The Life and Death of Stars

Course No. 1872
Professor Keivan G. Stassun, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
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Course No. 1872
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Course Overview

For thousands of years, stars have been the prime example of something unattainable and unknowable—places so far away that we can learn almost nothing about them. Yet amazingly, astronomers have been able to discover exactly what stars are made of, how they are born, how they shine, how they die, and how they play a surprisingly direct role in our lives. Over the past century, this research has truly touched the stars, uncovering the essential nature of the beautiful panoply of twinkling lights that spans the night sky.

Consider these remarkable discoveries about the stars:

  • We are stardust: Every atom heavier than hydrogen and a few other light elements was forged at the heart of a star. The oxygen we breathe, the carbon in every cell of our bodies, and practically all other chemical elements are, in fact, stellar ashes.
  • Light fingerprints: Stars emit light across the entire range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Spectral lines and other features of starlight act like fingerprints to identify what a star is made of, its temperature, motion, and other properties.
  • Diamonds in the sky: Carbon is the end product of stars that are roughly the size of our sun. When such stars die, they shrink down to an unimaginably dense and inert ball of carbon atoms—a massive diamond in the sky called a white dwarf.
  • Space weather: Stars produce more than light and heat. Their outermost layer emits a steady stream of charged particles that constitutes a stellar wind. This wind can be strong enough to strip an atmosphere off a nearby planet.

No other large-scale object in the universe is as fundamental as a star. Galaxies are made of stars. Planets, asteroids, and comets are leftover debris from star formation. Nebulae are the remnants of dead stars and the seedbed for a new generation of stars. Even black holes, which are bizarre deformations of spacetime with infinite density, are a product of stars, typically created when a high-mass star ends its life in core collapse and a supernova explosion. And, of course, the sun is a star, without which we couldn’t exist.

Long ago, the magnificence of the star-filled sky and its clock-like motions inspired people to invent myths to explain this impressive feature of nature. Now we understand the stars at a much deeper level, not as legendary figures connected with constellations, but as engines of matter, energy, and the raw material of life itself. And thanks to powerful telescopes, our view of the stars is more stunning than ever.

The Life and Death of Stars introduces you to this spectacular story in 24 beautifully illustrated half-hour lectures that lead you through the essential ideas of astrophysics—the science of stars. Your guide is Professor Keivan G. Stassun of Vanderbilt University, an award-winning teacher and noted astrophysicist. Professor Stassun provides lively, eloquent, and authoritative explanations at a level suitable for science novices as well as for those who already know their way around the starry sky.

Understand Astronomy at a Fundamental Level

Stars are a central topic of astronomy, and because the study of stars encompasses key concepts in nuclear physics, electromagnetism, chemistry, and other disciplines, it is an ideal introduction to how we understand the universe at the smallest and largest scales. Indeed, today’s most important mysteries about the origin and fate of the universe are closely connected to the behavior of stars. For example, the accelerating expansion of the universe due to a mysterious dark energy was discovered thanks to a special type of supernova explosion that serves as an accurate distance marker across the universe. And another enigma, dark matter, may have played a crucial role in the formation of the earliest stars.

Using dazzling images from instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope, along with informative graphics and computer animations, The Life and Death of Stars takes you to some otherworldly destinations, including these:

  • Stellar nurseries: Stars form inside vast clouds of interstellar gas and dust, where every phase of stellar growth can often be seen. Take a virtual fly-through of the Orion Nebula, witnessing the dynamism of stellar creation and the immensity of the regions where stars are born.
  • Planetary nebulae: Mislabeled “planetary” because they were originally thought to involve planets, these slowly expanding shells of glowing gas are the last outbursts of dying stars. They vary widely in shape and color and are among the most beautiful of celestial sights.
  • Core of the sun: We can’t see into the sun, but sunquakes and other clues reveal the extreme conditions at its center, 400,000 miles below the visible surface. Make an imaginary trip there, viewing the layers that transfer heat from the 15-million-degree Celsius cauldron at the sun’s core.
  • Protoplanetary systems: Planets form inside disks of gas and dust surrounding young stars. See how newborn planets jockey for position close to their parent stars and how some planets are ejected from the system—a fate that may have befallen planets orbiting our own sun.

