Experiencing Hubble: Exploring the Milky Way

Course No. 1889
Professor David M. Meyer, Ph.D.
Northwestern University
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Course No. 1889
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn to view and appreciate the gorgeous images from the Hubble telescope with new understanding.
  • numbers See how astronomers have deduced what our galaxy looks like from afar.
  • numbers Find out how mass loss by stars enriches space with elements heavier than helium, supplying the ingredients for planets.
  • numbers Watch a beautiful light echo ripple through the nebula surrounding a variable star.
  • numbers Chart the future of the Milky Way galaxy, which is due to collide with its mammoth neighbor in a few billion years.

Course Overview

On a dark, clear night, a magnificent band of hazy light arches overhead that ancient Greeks likened to a trail of milk spilled across the sky. It is the Milky Way, the galaxy where we live, seen edge-on from our vantage point on the inside. There are countless stars at all stages of stellar life, vast clouds of interstellar gas and dust, star clusters, and even satellite galaxies, but no close-up view can match that of the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been surveying the wonders of the Milky Way for three decades.

In 12 beautifully illustrated half-hour lectures, Experiencing Hubble: Exploring the Milky Way leads you on a tour like no other—to pulsating stars, iridescent nebulae, giant star clusters, and regions of frenzied activity that signal black holes. Your guide is David M. Meyer, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University and an award-winning teacher, noted for using Hubble images to bring the latest research to his introductory classes. This course requires no background in astronomy or science, and it compliments Dr. Meyer’s previous course: Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Images of the Universe, which covers Hubble’s greatest hits through 2009. Since then, Hubble has amassed half a million new observations, many with an advanced high-resolution camera for visible light and near infrared imaging.

Orbiting some 300 miles above the blurring effects of Earth’s turbulent atmosphere, Hubble has an unrivaled perspective on galactic sights near and far, including:

  • Horsehead Nebula: Quite by chance, a hot, young star has sculpted nature’s most spectacular equine monument—a two-light-year, tall pillar of gas and dust resembling a horse’s head. Through Hubble’s sharp eye, the structure provides fascinating insight into the process of star formation.
  • Veil Nebula supernova remnant: Prehistoric inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere witnessed the sudden appearance of a star that outshone all others in the heavens for many weeks. Today, this type II supernova has dimmed and expanded to form a beautiful, veil-like feature that Hubble shows in exquisite detail.
  • Galactic center: Our view of the Milky Way’s core is hidden at visible wavelengths by thick clouds of dust. However, Hubble’s near infrared camera has peered through the dust to record millions of stars at the galactic center, which are orbiting a supermassive black hole.

Launched in 1990, Hubble has been periodically updated and repaired by astronauts, so that today it is a vastly improved instrument from its original design. That’s why now is the perfect time to catch up on Hubble’s latest views of our home galaxy.

More Wondrous Than You Ever Imagined

Exploring the Milky Way takes you from comets in the solar system, through the Milky Way to its core, and then to the galaxy’s farthest outskirts. Putting Hubble’s observations in context, each of the featured images is first pinpointed on a starfield like what you would see from your backyard. To the unaided eye, the target is often an apparently undistinguished piece of sky. Then, you dramatically zoom in, closer and closer, taking in ever more detail until you see exactly what Hubble sees. The effect is to make the night sky more wondrous than you ever imagined.

Dr. Meyer directs your attention to intriguing features that allow each one of the Hubble images to tell a remarkable story. You learn an impressive amount of astronomy, all while admiring a view that can be appreciated for its grandeur alone. Using no mathematics, Dr. Meyer introduces, and makes visual, concepts such as the electromagnetic spectrum, star classes, stellar evolution, parallax shifts, nucleosynthesis, galactic evolution, and much more. For comparison, he makes lavish use of images from other observatories, both ground- and space-based.

And because spiral galaxies like the Milky Way are common in the universe, the processes going on here are being replicated throughout the cosmos. The story of the Milky Way is a plot being played, with variations, almost everywhere.

Savor the Sights as You Tour Our Galaxy

Hubble’s field of view is tiny, yet it has imaged objects covering sky areas larger than the full Moon by making a mosaic of frames, which have been seamlessly composited to create stunning panoramas. Furthermore, the telescope’s ability to take exposures lasting many hours allows it to discern details that are otherwise invisible. And the fact that it has been operating for many years means that features that change over time can be regularly revisited.

