New Frontiers: Modern Perspectives on Our Solar System

Course No. 1823
Professor Frank Summers, Ph.D.
Space Telescope Science Institute
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Course Overview

In recent years, cutting-edge telescopes, satellite imaging, and unmanned spacecraft have led to a fascinating series of discoveries that have changed our picture of the Sun and the family of objects that orbit it—including Earth. This new perspective has grown out of many intriguing findings such as these:

  • The reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet, one of countless icy bodies—and not even the largest—in the outer solar system
  • The 2005 landing of the Huygens probe on Saturn's moon Titan, which revealed a bizarre world where liquid methane acts like water does on Earth: falling as rain, carving channels in the landscape, and collecting in lakes
  • One of the largest radiation and particle storms from the Sun ever recorded, which blasted interplanetary space in 2003 and offered a vivid demonstration of the ferocity of space weather
  • The detection since the 1990s of several hundred planets orbiting other stars, allowing us to compare for the first time our solar system with other planetary systems

New Frontiers: Modern Perspectives on Our Solar System is a visually stunning and richly detailed investigation of what we know about the solar system today. Illustrated with insightful diagrams, amazing computer animations, and scores of spectacular images from telescopes and spacecraft, these 24 lectures show you a new and exciting way to view our celestial neighborhood—all under the guidance of astrophysicist and top astronomy educator, Dr. Frank Summers from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

Welcome to the 21st-Century Solar System

Often cited as the most profound change in our view of the solar system, the Copernican revolution of the 16th century proposed the philosophical shift that Earth and the planets orbit the sun instead of the universe revolving around Earth, as appeared to be the case from our vantage point.

But Dr. Summers, whose work at the STScI's Office of Public Outreach presents the findings of the Hubble Space Telescope and developments in general astronomy to the public through various media and educational outlets, suggests another candidate for the biggest change in our views.

"I think the space age is the most important epoch," he says. "It brought us new ways to observe the solar system in more wavelengths with bigger telescopes, new ways to analyze with better data and faster processing, and also a new way to explore, both with robots and with our own eyes."

Remodeling the Solar System

Not only does New Frontiers allow you to see the solar system with fresh eyes, it also offers you a new model to serve as an organizing guide. Gone is the familiar diagram you find in many old reference books depicting the Sun and nine planets forming a neat, straight line. Dr. Summers provides key points as to why this perspective is so outdated:

  • A straight-line alignment of the planets occurs only every three quadrillion years—600,000 times the present age of our solar system!
  • The distances between planets and their relative sizes compared to the Sun are wildly out of scale.
  • Most importantly, there is so much more to the solar system than just these 10 objects.

You discover what Dr. Summers, an expert astrophysicist who headed the development of exhibits for the opening of the American Museum of Natural History's Rose Center for Earth and Space, calls the "21st-century solar system." He suggests that, instead of a straight line, the solar system is best seen as a bulls-eye with six concentric circles, each of which represents the six families of objects in our solar system. Working outward from the center, you have the following alignment:

  • The Sun: The only star in our solar system.
  • The rocky planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Composed of rock, they are close to the Sun and have few or no moons.
  • The asteroid belt: A band of small, mostly rocky bodies between Mars and Jupiter.
  • The giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Orbiting far from the Sun, these large planets have gaseous atmospheres, rings, and moons.
  • The Kuiper belt: The region beyond Neptune now known to be the reservoir of the short-period comets containing mostly icy bodies (including Pluto).
  • The Oort cloud: The reservoir of the Sun's long-period comets, located almost a quarter of the way to the nearest star.

The Usefulness of the Modern View

This modern view of the solar system is useful in many ways. Foremost, it provides you with a bigger picture of the solar system, organizing and classifying its objects based on similar characteristics and offering a better understanding of how they are grouped and structured.

In addition, it underscores the enormity of the solar system. Not only is the recently discovered Kuiper belt object Eris larger than Pluto, its orbit takes it almost twice as far from the Sun. The Oort cloud extends 500 times farther than Eris.

Another advantage to this new model is that it tells you the story of the formation and evolution of the solar system:

  • Rocky planets formed near the Sun, where it was too hot for ices and gases to condense.
  • Asteroids populate a zone where planet formation was disrupted by Jupiter's gravitational field.
  • Jupiter and the other giant planets accreted in the region beyond the "frost line," where gas, ice, and rock were all available.
  • The icy objects in the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud coalesced in the super-cold, low-density conditions beyond Neptune.