Reach for the Stars

Just as fascinating as the places you visit are the observational techniques you learn about. One of Professor Stassun’s research areas is exoplanetary systems—planets orbiting other stars. You investigate the different methods astronomers use to detect inconspicuous, lightless planets lost in the glare of brilliant stars, seen from many light-years away. You also explore the principles of telescopes and light detectors, and you learn about the vast range of the electromagnetic spectrum, the largest part of which is invisible to human eyes—but not to our instruments.

An astronomer’s other tools for understanding stars include the invaluable Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, which tells the complete story of stellar evolution in one information-rich graphic. You compare the sun’s position on this chart with the entire range of other star types that have varying masses, temperatures, and colors.

You also become familiar with the periodic table of elements, discovering how fusion reactions inside stars forge successively heavier atoms, producing some in abundance, temporarily skipping others, and creating everything heavier than iron in the cataclysmic blast of a supernova. Nickel, copper, gold, and scores of other elements important to humans thus owe their existence to the most energetically powerful phenomenon in the cosmos. You see, too, how astronomers use computer models to analyze the rapid sequence of events that leads to a supernova.

“Hitch your wagon to a star,” advised Ralph Waldo Emerson. In other words, reach for the stars! The Life and Death of Stars is your guide to this lofty goal.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 29 minutes each
  • 1
    Why the Stellar Life Cycle Matters
    View the life cycle of a star in its broadest context, seeing how stars serve as agents of alchemy, transforming the simplest element—hydrogen—into the panoply of heavier elements that compose life and all other material objects in the universe. x
  • 2
    The Stars’ Information Messenger
    Discover that there is much more to light than what we can see with our eyes. Investigate the properties of light and the electromagnetic spectrum, which extends from gamma rays to radio waves. Then learn how astronomers read a star’s spectrum to determine the star’s elemental composition. x
  • 3
    Measuring the Stars with Light
    Uncover more information encoded in starlight, learning how color and patterns of emission and absorption reveal the surface temperature of a star and its motion relative to Earth. Examine the scientific laws that explain stellar spectra, and find out how stellar distances are measured. x
  • 4
    Stellar Nurseries
    Probe the places where stars begin their lives: stellar nurseries. Use what you’ve learned about light to interpret the incredible colors and sculpted shapes in glowing clouds of gas and dust. See how star death leads to a new generation of stars. Close with a virtual fly-through of the stellar nursery in the Orion Nebula. x
  • 5
    Gravitational Collapse and Protostars
    Chart the stages of star birth in stunning astronomical images. From Bok globules and Herbig-Haro objects to protoplanetary disks, these phases develop as gravity brings together material within denser regions of a stellar nursery. Clumps of matter eventually collapse into stars, which often include surrounding planetary systems. x
  • 6
    The Dynamics of Star Formation
    Hundreds of stars can form inside a single cloud of collapsing gas and dust. Zoom in on the intricate details of this process. First, watch a computer simulation of star formation. Then, see how double, triple, and other gravitationally bound combinations of stars arise. x
  • 7
    Solar Systems in the Making
    Follow the formation of newborn planets as they jockey for position close to their parent stars. Computer simulations show how some planets can be ejected out of their solar systems. Such models suggest that our sun and its planetary system might have looked markedly different in the past than it does now. x
  • 8
    Telescopes—Our Eyes on the Stars
    Focus on the instruments that observe and measure stars: telescopes. Investigate the major types and the detectors they use to extract the maximum amount of information from starlight. Telescopes on Earth and in space can survey the entire range of the electromagnetic spectrum. x
  • 9
    Mass—The DNA of Stars
    Learn how mass is like a star’s DNA, as it determines all of a star’s physical characteristics. Astronomers can measure a star’s mass by observing another star in orbit around it. Explore the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, which shows that stars of different masses fall into well-defined classes. x
  • 10
    Eclipses of Stars—Truth in the Shadows
