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 WestWatcher Shining a Light on Black Holes
Those of us with even a passing interest in cosmology know of the existence of black holes, but few of us are familiar with how new the idea is, how contentious the very idea was when it was first proposed, or the implications of their existence on our universe and our view of that universe.
This course does an excellent job of dispelling the mystery and giving a context to our fragmented knowledge.
Dr. Filippenko explains the physics, both Newtonian and Einsteinian, behind the concept of the black hole, the evidence for their existence, how they come into being and their probable fates. The size range was something I hadn't considered, from the microscopic, through the stellar sizes, and up to the galactic center masses. The student should be prepared for an introduction to the humor of black holes, another subtopic which I had overlooked.
And, of course, if you are worried about the human production of black holes, within the Large Hadron Collider for instance, this course will set your mind at ease.
This course is a lot of fun on a serious topic.
December 30, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by JLGB Serious explanation of black holes
I recommend this course to someone who is interested in the scientific nature of black holes and has some knowledge of physics. The lectures cover such subjects as gamma ray bursts, quasars, gravitational waves, the theories of Steven Hawking (why hasn't he received a Nobel Prize yet?!), and the Large Hadron Collider. In other words, this is serious stuff. Which does not stop the professor, Alex Filippenko, from telling a lot of jokes. Many of them aren't very good, but the joy he takes in them induces you to laugh with him. A must for astronomy buffs!
December 2, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by Zard Zard Review of Black Holes
OK, I tried. I am a student of history by inclination, choice and passion but I do have an interest in Astronomy. I have no training in the sciences but I do enjoy reading about Astronomy, Paleontology, Archeology and a few other subjects but no formal training and again, history is my passion.
I bought this course because I am fascinated about Black Holes and I enjoyed the lecture and I REALLY ENJOYED Professor Alex Filippenko. He loves this subject and passion for it is a mild description of the intensity of his loving of it. He is engaging, interesting, passionate, funny and has great jokes, cartoons and graphics.
The short comings are all on me. As much as he tried to keep it simple it is a complicated subject. I did fine with the first 6 of 12 lectures but then lost it in the next 5 lectures but enjoyed the last lecture. To put it mildly you have to stay focused on the lectures and cannot wander for a moment. But even with that it got a little too deep for me. That is not his fault or the subjects but mine, I am a lightweight when it comes to this stuff.
Still I have no regrets in buying or watching this course and will re-watch it over the years. There is a lot in it. It is not quite the same thing but somewhat similar to reading a history book on a subject that I am really interested in but the writer goes into great detail to make and/or prove their points. I am interested in the view at 20,000 feet, not at ground level. I want the gist of it, the overall picture, the broad brushstrokes, not the details. I leave that to the historians. I am not a historian. Just an avid fan of history.
Bottom line, I liked the course and it stretched me. That is OK but I got a little lost. Not the fault of the teacher, just me. I would recommend the course but with reservations based on my shortcomings.
August 7, 2014