!) and no knowledge of cosmology is required. Still, what is the point of taking an interest exclusively in black holes and in no other astronomical object! However, to attempt this course one should have been following for some years the science pages of a daily newspaper, e.g., Filippenko mentions, one must say without it really being crucial for his argument, the concept of a “wave function”.
I didn’t find Filippenko’s explanations complete or particularly thorough or patient but rather rushed and appealing to the viewer’s “common sense” all too often . Perhaps the explanations couldn’t be more satisfying without making the lecture series too complicated or much longer. Still, I feel I cannot give full marks for professor presentation. Here follows a contradiction—seriously, it is not really a contradiction: Prof. Filippenko has superb TV-presenter skills, he’s obviously a great guy, a truly jovial fellow, he can make one laugh though he cannot always make one understand!
It is admirable, nevertheless, that a compact, specialized course, comprehensively covering numerous different aspects of a single topic, providing a list of highly informative “conclusions” even if the “inference”, the logical steps, that lead to these conclusions cannot be analyzed or even exhibited satisfactorily, we are quite fortunate that the Great Courses can come up with such a lecture series presented by a world authority. Of course, anybody marketing such a course is not taking a risk, since the topic is so popular… It is Filippenko’s achievement that the lectures are rich, overflowing with bits of knowledge which I suspect are not elementary but quite advanced in nature and still remain generally comprehensible while not becoming trivial, utterly naïve or outright vulgar. A colossal amount of information is conveyed…in a jocular mood! It is also his achievement that the course is genuinely stand-alone, without requiring continuous cross-references to other outside material.
P.S. It was much better when I watched it a second time. I could understand almost everything, that is to say excepting lectures 8-11, which I still found quite abstruse. At least, even in relation to these latter lectures, I got some foggy idea of what the issues are albeit without being able to appreciate exactly how the issues have been resolved.
October 9, 2016
Rated 3 out of 5 by LearningDisabled Pace too fast
I know the Teaching Company has parameters about length/quantity of lectures, and it sounds good on paper. But with several courses i have been irritated with the results.
Yes, Dr. Philipenko is enthusiastic and goofy and easy to listen to.
But his pace is way too fast. I can hear the same lecture 1,000 times and never learn a thing if it's too fast. I need courses taught by professors that pause the let the info sink in prior to building on that point.
I've done enough fundamental astronomy reading that I was able to sort of follow along. But if astronomy/physics is new to you, I predict you will regret this purchase..
In contrast, Jeanette Norden in her course, The Brain, makes excellent use of pausing and repetition. You learn about the brain but you also see an example of good teaching. Hmmm, a brain expert pauses when she teaches. . .Could there be a connection between her understanding of the brain and her approach to teaching?
May 4, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by PacificNW One of the Universe’s Mysteries Explained
Black holes are one of the mysteries of the universe. This course by Professor Filippenko provides excellent explanations of these mysterious entities.
The first mystery addressed is what is a black hole and how was it created.
The second mystery explained is how to find a black hole if its gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape.
Professor Filippenko is very knowledgeable and passionate on this topic of black holes. This is demonstrated in his enthusiastic and entertaining lectures. Professor Filippenko also makes very good use of demonstrations and computer animations to illustrate the points that he is presenting.
I highly recommend this course.
December 27, 2015