Our Night Sky

Course No. 1846
Professor Edward M. Murphy, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
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Course No. 1846
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What Will You Learn?

  • Investigate the origin of constellations, and learn how to identify the most popular ones in the night sky.
  • Get an introduction to the features of telescopes and binoculars, including optical design, magnification, and mounts.
  • Discover the distinct features of the cratered face of Earth's moon.
  • Learn how to spot fascinating natural phenomena, such as meteor showers, lunar and solar eclipses, and comets.
  • Discover which of our solar system's planets you can see with nothing more than a simple telescope.
  • Learn how to read a star chart to help you locate interesting objects in the night sky - in all four seasons.

Course Overview

For thousands of years, the star-filled sky has been a source of wonder, discovery, entertainment, and instruction. Ancient people from nearly every continent and culture wove exciting stories about the mythological figures they saw in the heavens. People also used the sun, moon, and stars for time-keeping and navigation. And careful observers throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere kept precise astronomical records, eventually paving the way for the Scientific Revolution and its remarkable discoveries about the nature of the universe.

Even today, watching the sky has not lost its fascination. Equipped only with a pair of eyes or, at most, binoculars and a small telescope, you can behold marvels such as these:

  • The jewel-like star cluster called the Pleiades in the constellation Taurus, easily visible with the naked eye and even more magnificent through a pair of binoculars
  • The broad band of the Milky Way arching across the summer sky; the band is the plane of our galaxy seen edge-on from the inside
  • The Perseid meteor shower, a celestial display that peaks in mid-August of every year when Earth passes through debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle
  • The cratered face of the moon, stark evidence of the violent era after the birth of the solar system—a record almost completely erased from Earth due to weathering
  • The four Galilean moons of Jupiter, named after Galileo, whose discovery of them in 1610 helped overthrow the geocentric model of the universe
  • A total solar eclipse, an awe-inspiring spectacle that occurs somewhere on Earth roughly every 18 months and is well worth traveling thousands of miles to see

Best of all, the endlessly interesting sky is just overhead wherever you are. All you need to feel at home in its limitless expanse is Our Night Sky, a richly illustrated 12-lecture course that gives you an unrivaled tour around the sky while teaching you about the science, culture, technology, and pure pleasure of stargazing. Our Night Sky focuses on the view from the Northern Hemisphere, reflecting the origins of the most familiar constellations in this region. However, the final lecture completes your tour by covering the most notable sights in the Southern Hemisphere.

View the Riches of the Universe from Your Own Backyard

From asteroids to the zodiac, from the Big Dipper to variable stars, Our Night Sky is designed to provide a comprehensive overview of what there is to see and the best way to see it, whether you live in the city or the country, whether you are a novice observer or an old hand at astronomy who needs a refresher on constellation and star names, locations, lore, and what to expect from season to season as the heavens present a gloriously changing panorama.

Under the guidance of award-winning astronomer and Professor Edward M. Murphy of the University of Virginia, you will learn

  • how to use a planisphere (star finder) or other star map to quickly orient yourself to the sky for any given date and time, and how to use these aids to find your way among the constellations;
  • how to read celestial coordinates to locate objects precisely, and how to find the north or south celestial poles, the celestial equator, the ecliptic (the sun's apparent path during a year), the vernal equinox, and other important landmarks;
  • how to appreciate the deep cultural roots of astronomy, which lie in humankind's universal quest to understand the heavens through vivid stories that have never lost their power and charm;
  • how to enhance your observing experience by selecting the right equipment from a bewildering array of choices in binoculars, telescopes, eyepieces, mounts, and other hardware; and
  • how to decipher the science behind planets, stars, and galaxies by learning the fundamentals of solar system structure, star types, stellar life cycles, galaxy classification, and other information that will enrich your observing.

Above all, you will better appreciate how our view from Earth reflects a hidden order—a structure that was discovered by sky observers long ago, who drew on centuries of observations to put together the picture we now learn from textbooks. As you watch the sky appear to rotate around the celestial pole over the course of a night, you will almost feel Earth turning beneath you, as it in fact does. As you look at a phase of the moon, you will automatically envision the relative positions of the sun, moon, and Earth that produce this view. As you observe the constellations slowly shift as you go out at the same time every night, you will know that you are seeing the effect of Earth's revolution around the sun.

In short, you will gain a truly cosmic perspective on our world. Equipped with this outlook, and with the extensive science, history, mythology, observing tips, and other background provided by Professor Murphy, you will be ready to step outside, look up, and become a space traveler from your own backyard.

The Night Sky Planisphere is Included with This Course! Along with this course you will receive the same Night Sky Planisphere Star Chart used by Professor Murphy throughout his lectures. This sturdy, easy-to-use star finder is an invaluable aid for locating major constellations and stars visible in the Northern Hemisphere. The Planisphere is included with DVD purchases only.

