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Skywatching: Seeing and Understanding Cosmic Wonders

Skywatching: Seeing and Understanding Cosmic Wonders

Professor Alex Filippenko, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley

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Skywatching: Seeing and Understanding Cosmic Wonders

Course No. 1852
Professor Alex Filippenko, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley
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Course No. 1852
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Course Overview

Step outside at any time of day or night, look up, and you're bound to see a world filled with limitless wonders: majestic rainbows, dramatic cloud formations, stirring sunsets, intricate constellations, captivating solar eclipses, and even the distant planets themselves. But these and other breathtaking natural phenomena are more than just pretty objects to be admired. Rather, they're the result of fascinating atmospheric and astronomical processes that describe right in front of you important concepts in scientific fields such as

  • cosmology,
  • physics (including optics and electromagnetism), and
  • meteorology and other atmospheric sciences.

These and other processes all too often go unappreciated by the average skywatcher. To truly understand and enjoy the wonders in the sky requires a solid understanding of the science behind where these wonders come from and how they're formed, as well as insights into the best times and places to see them and simple equipment and other steps you can use to improve what you see at any time.

Get an unparalleled visual guide to nature's most mysterious and beautiful offerings with Skywatching: Seeing and Understanding Cosmic Wonders. With these twelve 45-minute lectures, award-winning astronomer and Professor Alex Filippenko of the University of California, Berkeley, has crafted a visually stunning tour of the sky's most dazzling displays, most of which you can see even without binoculars. Using the same dynamic and engaging teaching style that has won him praise from countess lifelong learners around the world, he shows you new ways to see your surroundings and appreciate the marvels of both our planet and the entire universe.

Get Up Close and Personal with Nearby Phenomena ...

The first half of Skywatching reintroduces you to the amazing intrigue behind phenomena and objects that are nearby and in front of you almost every single day.

  • Clouds: While it may seem as if clouds are random formations of moisture in the air, they can, in fact, be organized into three major categories. Cirrus clouds are wispy and partly transparent. Stratus clouds look like horizontally extended sheets and often cover large areas. And cumulus clouds are quite vertical and look heaped.
  • Sunsets: Sunsets can be seen all over the world, but summer solstices far north or south are the best places to see truly long, dramatic sunsets. These types of sunsets happen when the sun sets at a shallow angle relative to the horizon rather than at a steep angle.
  • Rainbows: Contrary to popular belief, rainbows don't form after clouds and rain have disappeared, because they depend on the intricate interaction between light and rain. Also, rainbows move with you; so if you were to walk to "where the rainbow ends," it wouldn't be there anymore since it's always 40 to 42 degrees away from your antisolar point.

... As Well as with Wonders Far out in Space

You'll also discover more than you ever thought possible about features that lie far beyond our atmosphere.

  • Stars: While bright stars look larger to the naked eye, these stars are not necessarily bigger in physical size than fainter ones. Bright stars in the night sky look bigger due to an effect called irradiation, in which light hitting your eyes' retinas is scattered away from where the image is focused, stimulating a larger patch of your retinal cells.
  • Planets: There's a good rule of thumb to use to tell when you're looking at a planet instead of a star. If you see that the point of light is twinkling less than other stars of similar brightness that are roughly the same altitude above the horizon, then what you're seeing is likely a planet.
  • Meteors: If you see a few dozen meteors in an hour, chances are you're witnessing a meteor shower. During these showers, the Earth passes through the orbit of an old, disintegrating comet. Each year, there are one or two showers associated with a specific comet, depending on whether its orbital plane is tilted relative to Earth's orbital plane.

Packed with Stunning Visuals

One of our most intensively illustrated courses ever produced, Skywatching captures ground-eye views of how you can see everything from mysterious iridescent clouds to the ghostly corona of the sun through

  • personal photographs taken by Professor Filippenko;
  • jaw-dropping images from telescopes and observatories; and
  • detailed animations that break down scientific concepts.

An elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Filippenko has won numerous awards for his ability to engage listeners and instill in them the awe and wonder at the sky above their heads. With him, you'll discover answers to dozens of questions that have perplexed all of us since we were children, such as why the sky is blue and why the full moon looks largest when it's closer to the horizon. You'll also get invaluable tips on how to become an expert skywatcher yourself and learn everything from how to safely look at the sun during an eclipse to the best times of the year to see specific planets and constellations.

Prepare yourself for a thrilling voyage, after which the sky above your head will never be the same again.

