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Our Night Sky

Our Night Sky

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Priority Code


Our Night Sky

Course No. 1846
Professor Edward M. Murphy, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Share This Course
4.5 out of 5
131 Reviews
86% of reviewers would recommend this series
Course No. 1846
Video Streaming Included Free

What Will You Learn?

  • Investigate the origin of constellations, and learn how to identify the most popular ones in the night sky.
  • Get an introduction to the features of telescopes and binoculars, including optical design, magnification, and mounts.
  • Discover the distinct features of the cratered face of Earth's moon.
  • Learn how to spot fascinating natural phenomena, such as meteor showers, lunar and solar eclipses, and comets.
  • Discover which of our solar system's planets you can see with nothing more than a simple telescope.
  • Learn how to read a star chart to help you locate interesting objects in the night sky - in all four seasons.

Course Overview

For thousands of years, the star-filled sky has been a source of wonder, discovery, entertainment, and instruction. Ancient people from nearly every continent and culture wove exciting stories about the mythological figures they saw in the heavens. People also used the sun, moon, and stars for time-keeping and navigation. And careful observers throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere kept precise astronomical records, eventually paving the way for the Scientific Revolution and its remarkable discoveries about the nature of the universe.

Even today, watching the sky has not lost its fascination. Equipped only with a pair of eyes or, at most, binoculars and a small telescope, you can behold marvels such as these:

  • The jewel-like star cluster called the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus, easily visible with the naked eye and even more magnificent through a pair of binoculars
  • The broad band of the Milky Way arching across the summer sky; the band is the plane of our galaxy seen edge-on from the inside
  • The Perseid meteor shower, a celestial display that peaks in mid-August of every year when Earth passes through debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle
  • The cratered face of the moon, stark evidence of the violent era after the birth of the solar system—a record almost completely erased from Earth due to weathering
  • The four Galilean moons of Jupiter, named after Galileo, whose discovery of them in 1610 helped overthrow the geocentric model of the universe
  • A total solar eclipse, an awe-inspiring spectacle that occurs somewhere on Earth roughly every 18 months and is well worth traveling thousands of miles to see

Best of all, the endlessly interesting sky is just overhead wherever you are. All you need to feel at home in its limitless expanse is Our Night Sky, a richly illustrated 12-lecture course that gives you an unrivaled tour around the sky while teaching you about the science, culture, technology, and pure pleasure of stargazing. Our Night Sky focuses on the view from the Northern Hemisphere, reflecting the origins of the most familiar constellations in this region. However, the final lecture completes your tour by covering the most notable sights in the Southern Hemisphere.

View the Riches of the Universe from Your Own Backyard

From asteroids to the zodiac, from the Big Dipper to variable stars, Our Night Sky is designed to provide a comprehensive overview of what there is to see and the best way to see it, whether you live in the city or the country, whether you are a novice observer or an old hand at astronomy who needs a refresher on constellation and star names, locations, lore, and what to expect from season to season as the heavens present a gloriously changing panorama.

Under the guidance of award-winning astronomer and Professor Edward M. Murphy of the University of Virginia, you will learn

  • how to use a planisphere (star finder) or other star map to quickly orient yourself to the sky for any given date and time, and how to use these aids to find your way among the constellations;
  • how to read celestial coordinates to locate objects precisely, and how to find the north or south celestial poles, the celestial equator, the ecliptic (the sun's apparent path during a year), the vernal equinox, and other important landmarks;
  • how to appreciate the deep cultural roots of astronomy, which lie in humankind's universal quest to understand the heavens through vivid stories that have never lost their power and charm;
  • how to enhance your observing experience by selecting the right equipment from a bewildering array of choices in binoculars, telescopes, eyepieces, mounts, and other hardware; and
  • how to decipher the science behind planets, stars, and galaxies by learning the fundamentals of solar system structure, star types, stellar life cycles, galaxy classification, and other information that will enrich your observing.