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12 lectures
 |  32 minutes each
  • 1
    The Constellations and Their Stars
    Begin your study of the night sky by investigating the origin of the constellations—the traditional groupings of stars that mostly date to antiquity. The well-known constellation Orion illustrates the fascinating mix of beauty, mythology, and scientific knowledge to be found wherever you look in the heavens. x
  • 2
    Seeing and Navigating the Sky
    The naked eye is a powerful instrument—if you know how to use it. Learn the best times and conditions for observing, how to identify the positions and magnitudes of stars and planets, how the sky changes over the course of a night, how to use astronomical maps such as a planisphere, and more. x
  • 3
    Using Binoculars and Backyard Telescopes
    There are many choices when selecting binoculars or a telescope. Learn what to look for in light-gathering power, optical design, magnification, mounts, and other features. Professor Murphy also suggests several tips for getting the best observing experience out of your equipment. x
  • 4
    Observing the Moon and the Sun
    Charting the motions and changes of the sun and moon may be humankind's oldest astronomical activity. Discover how both objects offer rich opportunities for study. Also learn the precautions to take when observing the sun, which is the only star that can be seen up close and in detail. x
  • 5
    Observing the Planets with a Telescope
    The rings of Saturn, the bands of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, the polar caps of Mars—these and other planetary features are visible through a small telescope. Learn when viewing opportunities arise for each of the planets and what sights await the dedicated observer. x
  • 6
    Meteor Showers, Comets, Eclipses, and More
    Explore a variety of special phenomena that are among the wonders of the sky. Some, like bright meteors, aurora, and many comets, are largely unpredictable. Others, like eclipses and annual meteor showers, occur at well-known times—although it may require a special trip to see them. x
  • 7
    The Northern Sky and the North Celestial Pole
    Embarking on the second half of the course in which you systematically tour the entire sky, study two constellations that are continuously in view from the Northern Hemisphere: Ursa Major and Cassiopeia. Also explore the slowly shifting position of true north in the sky. x
  • 8
    The Fall Sky
    Navigate your way around the autumn sky from the Northern Hemisphere, discovering how the classical myth of Andromeda ties together the stories of the nearby constellations of Cassiopeia, Perseus, Cepheus, Pegasus, and Cetus. The sights include the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest large galaxy to our own. x
  • 9
    The Winter Sky
    Continuing your focus on the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere, survey the magnificent winter sky, dominated by Orion. "Star hop" around the region, which includes a wealth of interesting stars, globular clusters, nebulae, and other features, especially the Orion Nebula—the finest nebula in the northern sky—and the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters in Taurus. x
  • 10
    The Spring Sky
    The spring sky opens the view into intergalactic space perpendicular to the plane of the Milky Way. Among the objects visible are the immensely rich galaxy clusters in Virgo and Coma Berenices, which are many millions of light-years distant and can be seen with small and moderate telescopes. x
  • 11
    The Summer Sky
    Arching high overhead in the summer sky is the Milky Way, which is the plane of our galaxy seen from the inside. Tour this densely packed region of stars of all types, from dusty regions of star birth to the exquisite shells of dying stars. Here, a useful orienting feature is the Summer Triangle. x
  • 12
    The Southern Sky and the Milky Way
    In this final lecture, travel to the Southern Hemisphere for sky views inaccessible from northern latitudes. Discover the famous Southern Cross, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, and a spectacular panorama of the Milky Way—along with new myths and stories that add a human dimension to our marvelous night sky. x

Lecture Titles

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What's Included

What Does Each Format Include?

Video DVD
Video Download Includes:
  • Ability to download 12 video lectures from your digital library
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps
Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 12 lectures on 2 DVDs
  • 98-page printed course guidebook
  • Downloadable PDF of the course guidebook
  • FREE video streaming of the course from our website and mobile apps

What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

Video DVD
Course Guidebook Details:
  • 98-page course synopsis
  • Charts, tables & diagrams
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

Edward M. Murphy

About Your Professor

Edward M. Murphy, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Dr. Edward M. Murphy is Associate Professor, General Faculty at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He earned his bachelor's degree in Astronomy from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and his Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Virginia in 1996. Professor Murphy was a postdoctoral fellow and an associate research scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where he worked on NASA's Far...
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Reviews

Our Night Sky is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 148.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Stars, lore and more... This is an introductory guide to the night sky...and some of the mythology surrounding the constellations. Mr Murphy has a lot of ground to cover, and wastes no time...therefore the lectures are fast-paced. You really need to pay attention...stop...rewind and rewatch many of the observational tips. And those tips...you need a planisphere, and you need to practice with it. The guidebook is excellent, both for the information delivered, but also as a how-to manual. The course may not be perfect, but it's a great start for a old novice like me, who is lucky to be awake when the stars come out. Good lecture series, especially when you focus in on a sale, and zoom in on that coupon comet.
Date published: 2018-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was given as a gift. Recipient seemed very pleased
Date published: 2018-02-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good information and well presented. I have seen the first three chapters. It is an excellent value. Full of valuable information that allows laypersons to understand somewhat complicated things in simple terms. The professor is excellent, and graphic tools are well done.Timing between cameras and professor is sometimes off, but this does not detract from the content and its value.
Date published: 2018-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of the night sky! I was always interested in the stars, planets, etc., so when I saw this offering at such a reasonable price, I couldn't pass it up. It is fabulous and presented in an easy to understand fashion. I especially enjoy the planisphere, lots of fun to use. Great Courses is a wonderful learning experience!
Date published: 2018-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Looks like something I will really like I'm just now getting started, but everything looks like it'll be very interesting and something I will really like.
Date published: 2018-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Our Night Sky I originally purchased this to watch with my 9 year old granddaughter. She lost interest during the first lesson. I have watched the first two lessons and found them very informative.
Date published: 2018-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Orientation to our Night Skies I've been fascinated by the nighttime skies for years and am so glad I finally purchased this series because it will provide me with an enhanced sense of wonder for years to come. The booklet and Planisphere are excellent companions to the DVD explanations as well and I'm likely to finally purchase a telescope now that I have confidence about how to navigate my way around the skies.
Date published: 2018-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loving this course in every way! My 10th grade, home-schooled daughter wanted to learn about astronomy and constellations. This is just the right amount of science, mythology and practical direction. She is enjoying the advanced level of the lectures and yet is beginning to look up and recognize what she has learned and is able to point the constellations out to me. And we are only on lesson two1 We are loving this course in every way and hoping to do many more.
Date published: 2018-01-29
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