With a better grasp on this new picture of the solar system, you explore the space-age solar system as we now know it. This approach is comparative, reflecting the way that planetary science is conducted today: where the same phenomena are examined in all their variety from world to world. You consider these and other examples:

  • Craters: These are found throughout the solar system. On the moon, craters can be dated to reveal a period of bombardment following the formation of the solar system. On Earth, one recently identified crater is thought to be the smoking gun in the demise of the dinosaurs.
  • Weather: Weather on other planets can be markedly more severe than weather on Earth. Jupiter has a gigantic, centuries-old storm that could swallow several Earths, and the air temperature on Venus is more than 460° C.
  • Moons: Moons are rich worlds unto themselves. Among the seven large and 160 small moons, our moon is unusual in that it is one-quarter of the size of its planet. Computer simulations show that it probably formed when a Mars-sized body smashed into the forming Earth.

Get Breathtaking Views

New Frontiers is illustrated with the many exhilarating views of the solar system afforded to us by continued advances in space technology. Indeed, there is no better guide for this visually rich journey than Dr. Summers, whose own work with scientific imagery (in the Academy Award–nominated IMAX film Cosmic Voyage and the IMAX short film Hubble: Galaxies Across Space and Time) reflects a deep understanding of and passion for the role that visualizations play in comprehending our universe.

From the celebrated rovers on Mars and the Galileo probe orbiting Jupiter or Cassini at Saturn to the lesser-known missions studying asteroids and comets, the pictures taken from ground-based observatories, space telescopes, and satellite missions help give you a clearer idea of just how critical the technological advancements of the space age have affected our views of the solar system. They also reflect the profoundly sublime nature of its diverse characteristics.

Fittingly enough, the course ends with a stunning movie from the Messenger spacecraft as it left Earth on its mission to Mercury—a movie that captures our slowly rotating planet growing ever smaller and that demonstrates a truly breathtaking new perspective on our solar system.

It is a perspective that continues to evolve as astronomers peer further into our galaxy and continue to explore the hundreds of planetary systems discovered around other stars. The stunning point of view on display in New Frontiers shows you just how much more there is to uncover about your true place among the stars.

following alignment:

  • The Sun: The only star in our solar system.
  • The rocky planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. Composed of rock, they are close to the Sun and have few or no moons.
  • The asteroid belt: A band of small, mostly rocky bodies between Mars and Jupiter.
  • The giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Orbiting far from the Sun, these large planets have gaseous atmospheres, rings, and moons.
  • The Kuiper belt: The region beyond Neptune now known to be the reservoir of the short-period comets containing mostly icy bodies (including Pluto).
  • The Oort cloud: The reservoir of the Sun's long-period comets, located almost a quarter of the way to the nearest star.

The Usefulness of the Modern View

This modern view provides you with a bigger picture of the solar system, detailing the story of the formation and evolution of the solar system and organizing and classifying its objects based on similar characteristics, offering a better understanding of how they are grouped and structured:

  • Rocky planets formed near the Sun, where it was too hot for ices and gases to condense.
  • Asteroids populate a zone where planet formation was disrupted by Jupiter's gravitational field.
  • Jupiter and the other giant planets accreted in the region beyond the "frost line," where gas, ice, and rock were all available.
  • The icy objects in the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud coalesced in the super-cold, low-density conditions beyond Neptune.