For these reasons, Exploring the Milky Way includes much more than static sky images in a uniform format. Some of the impressive visuals you see include:

  • Cosmic jets: Star birth often involves a phase where infalling matter shoots out of the polar regions of an infant star at high speed. Time-lapse images from Hubble show these clumps of matter jetting across a distance equal to 1,000 times the radius of the solar system.
  • Pulsating stars: In another time-lapse movie, pulses of light from a Cepheid variable star gently ripple through a surrounding nebula. Thanks to Hubble, we can watch this spectacle unfold through repeated cycles. You also learn how such stars serve as cosmic yardsticks.
  • Andromeda Galaxy: Hubble imaged a portion of the nearby Andromeda Galaxy in a mosaic of 411 separate starfields. Amazingly, Hubble can resolve many millions of stars in Andromeda, which is like photographing a beach and resolving individual grains of sand.

Indeed, the Andromeda Galaxy—the closest large galaxy to the Milky Way—is your last stop in the course, because in a few billion years, Andromeda is due to transform the Milky Way beyond recognition, as the two galaxies collide and merge. An enormous burst of new star formation will ensue, until all the interstellar gas has been consumed and the combined systems evolve into an elliptical galaxy of older, low-mass stars.

Exploring the Milky Way will take you on an unparalleled tour of recently revealed visual wonders, letting you experience, as never before, what it means to say that the Milky Way galaxy is our home.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    The Unseen Face of Our Spiral Galaxy
    Your Hubble Space Telescope tour of the Milky Way galaxy begins with an overview of the spectacular images you will encounter in the course. Dr. Meyer notes that our location in the disk of the Milky Way makes it difficult to discern the galaxy's large-scale structure. But by studying clues both near and far, astronomers have identified another spiral galaxy that is a close match to ours. x
  • 2
    Viewing the Galaxy through a Comet
    Focus on Comet ISON as it passes inside the orbit of Jupiter, just a few light-minutes from Earth. In the same frame, Hubble reveals additional distant objects in our galaxy, but also galaxies billions of light years distant—a striking case of extreme depth of field. Discover that comets are icy leftovers from the formation of the solar system, and they populate the Oort Cloud, which extends partway to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri. x
  • 3
    A Cloud of Stardust: The Horsehead Nebula
    Your stop in this lecture is the famous Horsehead Nebula—a two-light-year appendage of a vast molecular cloud composed of gas and dust. Dr. Meyer discusses the physical processes that turn these clouds into stellar nurseries. The horsehead shape is the accidental outcome of ultraviolet radiation pouring from a nearby young star, which acts like a blowtorch on the dark nebular material. x
  • 4
    A Star Awakens: The Jets of Herbig-Haro 24
    Described in a Hubble press release as a “cosmic, double-bladed lightsaber,” Herbig-Haro 24 is a pair of energetic jets emerging from the polar regions of a newborn star. Such jets are a common feature in star-forming regions. Their high speed and tendency to form in pulses allow long-lived observatories like Hubble to show them in action via time-lapse movies made over several years. x
  • 5
    A Star Cluster Blossoms: Westerlund 2
    Visit some of the hottest, most luminous stars in the galaxy, the young cluster known as Westerlund 2. Compare this group with other star clusters, using the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram to grasp what color and luminosity say about stellar evolution. Drawing on this information, predict the future of Westerlund 2, and reflect on the cluster where the Sun probably formed 4.6 billion years ago. x
  • 6
    An Interstellar Cavity: The Bubble Nebula
    Focus on the delicate Bubble Nebula, a sphere of gas 8 light-years across, which is being inflated by the strong wind from a hot, young star 45 times more massive than the Sun. Many such structures have been recorded by Hubble, vividly showing the process of mass loss by stars—sometimes gradually, sometimes explosively—which enriches space with elements heavier than helium. x
  • 7
    The Interstellar Echo of a Variable Star
    In one of the most beautiful sequences ever photographed by Hubble, a ring of light radiates through a nebula—like ripples from a stone tossed in a pond. This view is the light echo of a Cepheid variable star, seen in time-lapse as it reverberates at light speed through the surrounding dust cloud. Learn how the properties of Cepheids are the key to measuring distances in our galactic neighborhood. x
  • 8
    Tracing the Veil of a Prehistoric Supernova
    Thousands of years ago, light from a stellar explosion in the constellation Cygnus reached Earth. Ever since, remnants of that supernova event have been speeding apart, until they now form a ghostly feature called the Veil Nebula. View Hubble and other telescopic images to learn how supernovae shape the elemental composition of the galaxy, making possible rocky planets such as Earth. x
  • 9
    The Stellar Vortex at the Galactic Center
    Begin a new section of the course that investigates the large-scale structure of the Milky Way. In this lecture, journey to the galactic center, which Hubble shows to be populated by millions of densely packed stars, orbiting a black hole with the mass of 4 million suns. Study other examples of supermassive black holes in galactic cores and theories on how they form. x
  • 10
    The Galactic Halo's Largest Star Cluster
    Over a hundred globular star clusters are scattered like sparkling snow globes in a halo around the Milky Way. Each is composed of hundreds of thousands to millions of stars. Explore Hubble's views of the inner regions of these clusters, learning their connection to the early epoch of star formation in the universe. Some of the clusters are remnants of dwarf galaxies, captured by the Milky Way. x
  • 11
    Satellite Galaxies: The Magellanic Clouds
    Zero in on the largest of the Milky Way's satellite galaxies: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, known as LMC and SMC. View Hubble's images of the Tarantula Nebula with its brilliant cluster R136 in the LMC, and NGC 602 in the SMC (often voted as one of the top 10 Hubble photos of all time). Trace the likely history of the Magellanic Clouds and their link to the origin of the Milky Way. x
  • 12
    The Future of the Milky Way
    Finish your tour of the Milky Way by traveling to the nearest large galaxy, Andromeda, seeing it in a dazzling composite of 7,400 Hubble exposures in 411 star fields. Chart the fate of the Milky Way as Andromeda speeds toward it for a collision billions of years from now. Hubble's views of other galactic collisions show what to expect from this surprisingly graceful merger of two giant galaxies. x

