Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Images of the Universe

Course No. 1884
Professor David M. Meyer, Ph.D.
Northwestern University
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Course No. 1884
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What Will You Learn?

  • Examine the Hubble's design and structure, and learn how small flaws can cause big problems.
  • Uncover the mysteries of fascinating nebulae, including the Cat's Eye Nebula and the Crab Nebula.
  • Trace galaxies near and far, including the Sombrero Galaxy and the Antennae Galaxy.

Course Overview

A few hundred miles above Earth, there is a remarkable telescope with a crystal-clear view across the universe. For two decades, the Hubble Space Telescope has been amassing discoveries that rival those of history's greatest scientists and explorers, making it the most important and productive scientific instrument ever built.

Although it never ventures beyond low-Earth orbit, Hubble's location high above the blurring effects of the atmosphere gives it an unrivaled vantage point for investigating phenomena throughout the cosmos:

  • Comet crash: In 1994 Hubble witnessed a rare solar system cataclysm—a series of comet strikes on Jupiter, which produced Earth-sized plumes of vaporized debris in the giant planet's atmosphere.
  • Star birth: Thanks to its incomparable resolution, Hubble has brought previously hidden stellar processes to light. Perhaps its most famous image shows a dramatic hotbed of new star creation in the Eagle Nebula.
  • Warped space: Exploiting Einstein's general theory of relativity, Hubble has used the space-warping properties of giant conglomerations of matter, such as galaxy clusters, to detect dark matter and far distant galaxies.
  • Deep time: In 2003–2004 Hubble trained its instruments on a tiny, seemingly blank spot of sky for a total of 268 hours, recording thousands of distant galaxies in the deepest optical view ever made of the early universe.

These and more than half-a-million other images reveal never-before-seen features of planets, stars, and galaxies with breathtaking clarity that sets Hubble apart from all other telescopes. Now is a good time to assess Hubble's accomplishments, as it enters the third decade of its operational life, by studying a carefully chosen sample of its landmark images in a visual feast that includes many of the greatest discoveries in astronomy during the 1990s and 2000s.

Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Images of the Universe is just such an overview, drawing on one noted astronomer's Top 10 list, including the four above, to take you on a dazzling voyage of discovery that delights the eye, feeds the imagination, and unlocks new secrets of the universe in 12 spectacularly illustrated half-hour lectures.

Your guide is Professor David M. Meyer of Northwestern University, an award-winning educator and a frequent user of the Hubble Space Telescope in his research on interstellar and extragalactic gas clouds. Professor Meyer has made Hubble images the hallmark of his popular astronomy lectures to undergraduates, amateur astronomers, and the general public, which teach fundamental concepts and recent breakthroughs through the super-sharp eye of Hubble.

For those new to astronomy, Experiencing Hubble reviews all the background needed for a well-informed tour of the otherworldly realm investigated by Hubble. And for experienced stargazers, Dr. Meyer gives a fascinating insider's perspective on the work of the superstar of telescopes.

Ten Fascinating Scientific Stories

For this course, Dr. Meyer selected 10 iconic Hubble images based on their visual beauty, scientific impact, and breadth of subject matter. Each image is the focus of its own lecture, which uses the iconic picture as a jumping-off point for exploring different aspects of the cosmos that Hubble has revealed in startling new detail. As you venture from the realm of the solar system to the farthest reaches of the universe, you get a wide-ranging education in such subjects as

  • comets and asteroids,
  • the life cycles of stars,
  • the evolution of galaxies,
  • dark matter, and
  • the evidence for the big bang.