Get Breathtaking Views

New Frontiers: Modern Perspectives on Our Solar System is a visually stunning and richly detailed investigation of what we know about the solar system today. Illustrated with insightful diagrams, amazing computer animations, and scores of spectacular images from telescopes and spacecraft, these 24 half-hour lectures help give you a clearer idea of just how critical the technological advancements of the space age have affected our views of the solar system. The stunning point of view on display in New Frontiers shows you just how much more there is to uncover about your true place among the stars.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The 21st-Century Solar System
    Astronomical knowledge has expanded greatly in recent decades, giving us a new framework for understanding the solar system. The old focus on the Sun and nine planets has given way to a new picture of six families of objects. x
  • 2
    Geometry of the Heavens
    What do our eyes tell us about the motions of the heavens? The simplest model is the geocentric one: the Sun, Moon, stars, and planets orbit around a centrally located Earth. But complexities such as the retrograde motions of the planets call for refinements in this explanation. x
  • 3
    Truth, Beauty, and Heliocentrism
    In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus proposed a heliocentric model, in which Earth and the planets orbit the Sun. Although philosophically appealing, this theory originally gave no improvement in predictive power over the geocentric model. Only better data would tell which theory was to be preferred. x
  • 4
    Deducing the Laws of Motion
    Using detailed astronomical observations made by Tycho Brahe in the late 16th century, Johannes Kepler developed his three laws of planetary motion. In the late 17th century, Isaac Newton's law of universal gravitation provided a comprehensive mathematical theory of heavenly motion. x
  • 5
    Planetary Predictions and Scientific Theory
    What is the difference between a hypothesis and a theory? As examples, you look at the Titius-Bode rule, the prediction of Neptune based on perturbations in the orbit of Uranus, and the failure of Newton's theory to account for the precession of Mercury's orbit. x
  • 6
    From Observational Evidence to Discoveries
    This lecture emphasizes the importance of data gathering in astronomy and the wide range of observations required to make breakthroughs. It starts with the pretelescopic era and then explores the changes brought by ever-larger telescopes and their instrumentation. x
  • 7
    The Space-Age Solar System
    The space age revolutionized our view of the solar system. New realms have been revealed by telescopes that see in wavelengths beyond visible light. Even more amazing are the detailed images returned by space probes sent to fly by, orbit, and land on planets and other worlds. x
  • 8
    The Star of Our Solar System
    The closeness of our Sun allows us to investigate stellar processes to an unparalleled degree. In this lecture, you learn about the turbulent activity beneath the Sun's seemingly placid visible surface. x
  • 9
    Planetary Surfaces and Natural Wonders
    Earth's most impressive mountains, canyons, and volcanoes are surpassed and often dwarfed by those of our neighbors. Earth's oceans are its signature characteristic—a feature that is directly related to Earth's primary unique attribute: life. x
  • 10
    Craters, Impacts, and Cataclysms
    Impact craters exist on all solid bodies of the solar system and testify to an epoch of continuous bombardment during the formation of our planetary system. Such impacts continue to this day—with sometimes devastating consequences. x
  • 11
    Journey to the Centers of Planets
    Earth's interior serves as a template for understanding other worlds. You investigate the depths of planets, moons, and asteroids to learn how their interior structure is determined by their composition, their size, and how they formed. x
  • 12
    Structure and Behavior of Atmospheres
    Earth's atmosphere is 100 times thicker than that of Mars but only 1/100th that of Venus. The clouds of other planets can consist not just of water vapor, but also of carbon dioxide, methane, ammonia, and sulfuric acid. Winds can be gentle or many times hurricane speed. x
  • 13
    Weather on Other Worlds
    What's the weather forecast elsewhere in the solar system? Venus calls for 900° temperatures and a 100% chance of sulfuric acid rain. Mars has planetwide dust storms that last for months. Giant storms have been raging on Jupiter for centuries. x
  • 14
    Solar Storms and Planetary Consequences
    Belying its calm appearance in visible light, the Sun is seething with activity at higher energy bands. Solar magnetic forces drive both gentle winds and fierce storms of charged particles across interplanetary space. Auroral displays on Earth are one consequence of this intense solar weather. x
  • 15
    A Myriad of Moons
    Earth's Moon is one of 7 large moons, some bigger than Mercury. More than 160 smaller moons have been discovered, with many intriguing properties that tell us about their varied histories. x
  • 16
    Intricate Ring Systems of the Giant Planets
    Saturn's magnificent ring system provides a natural laboratory for studying gravitational and other interactions that produce gaps, clumps, waves, and other ring structures. Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune also have rings, but theirs are few, thin and dark. x
  • 17
    Comets—The Interplanetary Nomads
    Comets were once considered mysterious portents of change, but we now know where they come from and the nature of their orbits. Telescopic studies and space missions have uncovered details of their long tails, coma clouds, and tiny nuclei. x
  • 18
    New Outer Realms—Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud
    Kuiper belt objects, including Pluto, are icy worlds beyond Neptune. The most distant of these realms is the Oort cloud. x
  • 19
    Pluto and the Definition of Planet
    The number of planets has grown and shrunk, making us think about what defines a planet. The discovery of Eris, a Kuiper belt object larger than Pluto, brought this issue to the fore in 2006. x
  • 20
    Formation of the Solar System
    How did the solar system form? A rotating gas cloud collapsed, leading to planets in circular orbits around a star. However, computer simulations show that the outcome could have been very different from the solar system we know. x
  • 21
    Birthplaces of Stars and Planets
    For a broader perspective on our solar system, astronomers search nebulae where stars are born. They have detected disks of material around young stars and, within these disks, evidence of planet formation. x
  • 22
    Detecting Planets around Other Stars
    Planets around other stars are usually too dim to see directly, so indirect methods are used. The most successful relies on the fact that the tug of orbiting planets makes a star wobble ever so slightly and can create a detectable Doppler shift in its light. x
  • 23
    Extrasolar Planetary Systems
    Many multiple-planet systems have been found around other stars, yet none so far resemble our own. Previous ideas about other planetary systems were tailored to fit the Sun's family of planets. But now we see our solar system from a whole new perspective. x
  • 24
    Life in Our Solar System and Beyond
    The probability that life exists elsewhere depends on how common planets with the requisite energy, carbon-based chemistry, and liquid water are. The possibility of intelligent life appears to require billions of years to develop. x