    Investigate the remarkable usefulness of eclipses. When our moon passes in front of a star or one star eclipses another, astronomers can gather a treasure trove of data, such as stellar diameters. Eclipses also allow astronomers to identify planets orbiting other stars. x
  • 11
    Stellar Families
    Survey the two major types of star clusters. Open clusters typically form within the disk of a galaxy and represent recent generations of stars, enriched in heavier elements. By contrast, globular clusters form a halo around the centers of galaxies and are some of the most ancient stars in the universe. x
  • 12
    A Portrait of Our Star, the Sun
    Explore the nearest star, the sun, in an imaginary voyage through its fiery photosphere down to the center. Discover the sun’s rich inner structure, with strata ranging from the extremely hot and dense core—denser than solid lead—to the more rarefied outer layers. x
  • 13
    E = mc2—Energy for a Star’s Life
    Probe the physics of nuclear fusion, which is the process that powers stars by turning mass into energy, according to Einstein’s famous equation. Then examine two lines of evidence that show what’s happening inside the sun, proving that nuclear reactions must indeed be taking place. x
  • 14
    Stars in Middle Age
    Delve deeper into the lessons of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, introduced in Lecture 9. One of its most important features is the main sequence curve, along which most stars are found for most of their lives. Focus on the nuclear reactions occurring inside stars during this stable period. x
  • 15
    Stellar Death
    Stars like the sun end as white dwarfs, surrounded by an envelope of expelled material called a planetary nebula. Explore the complicated and beautiful structure of these dying outbursts. Then investigate the spectacular end of the most massive stars, which explode as supernovae, forging the elements of life in their violent demise. x
  • 16
    Stellar Corpses—Diamonds in the Sky
    Analyze three major types of stellar remains. Low mass stars like the sun leave behind white dwarfs, composed of carbon in a compact diamond-like state. Heavier stars collapse into super-dense neutron stars. And stars weighing more than 20 solar masses end as bizarre black holes. x
  • 17
    Dying Breaths—Cepheids and Supernovae
    Stars vary in brightness during their final phases. Study two phenomena that allow astronomers to measure distances with great accuracy across vast reaches of space: Cepheid variable stars and white dwarf supernovae. Zoom in on the processes that produce these valuable cosmic yardsticks. x
  • 18
    Supernova Remnants and Galactic Geysers
    Explore amazing images of the remnants of supernova explosions, charting how these cosmic catastrophes unfold as if in slow motion. Expanding clouds of supernova debris can trigger new star formation nearby and even carve enormous chimney-like structures in a galaxy. x
  • 19
    Stillborn Stars
    Follow the search for brown dwarfs—objects that are larger than planets but too small to ignite stellar fires. Hear about Professor Stassun’s work that identified the mass of these elusive objects, showing the crucial role of magnetism in setting the basic properties of all stars. x
  • 20
    The Dark Mystery of the First Stars
    Join the hunt for the first stars in the universe, focusing on the nearby “Methuselah” star. Explore evidence that the earliest stars were giants, even by stellar standards. They may even have included mammoth dark stars composed of mysterious dark matter. x
  • 21
    Stars as Magnets
    Because stars spin like dynamos, they generate magnetic fields—a phenomenon that explains many features of stars. See how the slowing rate of rotation of stars like the sun allows astronomers to infer their ages. Also investigate the clock-like magnetic pulses of pulsars, which were originally thought to be signals from extraterrestrials. x
  • 22
    Solar Storms—The Perils of Life with a Star
    The sun and stars produce more than just light and heat. Their periodic blasts of charged particles constitute space weather. Examine this phenomenon—from beautiful aurorae to damaging bursts of high-energy particles that disrupt electronics, the climate, and even life. x
  • 23
    The Stellar Recipe of Life
    Survey the periodic table of elements, focusing on the elements that are vital to life. From carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen to phosphorous, copper, and zinc, virtually every constituent of life was forged in a star during some phase of its life cycle. x
  • 24
    A Tale of Two Stars
    Close your introduction to stellar evolution by contrasting the life cycles of two markedly different stars: one like our sun and another 10 times more massive. Professor Stassun compares their histories to milestones in the lives of humans, bringing a personal dimension to the science of stars. x