In addition to the four images cited above, Professor Meyer's Top 10 list also shows you these:

  • Closely packed stars: Countless stars sparkle like multicolored gems toward the core of the Milky Way galaxy.
  • Dying star: An intricate pattern of debris expands outward from a sun-like star in its death throes.
  • Supernova relic: The filamentary Crab Nebula shows the remains of a titanic supernova explosion seen on Earth in the year 1054.
  • Stunning edge-on galaxy: Looking like a distant island, dark dust lanes and an eerie, central glow mark the Sombrero galaxy.
  • Cosmic distance ladder: Extreme depth-of-field in a view of galaxies near and far illustrates the cosmic distance ladder.
  • Colliding galaxies: A pair of merging galaxies reveals the likely future of our own Milky Way and the nearby Andromeda galaxy.

Professor Meyer's Top 10 list is only the beginning, since Experiencing Hubble includes hundreds of other astronomical photos, historical images, diagrams, and animations that take you deep into the fascinating scientific stories behind each of his iconic pictures. Dr. Meyer also talks about his own experiences on the world's biggest telescopes, including Hubble, giving a glimpse of the wonder that inspires all astronomers and their ongoing excitement at the flood of data from Hubble. With this remarkable instrument, it is as if a picture window on the cosmos has been wiped clean for the first time, presenting a glorious view to all eternity.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Rationale for a Space Telescope
    Begin your exploration of the scientific stories behind 10 of the most fascinating images made by the Hubble Space Telescope. In this lecture, learn about Hubble's design and how its operations were almost cut short by a flaw in its mirror, a problem corrected during a space shuttle servicing mission. x
  • 2
    Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 and Jupiter
    Shortly after its optics were repaired, Hubble had the opportunity to observe the solar system event of the century: the collision of a string of comets with Jupiter in 1994. Examine Hubble's stunning image of the aftermath of this crash. x
  • 3
    The Sagittarius Star Cloud
    Hubble's view of a tiny region of the Sagittarius Star Cloud has an astonishing 12,000 stars. Study this dazzling image and learn how its unprecedented resolution is helping to chart the stellar history and evolution of the Milky Way galaxy. x
  • 4
    The Star Factory inside the Eagle Nebula
    Explore the most iconic Hubble photo of all: the glowing pillars of gas and dust at the core of the Eagle Nebula. Resembling a fantasy landscape, this view shows young stars emerging from their cocoons of gas and dust in an interstellar molecular cloud. x
  • 5
    The Cat's Eye Nebula—A Stellar Demise
    Turning from star birth to star death, get a preview of the sun's distant future by examining the Cat's Eye Nebulae. Such planetary nebulae (which have nothing to do with planets) are the exposed debris of dying stars and are among the most beautiful objects in the Hubble gallery. x
  • 6
    The Crab Nebula—A Supernova's Aftermath
    Stars more than eight times as massive as the sun take a radically different path at the end of their lives, disintegrating in a colossal explosion known as a supernova. Hubble's image of the famous Crab Nebula shows the expanding cloud of material from a supernova that was witnessed on Earth in the year 1054. x
  • 7
    The Sombrero Galaxy—An Island Universe
    In the 1920s, astronomer Edwin Hubble discovered the true nature of galaxies as "island universes." Some 80 years later, the telescope named in his honor has made thousands of breathtaking pictures of galaxies. Focus on one in particular—an edge-on view of the striking Sombrero galaxy. x
  • 8
    Hubble's View of Galaxies Near and Far
    Hubble's image of the nearby galaxy NGC 3370 includes many faint galaxies in the background, exemplifying the telescope's mission to establish an accurate distance scale to galaxies near and far—along with the related expansion rate of the universe. Discover how Hubble's success has led to the concept of dark energy. x
  • 9
    The Antennae Galaxies—A Cosmic Collision
    A pair of interacting galaxies called the Antennae represent Hubble's most dramatic snapshot of a galactic collision. Learn how such events unfold over the course of millions of years and how the nearby Andromeda galaxy will have a similar encounter with our own Milky Way in the far distant future. x
  • 10
    Abell 2218—A Massive Gravitational Lens
    One of the consequences of Einstein's general theory of relativity is evident in Hubble's picture of the galaxy cluster Abell 2218. Investigate the physics of this phenomenon, called gravitational lensing, and discover how Hubble has used it to study extremely distant galaxies as well as dark matter. x
  • 11
    The Hubble Ultra Deep Field
    Completing your tour of 10 remarkable Hubble images, plunge into the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, the deepest optical image of the cosmos made to date. This extraordinary view shows 10,000 galaxies extending far beyond the Milky Way and back to the epoch of galaxy formation. x
  • 12
    Hubble's Legacy and Beyond
    Finish the course by looking at the future of Hubble and the next generation of space telescopes. Focus in particular on the search for extrasolar planets, how they are found, and the role Hubble and other telescopes play in extending our knowledge of possibly earthlike worlds. x