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Video DVD
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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 144-page printed course guidebook

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  • 144-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Frank Summers

About Your Professor

Frank Summers, Ph.D.
Space Telescope Science Institute
Frank Summers, an astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, earned his undergraduate degree summa cum laude in physics from Virginia Tech and his M.S. and Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley. His work at STScI presents the findings of the Hubble Space Telescope and developments in general astronomy to the public through news media, websites,...
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Reviews

New Frontiers: Modern Perspectives on Our Solar System is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 35.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good presentation with a few weak spots The lecturer had a good presentation, hardly using notes at all. He seemed to really know his stuff. At times it seemed like he dwelt too much on one topic such as the earth-centric solar system that works mathematically but turned out to be wrong. He has a friendly presentation and, unlike other lecturers he dresses more informally and has that style about him. The on screen videos and photographs are great. What most bothered me was his self assurance that everything he believes corresponds to reality. I always look for some introspection with scientists, knowing that what is true today may not be true tomorrow. Also a warning for Pluto fans: Even though New Horizons had not yet visited Pluto, the lecturer went along with those who say Pluto is not a planet -- something I feel is still questionable. This is not your typical perspective on the solar system so those who want something different may find this enjoyable.
Date published: 2016-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Dated material unfortunatley This would be a fine introductory course for neophytes. Unfortunately the material is dated. Advances in science happen quickly. A new planet was announced today (Jan. 20) in fact. What I liked the best is the moving animations that show the various hypothetical models operating on the solar system. These concepts are hard to show in static illustrations. The course's marked down price for the course is fair.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Heavens Close-by Many of us who grew up with the “Space Race” madness of the sixties have an intense interest in the space close to Earth. Sputnik lit up our imaginations. As our spacecraft reached the near planets, we paid close attention, so we have been confident that we've been keeping up with the local news. Professor Summers gives us a powerful message that, unless we were making a real effort to keep up, much has happened that we've missed and fascinating work is still being done. Professor Summers brings an intense interest and love of the topic, couples it with a technically adept but easy to follow presentation and covers the topic with an impressive depth. I really believe that if we had the time, he could hold our interest for the duration of a course three or four times as long as this one. I hated to see it end. I found his presentation of extra-solar planets (planets around other suns) especially interesting. The physics behind the search for these bodies stretches our knowledge of the basics and demonstrates the precision with which we can now measure wavelengths and amplitudes of light from the parent stars. Even his exposition on the classic nine (now eight) planets of our sun has given me new insight on the composition and relative orbits of these bodies. He has carefully explained why Pluto lost its station as a fully ranked planet, and is now considered a dwarf planet. And I will sit down with his lesson in mind and try to convince my 10 year old grandson that this is not a gross miscarriage of justice, but a logical consequence of our learning more about the planetoid and its neighbors.
Date published: 2015-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More than I expected The solar system seems simple: a few rocky globes circling the sun. OK, it is not that simple. I knew that before ordering this program. I didn't know what I might learn, but I was hoping there would be material I did not expect. Well, my hope is well satisfied. I'm about 25% of the way through the material as I write this, and it continues to educate me in ways I could not have expected. The going gets a bit rough when the speaker talks about early theories of planetary motion -- how the old astronomers were wrong for very good reasons. Other than that, the information has been easy to digest. Buy this program, you will like it. One caution: you might want to close your eyes for the first segment because the speaker wears a sweater with a pattern that resembles old style television static. It really hurts the eye! I see from the credits that Frank Summers was involved with the design of the Rose Science Center that complicated Neil deGrasse Tyson's life by demoting Pluto to a dwarf world. It looks like that might be covered in Disk 4 -- but i'm not there yet. (I can't wait!) ===
