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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  • 72-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
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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 223.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent images and explanations Prof. Meyer not only shows the favorite Hubble images, but gives elaborate backgrounds on them. Going into astronomy and background, he weaves excellent stories to accompany the brilliant images.
Date published: 2016-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great introduction to astronomy and the Hubble This course is interesting to those with any interest in what is out there in space.. The presentation by its nature is superficial but very well presented. The basics of astronomy are included, such as quasars, supernovae, how stars function, etc. The best part of the course is the pictures from the Hubble telescope. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from As a novice we've enjoyed this course. However, we prefer measurements in Standard US form, miles and inches instead of metrics. Of course both could be used to meet this goal.
Date published: 2016-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow factor I thought this course was amazing. The instructor was interesting and the material and visuals presented kept me glued to each section. It was a pleasure to watch.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Experiencing Hubble is Great Fast paced and informative. Covers the science being done using Hubble and gives descriptions of earlier work. This is a very good course.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hubble Telescope I have only viewed the first episode of 12 but I am thoroughly impressed by what I have seen. I will be anxious to complete this course.
Date published: 2016-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introduction to the vastness of the Universe I'm currently on lesson 9 of 12. Intelligent, interesting and challenging. This is a great course, one you can enjoy as entertainment or study for knowledge. It is my first foray into the cosmos and I'm pleased at how well presented complex theory and results are presented. I won't pretend to say I've understood everything that's been presented but know that I'll watch this again and build on my foundational understanding. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-01-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More pictures and diagrams Showing more pictures and diagrams during the lecture would enhance the visualization of the concepts taught.
Date published: 2016-01-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing. Picture and sound quality very below average(extremely disappointing sub HD and should have been at least Blue Ray quality) . Professor David M. Meyer was excellent with in depth knowledge of the subject matter. However very animated (TREX arm movements) and emotionally subdued with a mostly monotone style of delivery. You might want to replicate the instructors natural environment in your course material. What I mean is to go and sit in on one of their lectures and use that as the presentation model. I am willing to bet that Prof. Meyer has a significantly different presentation style than what is being portrayed in this course.
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful course, beautiful pictures We so enjoyed the Hubble course, the professor was very clear and entertaining and we only wish the course was longer. The pictures, especially, were spectacular. Hope there is a follow-up
Date published: 2016-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Images and Some Insight video download version I purchased this course because I am interested in the overall area of astronomy and physics and I am mostly not current in the latest in either field. Dr. Meyer does a very good job in weaving in some of the fundamentals of cosmology into his lectures. The method he has chosen with his twelve lectures is to have both an introduction and a wrap-up, using the remaining 10 lectures to discuss one image from the Hubble, allied and associated Hubble images and some of the science behind the chosen image and why it is important. And why the information learned or inferred from the image was not known before. Dr. Meyer also spends some amount of time giving background information that is either necessary or interesting for the concepts covered. At least for me the scientific concepts covered did not need the viewer to have very much background in physics or math in order to pretty much understand the underlying concepts, at least at a surface level. He almost apologizes for referencing the curvature of space-time, but in the end gives a nice little graphic view of that part of General Relativity, background necessary when discussing the lensing effect amazingly revealed in some of the chosen Hubble images. This course used awe-inspiring and beautiful images to present some fundamental and some ground-breaking concepts and does so in a comprehensible manner. So why only 4 stars? The downside is that as good a job as Meyer does using his approach of one main image per lecture and as amazing as it is to see how close in time we can now see the the 'big bang', I felt that there was not a cohesive, consistent approach to cosmology. Also (but not enough to down-rate), I did get a bit tired to Dr. Meyer continually saying several times a lecture that Hubble was able to resolve images that could not be done before. Seemed a bit like a commercial for Hubble to me. On the positive side, it will likely influence me in purchasing additional course is this general area. Recommended for the spectacular images and the easily understood science.
Date published: 2015-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than I expected I was expecting more of a survey of Hubble images. What you also get are examples of the science done based on each image and others like it.
Date published: 2015-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Science context behind Hubble images If you are new to the space sciences then this course will impart the foundational concepts of astronomy and astrophysics in a short, very entertaining manner. Dr. Meyer is a good storyteller who sets a rich contextual background to the scientific concepts he ably presents. If you are already well versed in this materiel or have already viewed any of the overlapping Great Courses, then this course will likely not deliver any great revelations. Regardless of your background, it will still provide you an appreciation for many of the frequently seen iconic Hubble images.