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Your professor

Keivan G. Stassun

About Your Professor

Keivan G. Stassun, Ph.D.
Vanderbilt University
Dr. Keivan G. Stassun is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University. He earned his Ph.D. in Astronomy as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He was a postdoctoral research fellow with the NASA Hubble Space Telescope Program before joining the faculty at Vanderbilt. Professor Stassun's research on the birth of stars, eclipsing binary stars,...
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The Life and Death of Stars is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 58.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Good Introduction to the Study of Stars This comprised 24 lectures 30 minutes each. No mathematics is necessary to understand the material. Like Hawking in Brief History of Time, almost the only equation he throws at the audience is E=MC`2 which one can hardly avoid when the central feature of stars is precisely the process of fusion, converting matter and releasing energy. This course covers several aspects I had never heard presented in any detail before, such as the "main sequence" and secondary sequences of stars and what they mean. He covers almost everything one would want: the lifespans of stars, how they begin, when they begin, how they evolve, binaries, trinaries and larger star systems, planets, spectral analysis, search for habitable exoplanets, frequency of planet formation, neutron stars, white dwarfs, black dwarfs, black holes, brown dwarfs, pulsars, novas, supernovas, white-dwarf-novas, theories of the earliest stars and dark-matter stars, as well as naturally, how the stars give rise to almost all the elements in the universe above helium. There are a few issues with the course. Frequently mentioned is the extensive anthropomorphic language in his explanations. I assume he uses this mainly to help the audience more easily grasp the story, and at one point late in the course he explicitly says just that, but eventually one worries how many people will start taking his metaphors seriously. Less-frequently mentioned: his voice. He has a pleasant, soothing and well modulated voice. A little TOO pleasant and soothing. I often found myself fighting sleep, somewhat more so than with most of these courses. Had he not become an astronomer, he probably would have been a successful hypnotist. Pacing and camera-cutting: he always turns his head AFTER the camera view is switched. Early on, between sessions, I wish the camera man had suggested he not walk quite as far so there would be less inclination to change the camera view. It's a little awkward and disconcerting at times but was only a minor distraction. Visuals: he does show some beautiful images, but I wish he had shown a few more. The ones he does use, he often uses repeatedly during the lectures. I also would have liked some additional diagrammatic depictions and computer-generated simulations: for example how novas and supernovas can contribute to compaction and star-formation rather than just dispersing everything. I learned several new things from this, some of them extremely interesting. Generally a fine introduction to the topic, even for those who have seen other overviews of the universe, the Hubble telescope or other related courses.
Date published: 2016-06-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Many negative reviews off target When this course came out, I passed up buying it because, based on several reviews, I thought it would be an overly simplistic presentation will little scientific content. Not at all. I've been watching it via The Great Courses Plus and find it a very good course. There is a lot of good scientific information on stars throughout and a lot of good, relevant astronomical photos/images. If you are interested in learning about, well, the life and death of stars, I'd recommend it.
Date published: 2016-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very worthwhile introduction Video download Yes, I admit it, math is not my strong point. So I enjoyed Dr Stassun's THE LIFE AND DEATH OF STARS as a refreshing, memorable, and dare I say very entertaining exploration of the universe we live in. TGC's astronomy courses span a range from the least demanding, yet wonderful EXPERIENCING HUBBLE to Dr Filippenko's epic 96-lecture UNDERSTANDING THE UNIVERSE. STARS is halfway between the two. It is non-mathematical, designed as an introduction for non-scientists, including young viewers interested in an accurate introduction that does not bury them in minutia. At that level, Stassun does a splendid job. _____________________ And now for the bad. To make his course more relatable, Stassun anthropomorphizes a lot. Family and life cycle analogies are to some extent understandable. But stars are also endowed with a will to "survive". Here is a quote from Chapter 13: "As long as the Sun possesses mass — and the Sun has a mass equivalent to one million Earths — gravity will not relent. Unless the Sun stands up for itself, gravity will crush it into non-existence. So, for as long as it is able, the Sun does the only