Date published: 2015-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice update to what you probably think you know. Good course on our own solar system and a bit more. Includes a bit of history with a nice presentation of our current knowledge.
Date published: 2015-01-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Great Material, Not so Great Presentation The material presented was comprehensive, current (for June 2014), and there were good (although not great) graphics. Having purchased Dr. Filipenko's "Understanding the Universe" course, much of the information was, however, repetitive. The presentation, though, left a lot to be desired. Dr. Summers is clearly an expert in the field and extremely knowledgable. However it was very obvious that he was reading the lectures as his words got "balled up" at times and he had to start his sentence over. In addition, there was very little use of pointers on the slides and I found myself, at times, trying to locate, what he as describing - obviously distracting. He used Kilometers for most distances and although I understand that, and I use the metric system at work, I still had to do mental conversions to miles most of the time. But in fairness, that's the case in many of the Astronomy courses. However, there were a number of times he used miles, he consistently used Farenheit instead of Centigrade, and went back and forth between Kilo's and Tons. He is very histrionic in the sense that instead of simply presenting the facts in a "factual" way, he emphasize points by raising his voice, making faces, etc.. Just a pet peeve of mine. Lastly, there were times when he mentioned a concept without elucidating and although I've purchased about 20 science courses from the Teaching Company and have heard most of the concepts, a quick explanation/refresher would still have been helpful. So although the content was good, I found all of these other issues quite distracting and took quite a bit away from my "take home". I'd suggest Dr. Filipenko's course instead of this one.
Date published: 2014-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, Compelling ~ Brilliant Lecturer This is indeed a Great Course! The professor has a rare gift for delivering information in a highly enjoyable, pleasant manner that's a joy to watch, making learning as easy as possible. His speech has no tics, no oddities, no weird accent or mannerisms. Excellent advantage is taken of graphics and videos to illustrate various points, making comprehension very clear. The course is well-structured imho; each lecture has special appeal and they comprise a logical sequence. This series of talks is ideal for the "beginner", does not call for any previous knowledge of maths or astronomy, is a 1st-Class introductory course... no complex theories, convoluted algebraic expressions and tricky formulae here. Watch this course before getting into Dr Filippenko's advanced and intricate courses, I suggest! Dr Summer's lectures introduce the latest thinking in astronomy, the latest way of presenting the solar system, along with the classic laws and the history of astronomical discoveries; it's all explained carefully and simply. But don't think this is for kids -- it is a very solid grown-up presentation! I'm happy to give this course 5 stars all the way. Highest recommendation.
Date published: 2014-05-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Tour of Our Neighbourhood in Space Professor Summers enthusiastically presented an impressive range of facts and ideas. I looked forward eagerly to each of his twenty-four lectures. I do have a few constructive criticisms to offer, though. For one thing, although the course guidebook claims that 'the use of mathematics is non-essential to the course,' fairly sophisticated mathematical knowledge was necessary to appreciate the first four lectures and to understand some of the graphs displayed in later lectures. In general, as well, illustrative visual materials tended to stay on-screen too briefly; and Professor Summers used a moving arrow to point out key parts of graphs and diagrams only some of the time. He also assorted units of measure, sometimes referring to both miles and kilometres, or to three different scales of temperature, within a single discussion. When explaining how much bigger some celestial object was than another, he sometimes seemed to mean in terms of radius, sometimes mass, sometimes volume. It has taken more words for me to describe my 'quibbles' with the course than it has for me to praise it, but praise is still what I mostly intend. I do highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2013-11-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Two courses in one On the first run through of this course I was a bit unsure why so much time had been spent on the early, pre-Copernican views of the solar system, given this course is not touted as a history of astronomy lecture set. However, having been through all the lectures several times, I can now appreciate what Professor Summers is trying to do. Besides giving us an overview of the solar system, he is attempting to show how science, and in particular astronomy, actually works via progressively more accurate models produced by, obviously, humans. As such, these attempts are fallible but also show great creativity and insight, even if eventually they are discarded. The remainder of the course is devoted to a whistle-stop tour of the solar system from the "new perspective" which views the planets as