Date published: 2015-12-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting presentation This course was presented in an understandable and enjoyable format. The Hubble pictures were fascinating as were the lectures focusing on each. I would highly recommend this set to people interested in the Universe (Cosmology) who have a slight understanding of the subject. Those knowledgeable on the subject would probably find this series too basic.
Date published: 2015-12-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great course if you want a short one. This was my first Greatest Courses course and I'm very pleased with it. I had at least a couple of aha moments with this course (particularly relating to universe expansion) and I thought I had a good understanding already. Dr. Meyer has a great way of simplifying even complex material.
Date published: 2015-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic presentation of a fantastic subject I spent much of the first part of 2015 watching Alex Filippenko's encyclopedic GC's course "Understanding the Universe (2nd Edition)". This course on Hubble was the ideal followup. I enjoyed Dr. Meyer's explanations about Hubble's development, and particularly the 1993 repair to the telescope which allowed it to achieve its full potential. The progression of images from the solar system through the galaxy out to the edges of the universe was very cool. If you are highly motivated to learn about astronomy I would recommend that you watch these two courses in the same order that I did--Filippenko followed by Meyer. Otherwise, watch this one first. Chances are that you will become highly motivated to learn more, even to the extent of watching Fillipenko's 96-lecture behemoth.
Date published: 2015-10-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating course This is an outstanding course! I have found myself thinking about the images and concepts many times after finishing the course. I still get goosebumps when I think about the images that reveal the early days of our universe. I look forward to doing this course again and many more by Professor Meyer. He is truly an outstanding communicator and teacher.
Date published: 2015-09-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Got me hooked on TGC This was one of the first great courses I purchased and it was great. I bought 6 more since. The lectures are long enough to give you a good amount of information, but not so long that you get tired or bored of a certain topic. I actually wish some of the lectures went deeper. The images that went along with this are great, i would def not get just the audio(if that is even an option) you will want to see the Hubble images that are being discussed. It was cool learning about the history of the Cepheid Variables and about Super Nova and the many other topics covered. I think there are more in depth courses relating to this same subject matter available but some of them are pretty pricey. I still have 4 more CGs that I haven't even had the time to start, but slowly getting through my collection. I will no doubt order more once I get more of the current ones I bought watched. I watched the "Our Night sky " too and it was interesting but if I had to pick one or the other, I would get the Hubble one first.
Date published: 2015-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Blend of Fine Art and Science I decided to watch this course because of the 25th anniversary of the Hubble telescope. I did not entirely know what to expect with this course, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Except for the introduction and conclusion, each lesson focuses on one of the top ten images captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. The introduction gives the history of the telescope including the early saga of a defective mirror that almost ruined the program and the efforts by astronauts to repair it in space. The substantive lectures start with an amazing Hubble image. Each of the images rightly deserves to be considered "fine art" for the breathtaking beauty and spirit-moving depth. What surprised me, though, was how the professor discussed each image. Rather than pick apart the image or point out every detail, the professor uses the image as a springboard to explain the science behind what the image represents. For instance, in one of the images of faraway galaxies he discusses how the lensing effect created the image and then went on to give the best explanation of the theory of general relativity that I have ever heard (and I took calculus-based physics in college). After the very informative scientific explanation, the professor then turns to the image and points out details that a casual observer would miss, much like a fine arts class would be taught. He also examines other images of similar objects, so you get to enjoy more great images than just the top ten selected as the basis for the lectures. The professor's history of the telescope's namesake, Edwin Hubble, was particularly well done. This course is fantastic for anyone with even a small interest in science and has considerable potential to be enjoyed by someone only interested in the artistic value of Hubble's wonderful images.