Above all, you will better appreciate how our view from Earth reflects a hidden order—a structure that was discovered by sky observers long ago, who drew on centuries of observations to put together the picture we now learn from textbooks. As you watch the sky appear to rotate around the celestial pole over the course of a night, you will almost feel Earth turning beneath you, as it in fact does. As you look at a phase of the moon, you will automatically envision the relative positions of the sun, moon, and Earth that produce this view. As you observe the constellations slowly shift as you go out at the same time every night, you will know that you are seeing the effect of Earth's revolution around the sun.

In short, you will gain a truly cosmic perspective on our world. Equipped with this outlook, and with the extensive science, history, mythology, observing tips, and other background provided by Professor Murphy, you will be ready to step outside, look up, and become a space traveler from your own backyard.

The Night Sky Planisphere is Included with This Course! Along with this course you will receive the same Night Sky Planisphere Star Chart used by Professor Murphy throughout his lectures. This sturdy, easy-to-use star finder is an invaluable aid for locating major constellations and stars visible in the Northern Hemisphere. The Planisphere is included with DVD purchases only.

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12 lectures
 |  32 minutes each
  • 1
    The Constellations and Their Stars
    Begin your study of the night sky by investigating the origin of the constellations—the traditional groupings of stars that mostly date to antiquity. The well-known constellation Orion illustrates the fascinating mix of beauty, mythology, and scientific knowledge to be found wherever you look in the heavens. x
  • 2
    Seeing and Navigating the Sky
    The naked eye is a powerful instrument—if you know how to use it. Learn the best times and conditions for observing, how to identify the positions and magnitudes of stars and planets, how the sky changes over the course of a night, how to use astronomical maps such as a planisphere, and more. x
  • 3
    Using Binoculars and Backyard Telescopes
    There are many choices when selecting binoculars or a telescope. Learn what to look for in light-gathering power, optical design, magnification, mounts, and other features. Professor Murphy also suggests several tips for getting the best observing experience out of your equipment. x
  • 4
    Observing the Moon and the Sun
    Charting the motions and changes of the sun and moon may be humankind's oldest astronomical activity. Discover how both objects offer rich opportunities for study. Also learn the precautions to take when observing the sun, which is the only star that can be seen up close and in detail. x
  • 5
    Observing the Planets with a Telescope
    The rings of Saturn, the bands of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, the polar caps of Mars—these and other planetary features are visible through a small telescope. Learn when viewing opportunities arise for each of the planets and what sights await the dedicated observer. x
  • 6
    Meteor Showers, Comets, Eclipses, and More
    Explore a variety of special phenomena that are among the wonders of the sky. Some, like bright meteors, aurora, and many comets, are largely unpredictable. Others, like eclipses and annual meteor showers, occur at well-known times—although it may require a special trip to see them. x
  • 7
    The Northern Sky and the North Celestial Pole
    Embarking on the second half of the course in which you systematically tour the entire sky, study two constellations that are continuously in view from the Northern Hemisphere: Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. Also explore the slowly shifting position of true north in the sky. x
  • 8
    The Fall Sky
    Navigate your way around the autumn sky from the Northern Hemisphere, discovering how the classical myth of Andromeda ties together the stories of the nearby constellations of Cassiopeia, Perseus, Cepheus, Pegasus, and Cetus. The sights include the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large galaxy to our own. x
  • 9
    The Winter Sky
    Continuing your focus on the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere, survey the magnificent winter sky, dominated by Orion. "Star hop" around the region, which includes a wealth of interesting stars, globular clusters, nebulae, and other features, especially the Orion Nebula—the finest nebula in the northern sky—and the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters in Taurus. x
  • 10
    The Spring Sky
    The spring sky opens the view into intergalactic space perpendicular to the plane of the Milky Way. Among the objects visible are the immensely rich galaxy clusters in Virgo and Coma Berenices, which are many millions of light-years distant and can be seen with small and moderate telescopes. x
  • 11
    The Summer Sky
    Arching high overhead in the summer sky is the Milky Way, which is the plane of our galaxy seen from the inside. Tour this densely packed region of stars of all types, from dusty regions of star birth to the exquisite shells of dying stars. Here, a useful orienting feature is the Summer Triangle. x
  • 12
    The Southern Sky and the Milky Way
    In this final lecture, travel to the Southern Hemisphere for sky views inaccessible from northern latitudes. Discover the famous Southern Cross, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and a spectacular panorama of the Milky Way—along with new myths and stories that add a human dimension to our marvelous night sky. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Video Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 98-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 98-page course synopsis
  • Charts, tables & diagrams
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