just one particular collection of solar objects surrounded by the huge Kuiper Belt and the truly ginormous Oort Cloud, which reaches a fair way to the nearest stars. Professor Summers presents his material in a clear, enthusiastic way. Yes, there are the occasional corny jokes, which I liked, although others may not, and there are not too many of these to cause distraction. The course lacks the equations and subtle concepts of, say Mark Whittle's cosmology course, but it does require a fair bit of attention at certain points. Professor Summer's attempt to portray the size of the solar system using a basketball, marbles and pencil lead (!) is very powerful and led me to a visceral appreciation as to the small stature of the earth in the scheme of things. I thought the visuals were excellent and complemented the lecturer well. Overall, a good, solid astronomy course with a bit of a twist.
Date published: 2013-08-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good introduction for the unitiated This is a very basic course. If you have watched Drs. Filippenko and Carroll, this will be a no-brainer, and lead you to focus more on your popcorn than the course content. Dr. Summers is enthusiastic and his explanations are very simple. This is a good introduction for the unitiated,
Date published: 2013-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Cook's Tour of the Solar System Professor Bucholz is fond of saying he is going to give you a Cook's tour of a country or continent before launching into a several lecture overview highlighting various facets of that region. The heart of this course reminded me of those tours as we whiz around the solar system examining everything from weather, to planetary cores to comets. These lectures are easy to digest and understandable by almost everyone. They would fit easily on PBS or the Science Channel. The odd thing is the course begins with more complex college level lectures on the history of our view of the solar system. For the first half dozen lectures or so, we bump into a multitude of mathematical calculations as we explore the Aristotelian model solar system, Copernicus, Galileo and more. My stopped at high school math brain was a touch befuddled, then all the math and complexity went away. The complexity ramps back up with the final five lectures as we learn about Cosmology and Astro-biology. So you end up with a course you could watch with elementary age children wrapped in one you could show to a High School AP class. The other problem, with all due respect to Professor Summers, he is not Professor Filippenko. Most of this course is covered in the outstanding though massive Understanding the Universe, which is one of the greatest great courses ever produced by one of the best teachers the company has ever employed. Just wait for a great sale and get that course. If you have seen that and want more on the Solar system give this one a whirl for a different perspective. So why four stars? The teacher is entertaining and informative. There is much to learn here once you get past the odd composition of the course. It is a solid offering, it just can't measure up to the legendary course that covers much of the same ground.
Date published: 2013-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fulfilled My Expectations Since I had only a basic understanding of our solar system, I wanted to learn more without going too much into details of physics. In this regard I thought the the course was excellent, because overall, the explanations are understandable and the course is well presented with many visual aids. While the overall presentation of Dr. Summers is well done and in a way that shows that he is excited to talk about the topic, he has quite a few stumbles while he is reading the presentation from a screen.
Date published: 2012-10-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good content, but somewhat disappointing The course content is valuable, with many images adding much to the experience. Explanations were at times very clear and helpful, but other times unclear. For example, the scale and general emptiness of the planetary portion of the solar system were driven home well by noting that if the sun were the size of a basketball, Neptune would be a small marble a mile away. However, other explanations were unclear, even to one who is familiar with the general topic. Conclusions were also presented at times without backing material, so not all speculations were identified as such. The professor seems kindly, earnest and knowledgeable. However, I was put off somewhat by his method of reading the lectures, which inevitably led to slips of the tongue. His attempts at humor also fell flat for me, so were more distracting than helpful at keeping interest. An updated version of this course could be extremely good, if recent discoveries were incorporated and more care were taken with making the material clear.