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  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 72-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?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 72-page course synopsis
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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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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Reviews

Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Images of the Universe is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 208.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Experiencing Hubble, what more can you ask for.. This is my second copy of Experiencing Hubble. I loaned my first copy out and never got it back. This is a program I can watch with my grandson and see the awe in his eyes. Watch the program, then go outside at night and look at the stars. He gets the connection. What more can you ask.
Date published: 2018-11-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent series Both esthetically exquisite and intellectually expansive. The lectures are understandable even for novices like myself, yet push my knowledge to new limits each time. Unfortunately the delivery is sometimes too fast for me to follow in one viewing. But I look forward to seeing the DVDs more than once. Thank you!
Date published: 2018-10-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I loved this course! I have to admit, when it comes to astronomy, my interest in the beauty of the pictures from the universe far outweigh the scientific theories about those pictures. So from that perspective, this course provides some extraordinary beautiful pictures, and I couldn’t be happier except to ask for more lectures. I am sure since this course is several years old now, some of the theories presented might be outdated as science has moved forward. And since the course covers a broad range of topics in 12 lessons, all of the details of competing theories and other details are omitted. There are so many other courses and documentaries on the universe that it is not too hard to keep up with what is happening in this area. The professor does a great job of engaging me throughout the course and was very easy to follow.
Date published: 2018-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest... The presence of the Smithsonian enhances the video presentation of this course. The wealth of images is truly mind-boggling. Dr. Meyer is clearly expert in the subject. Bravo!
Date published: 2018-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Photos That Have Amazed Us I've seen these incredible and beautiful photographs of some features of our universe, and they have taken my breath away. Now, with this series of lectures, I have learned what the photos are telling us about the history and future of our universe.
Date published: 2018-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible presentation. Experiencing Hubble was a great learning experience both times I watched it. David M. Meyer presented everything with such ex pert precision. I am currently watching "Understanding the Human Body," presented by Dr. Anthony A. Goodman that a friend gave me. The Great Courses are indeed GREAT COURSES. Thank you!
Date published: 2018-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful and entertaining course This is my 1st course with Great Courses and it was a wonderful experience. Professor Meyer is passionate and that alone makes the course exciting. He was able to explain very complicated concepts in such a way that you could follow most of the science. I have a deeper appreciation for the field of Astronomy and Physics and find myself wanting to know more! I look up at the night sky now with a new perspective! I look forward to learning more from Great Courses.
Date published: 2018-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Universe as a System One of my interests is the fundamental structure of systems in a General Systems context. I hypozise that every system of practical interest has an internal structure of interacting entities, and that each such system is itself a component of a structure of higher-level systems. Our If so our universe must be near the upper bound of such a stack. (There might have been more than one [big or small] bang.) I have seen many Hubble ST pictures, but have never fully understood their significance. Meyer's explanation of those images was close to an epiphany of the evidence we have of how things work in a 13.7 billion year timeframe. I especially appreciated the lack of hyperbole. Very well done. As a complete aside, he showed a picture of Hubble at a conference at Northwestern in the 10290s. Although he didn't mention it, I was impressed with the number of women in the top league of astronomy in that era.
Date published: 2018-06-07
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