Date published: 2015-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Entertaining Professor Meyer presents detailed yet accessible information on observational astronomy, the life cycle of stars, cosmology, and other topics in astronomy through an analysis of 10 outstanding images from the Hubble Telescope. The Hubble is arguably one of the greatest scientific instruments ever devised, and this course gives an excellent introduction to how it is used and the stunning images it has created. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic View of the Universe This course provides a fantastic view of the universe. The Hubble telescope provides incredible images of the universe that we would never be able see from the surface of the earth. Professor Meyer does a very good job of explaining the history of the Hubble telescope and how it operates. Professor Meyer gave a good explanation of why the “flaw” in the mirror which was the size of a human hair could be so problematic and how the “flaw” was corrected. The only complaint that I have about the course is that it is too short. Twelve lectures was not enough. There are a lot of wonders in the universe and it would have been good if there had been twice as many lectures with images and explanations. This is a good introductory course into the universe and I highly recommend it as one of your first astronomy related courses. For a more in-depth understanding of the universe, I recommend you’re your next courses on astronomy be other The Great Courses like “Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy” by Professor Alex Flippenko.
Date published: 2015-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than I expected The Hubble telescope has taken many amazing photos, and I thought that this course might show quite a few, along with the story behind them. I got that and more. Dr. Meyer chose his ten favorite Hubble photos and spent a lecture on each. (The first lecture was an introduction and the last a discussion of Hubble's limitations and a look to the future.) They were carefully chosen not just because of their beauty but because, presented in order of distance, they provided Dr. Meyer an opportunity to explain Hubble's contribution to the science of astronomy in every area, from our own solar system back almost to the beginning. The great thing was that right along with the photos, he explained the science behind them, so that by the time he had finished, he had given us a mini-astronomy overview. I would recommend this to anyone.
Date published: 2015-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Hubble telescope is amazing! An extraordinary course. I was curious about Hubble images and decided to give this course a shot. I never realized how much we have learned as a result of Hubble's images. I never realized how deep into space the telescope could image. And I have a whole new appreciation for how big our universe is. I just finished the course and I am in awe. The professor is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and interesting. The pictures are amazing. I highly recommend this course to all who are interested in learning about our grand universe.
Date published: 2015-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eyes on the sky We loved this course, and eagerly watched a lecture each day. Some of the science was beyond us, but that's all right. We knew that Hubble has been a boon to human knowledge, but weren't aware of how much has been learned until doing this course. We'll almost certainly watch it through again in the near future. For years I've kept Hubble images on my computers as the background photos, and I gaze at them often. Many of those photos were used in this course, and it was amazing to learn more about them. Prof. Meyer was a terrific guide, so much so that we're going to see what his other Great Courses series is about. His low-key manner of speaking, and his obvious love for, and excitement about, his subject matter, kept our attention without wavering. We'd like to thank him for sharing his knowledge with us, and must admit that we're just a wee bit jealous that he's one of the rare and special people who get to peer into the sky through the HST!!
Date published: 2015-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hubble is truly more than I imagined.. Professor Meyer is a knowledgeable and passionate expert on Astronomy--and this comes across in his lectures. He shares vignettes of "shared time" on the Hubble (and how that time is assigned) and how certain observations have resulted in monumental discoveries (e.g., Shoemaker-Levy Comets, the behavior of Supernova). Dr. Meyer really makes the Hubble discoveries come alive - in laymen's terms and with examples that make the complexities of Astrophysics manageable. I truly enjoyed his course, learned much about this amazing space telescope and would recommend his lectures to any/all who wish to better understand the universe we live in.
Date published: 2015-03-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Short Summary of the Results from Hubble This was a generally well-done summary of some of the most spectacular discoveries made by scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope. The presentation was generally very good and this course did achieve its relatively limited objective. I would recommend this as an introduction on the new developments in observational astronomy made possible by this remarkable instrument.
Date published: 2015-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A super course! The Hubble is a fascinating course. The profesor is knowledgeable and engaging. The illustrations are "out of this world" (they are fantastic). I have been interested in astronomy and related topics for years (I took the Dark Matter/Energy course) but I've learned lots from this course. I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2015-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Im Enjoyed the course. Very informative. Excellent presentation.
Date published: 2015-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better Than Expected I bought this to see good photos from Hubble. I didn't realize that all the information about space science would be provided as well. it is somewhat technical for scientifically and mathematically inclined people, which is fine for me. May not be for everyone.
Date published: 2015-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from hubblelaloo excellent course, learned a lot about the universe, makes me feel even more of a peon, considering the vastness of the cosmos, my only peeve was, that there wasn't a plethora of pictures to view, considering how long hubble has been in orbit.
Date published: 2015-03-02
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