thing it can do to survive, which is push back. The Sun produces heat, which creates outward pressure against the compressing force of gravity." Another quote from the last chapter describing the death of a star: "This is an elderly parent, still glowing with life, knowing that it is banking up the wealth for the next generation that it had prepared for throughout its life — storing up entire worlds worth of carbon, the stuff of life." Not only do stars "fight" to survive, but Christ-like, they eventually die so that we may live. ______________________ Endowing balls of gas with will and intentions is not very scientific, a strange approach in a course designed to introduce astronomy from a naturalistic perspective. Not being literal-minded, I saw it merely as a communication strategy. Still, if you watch this course as a family, Stassun's analogies are worth discussing in connection with religious belief and intelligent design. At what point do impersonal forces betray some kind of "intentionality"? I'm just throwing this out there. Being a skeptic, I see no evidence of larger spiritual forces. You may feel otherwise. Who knows what Dr. Stassun thinks? _____________________ Presentation was excellent. Stassun is a good speaker. Graphics and Hubble photos also add enormously to the whole experience. The 170p guidebook is a good summary and includes a useful annotated bibliography. Very strongly recommended.
Date published: 2016-05-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Presentation. I think the content of this course is satisfactory but I recommend two things: 1. Please stand still, professor. Every other sentence the camera angle changes and you pace back and forth. This is distracting. Dr. Filippenko does it better in "Understanding the Universe". 2. Stop using so many analogies relating to human birth - womb, baby star, kicking to be born, nursery, etc. I'm pretty sure that there are suitable scientific terms for these processes. Too much anthropomorphism.
Date published: 2016-01-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Sun...Sun... Sun!!!!!!!!! An interesting and satisfying course in general but the Professor does tend to repeat himself. Also, rather morbidly dressed at times. The graphics, animations and video clips are excellent however but again some are shown several times. To sum up; if you can sustain the Bachian repeats still worthy of a recommendation.
Date published: 2015-11-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Essentially Targets Children I understand that "The Great Courses" are trying to reach the widest audience possible, including extremely non-technical folks. However, Professor Stassun literally speaks to his audience as though he were reading small children a bedtime story. And the level of material generally coincides. There is a difference between "non-technical" and "stupid" or "immature". Because of this, it was sometimes almost torture to get through this course. There are good examples of professors who present astronomy related technical material to their non-technical audience elsewhere in The Great Course's line-up who don't condescend (Mark Whittle and Sean Carroll are excellent examples). I wish Professor Stassun had followed their lead. That said, there was some current and interesting information in this course, if you could stand to listen to it.
Date published: 2015-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent course Professor Keivan G Stassum has presented us with a course of excellent quality. Beyond being a handsome and pleasant professor, his lectures are very didactic and very easy to understand even for me, a judge in the Court of Appellation in Brazil with current interests now focused in the study of History and Sciences. This course pick us up to a voyage to the Stars since its birth to its end. Professor Stassum keeps us deeply interested in the subjects of Astronomy and Astrophysics. I congratulate the Great Courses team for this course and this professor. Highly recommended. Even for those who have another national language, the english of Professor Stassum is easy to understand.
Date published: 2015-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT COURSE This is an excellent program. I have taken other general overview courses on Astronomy. They all covered Stars in a good overview manner but Professor Stassun takes this difficult and complex material and fills in the details and discusses the specifics to fill in the gaps. His lecture style is easy going and friendly and the kind of instructor we all wanted in college. His analogy to human growth and development as a comparison was, for me, insightful with my undergraduate and graduate training focused on the biological sciences. If there is anything that might be helpful, it would be to be able to post questions that he could address as well as others taking the course to start group dialogue. It would have to be limited to possibly 2 to 4 questions per participant so as to not overwhelm him as a busy teaching as well as research scientist with a busy schedule.