Date published: 2011-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring I really loved this course. Dr. Summers is a great lecturer who attempts to coverage a wide range of topics, including a fair amount of history, with warmth and humor. I don't really understand the criticism some reviewers have levied, that the course should somehow be more rigorous or technical. Do people really want the tensor calculus of general relativity delivered to them in a slick video format? I certainly don't. These DVDs are best for showing some of the stunning visuals from the hubble as well as the results of computer simulations of planetary impacts,or nebular disk accretions. I was hoping for a good survey of modern thinking about the solar system and this course delivers. The last lectures on the search for exoplanets and the possibilities for life outside of our solar system were just wonderful, thrilling even. What the new space missions like Dawn, New Horizons, Kepler and Juno could potentially add to this course in the next decade boggles the mind, however, and it will be hard to endure the wait for the next edition. Truly excellent.
Date published: 2011-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from SPACE MADE UNDERSTANDABLE This set of DVD's lays out many of the basic issues of where we were in space exploration through its trademark date of 2008 which implies at least early that year or knowledge through 2007. Dr Summers is a personable lecturer who can keep one's attention even when he delves into the complex mathematics driving some of the concepts science possesses in approaching knowledge about space. The graphics are well done although I found those pertaining to knowledge about the identification of other solar systems' planets somewhat hard to follow. He smoothly leads one into a better understanding of the universe around us and imparts his enthusiasm for his specialty that is infectious. This series is an excellent addition to the TGC inventory of programs about space, its exploration, and astronomy. It's recommended to everyone interested in the subject as well as those families with children wishing to learn more about this engrossing subject.
Date published: 2011-12-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Review of Solar System I almost thoroughly enjoyed the entire course as a review of the Solar System, particularly since I graduated high school in January 1958, three months after Sputnik. I did, however, find Professor Summers' strict adherence to the metric system extremely disconcerting; each time he used kilometers instead of miles, I was thrown off. I cannot apologize for never having memorized the metric system, because it was not a requirement in schools in the United States, just as to this day it is not a requirement to calculate mileage in this country.
Date published: 2010-10-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Basic Info, Excellent Visuals The strengths of this course are Professor Summers' straight-forward manner and the many wonderful photos of various celestial bodies. There are several lectures that are quite compelling, especially the ones dealing with the various planets' surfaces, atmospheres, and weather. Professor Summers also organizes the different components of the solar system in a very thoughtful and logical manner, which allows him to present a clear explanation of why Pluto should not be considered a planet. Professor Summers is likable and extremely easy to spend time with. However, he doesn't seem to be clear about who his audience is. At times, he lectures like a university professor; at others, he seems more like a tour guide at the planetarium. As a result, the level of the material varies considerably. Plus, the course is entitled "Modern Perspectives...," so why does he spend one lecture explaining the geocentric model and another on the emergence of the heliocentric model? Overall, I would give this course a solid B. If you don't know much about the solar system and you are interested in taking one short course as an introduction, this course is for you. If you are looking for meatier content, I would recommend Professor Fillipenko's course instead.
Date published: 2009-12-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Could use tightening The positives in the course are the outstanding visuals, particularly those from the Hubble, and the informality of Dr. Summers's presentation. However, he can't seem to decide whether he's lecturing to a college or to a high school group. The sophistication of his points varies between those two levels. My main criticism is that he dwells too much on theory and spends too much time on historical background. I felt the course could be improved by shortening it by a third.
Date published: 2009-02-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Well Done But Simplistic This course overlaps a bit with Fillipemko's Astronomy course which is much better. While Summers is engaging and provides interesting visual effects and easily understood explanations- the course is too simple- more a high school survey course then a university level course. As a person with a math and science background I'd say this course is more suitable to humanities types who want a general audience survey.
Date published: 2009-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really stunning visuals Casual, friendly teacher, bears repeated viewing. One of the best courses I've had thus far. I await the second edition
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The hours fly by watching these interesting and educational coruses, really enjoy the professors (fun), presentations of serious stuff.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simulations and visuals were invaluable to understanding; great teacher & super analogies of size and distance of planets
Date published: 2008-10-17
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