Edward M. Murphy

About Your Professor

Edward M. Murphy, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Dr. Edward M. Murphy is Associate Professor, General Faculty at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He earned his bachelor's degree in Astronomy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Virginia in 1996. Professor Murphy was a postdoctoral fellow and an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he worked on NASA's Far...
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Our Night Sky is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 131.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Have been through the first 4 lectures. It is excellent. I was pleased to find that is in not a "dumbed down" course and also that it is presented in straightforward lectures rather than some sort of sensationalized format. It is much superior to many things on the Smithsonian Channel of late.
Date published: 2017-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great beginning course to the night sky excellent course for anyone interested in the basics of our night sky. the course is information packed, requiring me to watch some of the lectures a few times to get the most out of them. it's like getting 20 lectures for the price of 12!
Date published: 2017-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great demonstrations packed with information and advice. created a desire to continue looking into the sky (when it warms up). Demonstrated the difference in telescopes to help you know what you would need to continue. Dr. Murphy so laid back that you do not realize just how much he's taught you.
Date published: 2017-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I purchased this last month and am watching one lecture per night with my husband and it has so far been a great experience! We are on lecture 8 or 9 out of 12. Lots of the info is a bit more technical than necessary for our purposes but I imagine as we get more experienced with our binocular and telescope, re-watching some of the lectures for the technical stuff would be good. Streaming is fine but I'm so glad we got the extras that come with the DVD, especially the planosphere.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable course Very enjoyable course. The instructor does a very good job.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Easy to understand and follow I am retired and looking for a hobby. I purchased your course and find it is perfect for learning something new and discovering things I have never seen
Date published: 2017-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Covers All The Universe This course will fulfill the questions a new astronomer will seek in learning about the Night Sky. A great review for a individual who has been away from astronomy for any period of time.
Date published: 2017-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A lot of information The information provided here by the professor is condensed and comes at a rapid rate. You will want to view certain lessons over again. All in all, it is an excellent course.
Date published: 2017-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As one lacking any depth of knowledge about astronomy, an invitation to Marathon in the Big Bend of Texas to observe a group of astrophotographers working in its dark skies the end of February caused me to seek a comprehensive astronomy course. Our Night Sky is filled with information to give me a grounding to be at least prepared to have my bearings and to be able to expand my knowledge through further review of it, the operation of the accompanying planishere and extensive recommended ancillary reference materials. It is precisely what I was looking for in this initial endeavor and, it has caused me to up!
Date published: 2017-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2017-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our Night Sky One of the best distant learning courses I've ever taken. Always been interested in stars, planets and the galaxy and this course delivers exactly what I want. I am very pleased and will continue using The Great Courses in the future and recommend to my friends as well.
Date published: 2017-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great astronomy primer Loved "Our Night Sky" very well done and informative.
Date published: 2017-01-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Overwhelming work! Anyone who views this course with the idea that all this wonder just happened by accident need--very badly--to think again. This is a GOD thing. Think carefully!
Date published: 2017-01-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our Night Sky This material, although given by a professor is readily understandable to youth in Jr. High and High School. Kids who show eagerness to learn at these ages need to be given materials above their normal school level to excel. I very much enjoyed and appreciated the subject mater and its delivery. It was interesting and didn't become dry. The 12-15 year olds I gave this material to gave high praises in it's ease of understanding. This is an excellent choice.
Date published: 2017-01-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from our night sky i have listened to only the first two lectures The tempo is quite fast, and I am glad I also bought the transcript Impossible to absorb everything on the first round The course seems well organized. It builds from the bottom up I am enjoying the experience