Date published: 2015-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Nonmathematical Overview These comments concern the course Life and Death of Stars. I was a little apprehensive for about the first lecture and a half, because the material seemed too simplified. However, it soon picked up. There are a few equations presented, but you don't really need to look at them. I was a bit disappointed in that, as astrophysics is quite a mathematical discipline, and I would like to have seen more of that represented in the lectures. All in all though, I was very satisfied. Dr. Stassun is a great lecturer (although I'm a bit surprised he didn't wear a path in that carpet), and that is as one lecturer to another. I enjoyed his presentation and learned a lot. (I wish his telescope wasn't pointed at the floor, but that's a minor quibble.) I have to disagree with another reviewer that the course lost momentum before it finished. On the contrary, I was disappointed there weren't more lectures. I thoroughly enjoyed them and learned something interesting in every one. (I've been an astronomy buff for decades, so not all of this was new to me.) The only negative I have concerns the quality of the DVDs. At two points, my DVD player refused to play them for about a minute as it skipped over "damaged segments" of the DVD. Thus, I lost 30 sec. to a minute of two of the lectures. It was near the beginning during the intro to the lectures, so nothing crucial was lost, however. In summary, I would recommend this course to anyone who wants a nonmathematical introduction to stellar astrophysics. As a general comment on Great Courses science courses, however, I do wish some of them were more mathematically rigorous, or that there were more rigorous versions of them available. I have yet to watch my physics course, but the description says requires only high school math. I have no problem with that, I bought the course after all, but to me the true beauty of physics is in the calculus. Could we have a calculus-based version, please?
Date published: 2015-05-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Astronomy for Poets and English Majors My review title should be the subtitle of this course because Prof. Stassun uses so many imaginative and fitting metaphors. He compares the star life cycle to that of humans starting with stellar nursuries in the nebulae and proceeds through birth, childhood, middle age, death, and then cremation. He compares stellar clusters to families and speaks of binary and multiple stars as stellar siblings. In the penultimate lecture he also uses effectively a baking metaphor to compare the production of elements by the stars to making a cake. Everyone should at least watch the final lecture, which summarizes the course, even if you don't have time for the others. He also very effectively uses photographs shot by the Hubble Space Telescope and other optical and non-optical telescopes to illustrate his lectures. I'm much more interested in planetary science and the Solar System than in stars, but I think this is even better than the Solar System course because of the instructor. The fact that his first name is Farsi for Saturn seems like a case of perfect fate.
Date published: 2015-04-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very worthwhile. I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Stassun's course. His communication skills are superlative. He does not hurry his speech, and completes his thoughts without veering off to tangents like so many other lecturers. One stylistic point: he uses a lot of anthropomorphic and teleologic metaphors which I don't mind. But at times there were too many and they got a bit distracting. I think many scientists, however, feel this is bad form. I think the course lost momentum about two-thirds of the way through and became a bit repetitive and slow; perhaps it could have been more crisply presented in 18, rather than 24 lectures. He does have an infectious enthusiasm for his discipline, and seems to be a very personable fellow. think his pace of speaking should be held up as a paradigm for other lecturers many of who seem to be under great pressure to hurry though their material.
Date published: 2015-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good course on star formation & processes Outstanding! The author 's presentations are very clear, very informative, with very good illustrations, & examples. He is doing active research in his topics, not just summarizing other works, Nice to have a real authoritative person presenting. Speech is clear, no mumbling. Examples are meaningful & interesting. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clearest explanation ever I've heard much of this material before as small pieces of other courses. However, this is by far the clearest, most learnable version I've encountered. Prof Stassun explains all the terms and repeats important ideas as necessary. His presentation style is fun, comprehensive, logical, and inclusive of the audience; he always asks us to join him in examining a topic. I'd be eager to view any course taught by him.