Hide Full Description
12 lectures
 |  47 minutes each
Year Released: 2011
  • 1
    Day and Night Skies across All Distances
    Embark on a brief tour of the grandeur of the sky above your head—both near and far—and get a better idea of the broad range of breathtaking objects and phenomena everyone can enjoy. x
  • 2
    The Blue Sky, Clouds, and Lightning
    Why is the color of the sky blue? How does polarization work, and how can it help you see objects in the sky better? What's the difference between cirrocumulus and cirrostratus clouds? Does lightning truly never strike the same place twice? Get answers to these and a host of other questions. x
  • 3
    The Rainbow Family—Sunlight and Water
    Rainbows. Coronas. Cloud iridescence. Strengthen your understanding and appreciation of the science behind these and other colorful phenomena that occur due to the fascinating interaction of water with sunlight. x
  • 4
    Solar Halos—Sunlight and Ice Crystals
    Travel higher up in the atmosphere and discover what happens when sunlight interacts not with raindrops but with frozen ice crystals. After learning how these delicate crystals are formed, you'll examine stunning photography that captures the wonders of everything from solar halos and mock suns to glitter paths and sun pillars. x
  • 5
    The Colors of Sunrise and Sunset
    What is the science behind a majestic sunrise or dramatic sunset? Find out in this lecture on the colors and features that accompany these breathtaking, everyday events. Professor Filippenko reveals the science behind—and offers skywatching tips for—blue moons, the "belt of Venus," alpenglow, green flashes, and more. x
  • 6
    Bright Stars, Constellations, and the Zodiac
    Stars and constellations are some of the most commonly sought-after features of the night sky. Here, learn how to spot such iconic star patterns as the Big Dipper; make sense of the zodiacal constellations; locate some of the sky's brightest stars; and learn just why it is that stars twinkle. x
  • 7
    Viewing the Planets and Their Motions
    How can you tell the difference between a planet and a star? When is the best time to see planets such as Mercury and Jupiter? What's the difference between retrograde and prograde planetary motion? Get the answers to these and other questions in this lecture on spotting each of our solar system's planets. x
  • 8
    The Moon, Phases, and Lunar Eclipses
    Looking up at the moon has always been a favorite pastime on romantic evenings. But there's actually so much more to see and experience when you look with a trained eye. Here, learn everything about the moon's craters and seas, follow its distinct lunar phases, ponder the "moon illusion," and explore lunar eclipses. x
  • 9
    Satellites, Comets, and Meteors
    Artificial satellites such as the International Space Station and the Hubble Space Telescope. Famous comets such as Hale-Bopp, Hyakutake, and McNaught. Brilliant meteor showers and storms, including the Perseids and Leonids. Revel in the science of understanding objects that orbit Earth or the sun and the beauty of witnessing such objects move across our sky. x
  • 10
    Observing Solar Activity and Earth's Auroras
    Explore the inner workings of the sun; learn to look safely at amazing features such as sunspots, solar prominences, and captivating coronas you can see for yourself with the right knowledge and equipment. Also, learn how coronal mass ejections give rise to space weather (including solar wind), possible satellite disruptions and power outages on Earth, and the shimmering auroras of the northern and southern lights. x
  • 11
    Solar Eclipses—Marvelous Coincidences
    In this gorgeously illustrated lecture, follow the spectacular stages of a total solar eclipse, including first contact, totality, and the two "diamond ring" stages. Also, get tips on how best to view these marvelous celestial events—and where and when you can see them in the coming years. x
  • 12
    Celestial Sights When the Night Is Darkest
    In this final lecture, Professor Filippenko reveals some of the breathtaking stars, galaxies, and other phenomena you can see while skywatching under extremely dark conditions, and how to find them. Also, learn how the night sky has given us clues about the birth of the universe—and even our origins. 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 3 DVDs
  • 184-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:
  • 184-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Meteor Shower Calendar
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

Alex Filippenko

About Your Professor

Alex Filippenko, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley
Dr. Alex Filippenko is Professor of Astronomy and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. He earned his B.A. in Physics from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the California Institute of Technology. Dr. Filippenko's research accomplishments, documented in more than 500 scientific publications and 600...
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Rated 4.8 out of 5 by 26 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by What can I say? What can I say? Skywatching is fascinating, with all the interesting phenomena in the sky that I Didn't know about as well as learning the processes behind the ones that I did. Professor Filippenko is a thorough and enthusiastic teacher, and he makes me want to get out and start skywatching. August 29, 2016
Rated 4 out of 5 by Skywatching: Seeing and Understanding Cosmic Wonde This is a great course for anyone who wants to learn more about the wonders of the sky above - day and night. August 24, 2016
Rated 5 out of 5 by Wow! Love this course! Didn't know there was so much more phenomena to watch for in the sky. This professor wants us to have as much fun looking for stuff as he does. My. my, my, my, my! August 21, 2016
Rated 4 out of 5 by A Fun Survey of What We Can See in our Skies Alex Filippenko is one of my favorite TGC profs. He doesn't disappoint here, although this is the first time I have given him less than perfect marks. This course covers a remarkable range of sights that are visible in our skies, mostly with eyes alone, occasionally enhanced by binoculars, telescopes, or #14 welder's glass. They range from the quotidian (sunrises and sunsets) to many I had never heard of (sun dogs and glories and quite a few others) to the spectacular and sublime (total solar eclipses). Prof. Filippenko does his usual outstanding job of describing the phenomena, and the many, many photos are wonderful. My only significant complaint is that the course is too long for what it covers. Each of the 45 minute lectures could easily have been given in 30 with no loss of information or impressiveness. There is just much too much repetition; the same points are made again and again. And again. Less importantly, our professor's childlike enthusiasm ("Wow!" "Yikes!") can get to be a bit much after a while. And imagine my disillusionment when he very seriously explains that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. (If this was tongue-in-cheek, I sure didn't pick it up.) For the many fans of Prof. Filippenko's other courses, note that there is far less actual science in this one; it is primarily descriptive, at a level easily understood by a middle-schooler. So - I very much recommend this course for what it is: a fascinating but basic descriptive guide to what we can see in the heavens with minimal or no instrumentation. Look carefully at the topics and you will know what to expect. Enjoy. March 9, 2016
  • 2016-10-22 T09:36:04.990-05:00
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