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  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
  • Closed captioning available

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • Printed course guidebook
  • Quiz
  • Hubble Images
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Your professor

David M. Meyer

About Your Professor

David M. Meyer, Ph.D.
Northwestern University
Dr. David M. Meyer is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University, where he is also Director of the Dearborn Observatory and Co-Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics. He earned his B.S. in Astrophysics from the University of Wisconsin, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles. He continued his studies as a Robert R....
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Experiencing Hubble: Exploring the Milky Way is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 24.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is a wonderful addition to his previous course, Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Images of the Universe. It significantly expanded my understanding of the Milky May. As with both of his other courses, the lectures are well organized and well presented. Many of the images are spectacular. The zoom videos are a great aid for putting features in perspective within the Milky Way. The guidebook is far more comprehensive than the one for the previous Hubble course. I enjoyed this so much that I have watched it twice.
Date published: 2020-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Beautifully Done Course! This is a fascinating and beautifully done course about the milky way! The pictures are fantastic and the professor does an excellent job teaching us about what we are seeing and why it exists. I sat glued to my screen the entire time. One of the best!
Date published: 2020-08-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Expeeriencing Hubble A truly fascinating and beautiful presentation. I didn't understand all the technical stuff, but that doesn't matter. Prof. Meyer was great and the visuals were breathtaking
Date published: 2020-07-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Learning Experience I thought I knew something about our galaxy and astronomy as a whole. This opened up new understanding of what I have been seeing. Takes concentration and effort but well worth while.
Date published: 2020-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful images Pleased to have purchased this informative, scientific and artistic course to watch with my family.
Date published: 2020-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great detail in the pictures... i have listened to 4 lectures so far, in three weeks.
Date published: 2020-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fully absorbing I found each lecture held my interest and challenged my thinking. There was too much to learn, but I will review several to try to absorb more.
Date published: 2020-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great images! The presentation is clear, beautifully illustrated, well-ordered and nicely paced. Technical terms are well defined. Professor Meyer obviously loves to talk about this. His presentation is lively and well thought out, and he has gorgeous images from Hubble to show what has been learned. The use of graphics and images is excellent and holds our attention very well.
Date published: 2020-05-01
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