Date published: 2017-01-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Professor covers a lot of material and his presentation and flow goes well. The only negative I have is it sometimes went to quickly and I had to pause and/or go back to re digest what was said
Date published: 2017-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from All you ever wanted to know to view the night sky This is a concise, well informed set of classes to prepare you to view the night sky any time, any where with the right equipment. The instructor is very knowledgable, and loves his subject. The examples are easy to understand, and easy to see. The night sky will never be so daunting when armed with the star finder, and this class !! well done !
Date published: 2016-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Overpacked with Information This course features an enormous amount of information in 12 short lectures. The Prof speaks very fast. It is not a course that you watch only once. The Course Guide gives a lot of charts, but does not repeat a lot of the information that Prof Murphy talks about. Take notes. He talks about planets, constellations, myths about constellations, night sky viewing devices, the moon, the sun, a variety of stars, meteors, comets, and more.
Date published: 2016-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best Manner to Learn This course will teach you as a beginner the basics. I am sharing with my grandsons hoping that the course will generate their interests in our solar system.
Date published: 2016-09-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introduction to the changing night sky This is a a good introduction to the night sky and astronomy. Dr. Murphy is very knowledgeable. However, as he has a lot of information to impart in 12 lesson, he talks very fast. You may have to watch the course two or three times to absorb much of it. I also suggest that you may want to supplement this course with a good book so that you can digest the information more leisurely and thoroughly. Dr. Murphy has a great bibliography in the back of his study guide manual that lists recommended books as well as numerous website that are worth visiting and studying. A book I recommend is "NighWatch" a Practical Guide for Viewing the Universe by Terence Dickenson ($20.62 on Amazon.)
Date published: 2016-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from
Date published: 2016-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our Night Sky Avery professionally packaged and presented product. Well worth the money.
Date published: 2016-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worthwhile information.
Date published: 2016-09-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stargazer Guide DVD A great introduction to the fundamentals of basic star and planet gazing using both binoculars and telescopes.
Date published: 2016-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Son and Grandson love it! I purchased this so my son could take my six-year old grandson out to look at the night sky. My son said they really enjoy it, and my grandson will get more out of it as he gets older. Thanks.
Date published: 2016-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Basic but informative Basic But informative, good for somebody new to astronomy, great starting point , Presenter keeps the topic interesting.
Date published: 2016-08-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Just what I wanted, and more. I'm 70 years old. One regret is that I never learned the night sky. This course is not really a college astronomy course, and its a bit more than a t.v special. Its just what I wanted. Plus a lot of history of astronomy. Prof. Murphy covers lots of interesting science and mythology. He moves pretty fast, which keeps one from getting bored. I now can look up and identify a dozen constellation and identify at least one major star in most. I don't try to remember how far away they are or stuff like that. And I understand moon phases and their relation to location in the sky and the seasons. I think I'm now ready to take my grand-daughters out at night and impress them with my knowledge of the night sky. Thank you Professor Murphy, and Great Courses.
Date published: 2016-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stargazing I have always had an interest in stargazing. This course explains in detail the steps I needed to take in order to maximize my night sky enjoyment. Thanks for putting this material together in a form that I can enjoy and yet go back and review the areas that I get a little rusty on.
Date published: 2016-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Keep Looking Up! This lecture series has certainly brought a lot of facts back in to focus for me. I have always enjoyed looking up at the night sky. I got hooked back in 1963 at the Griffith Park observatory, in particular the planetarium. Gave me a real perspective on our little corner of the universe. And the star finder is a definite plus for me.
Date published: 2016-06-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our Night Sky Dr Murphy is a very good presenter. The money that you spend for this course is money well spent.
Date published: 2016-04-24
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