Date published: 2015-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Life and Death of Stars Professor Stassun has an absolute mastery of astronomy. Importantly, he also has the ability to convey detailed, complicated material in a way that allows the student to quickly grasp new concepts. In the space of these 24 lectures, I have learned more about the inner workings of stars than from a previous lifetime of educational experience, periodicals, etc. Highly Recommended!
Date published: 2014-09-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Slow and Boring For some this course may be great. I have a Ph.D. in economics and have published some fairly quantitative papers on finance, so may be I just bought the wrong course for someone like me. For what it is worth I found the digressions about families and babies to be a waste of time, boring and very annoying. The lectures seemed to take a very long time to cover very little. In the end I just gave up with the slow pace and the cute references to family and babies. I figure for $15 I can buy Ken Croswell's book "The Lives of Star" and it will cover as much material as this course. If you have had any mathematics and you are used to thinking logically this is NOT the course for you.
Date published: 2014-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The LIfe and Death of Stars This is an excellent course!!! I am very interested in galaxies and galaxy formation. The main constituents, stars and gas clouds, provide the mass of the galaxies. All 24 lectures provided me with much additional information. The series of lectures culminated with lecture 23 in which the origin of elements more massive than hydrogen and helium were explained by the mechanism of nuclear fusion. Lecture 24 compared two stars from birth to death. All the lectures were excellent with the knowledge of stars really coming to life ( or death) in the last two lectures. The graphics were excellent. I was very interested in the lecturers personal research. This made the course because the research was relevant to the content of the course. If you like astronomy and stellar formation and destruction are your forte, then this course is for you. Even if you are not an astronomy buff and want to start-buy this course!!
Date published: 2014-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introductory or Nice Review Course While I was very familiar with more or less everything that Professor Stassun touched on in this course, I still found the content fascinating and Professor Stassun an amiable and pleasant guide. For anyone unfamiliar with the topic, this is a perfect introductory course; for those who do have some knowledge-or even an understanding-of the topic, they can still find, as I did, that the course and professor are very interesting and will still learn something (though perhaps not a great deal) more about stars. A+ course overall.
Date published: 2014-04-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Life and Death of Stars One word really covers it, "EXCELLENT".... This was in many ways a revirew of previous education fo me, however, Professor Stasssun's presentations made the reviews almost seem like new material, and his coverage of new research areas made the course more than worth the time spent. I would like to thank him personnally for taking the time to develop the couse.
Date published: 2014-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable course! I agree with the prior review about the lack of more math and physics and the anthropomorphism of stars, but it is very difficult to make a lecture series on this topic for as broad an audience as possible. Humans inherently enjoy and remember things better when they learn things this way, and I think that is what he was striving for. I have read several college level textbooks on astronomy and am an amateur astronomer. While most of the material was an overview, I definitely did learn some new things. He's telling a story that I never tire of hearing. Having a professional telling the tale and going over these beautiful images of our stars and galaxy is irreplaceable! While you don't need an advanced degree for this course, you do need at least some chemistry, physics, astronomy, and biology background to really appreciate it.
Date published: 2014-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well-Done First Astro Course; *Very* Elementary Mr. Rogers has apparently returned as an astronomy professor. Before you jump to conclusions, that is neither meant as a compliment nor as a criticism, just a pretty accurate description of what Professor Stassun - and this course - is like. Whether it is a plus or minus depends entirely on what you are looking for. The course is an extremely elementary description of the life cycle of stars. Evidently concerned that the idea of stars having a life cycle might be too difficult to grasp, Professor Stassun employs an extended metaphor of the human life cycle throughout the lectures. These references include, but are not limited to: conception; singleton, twin, triplet, and other multiple gestations; fraternal and identical twins; an obstetrician performing an ultrasound; delivery; colic; spitting up; sibling rivalry; adolescence; moving away from home and starting your own family; parental responsibility for one's offspring; old age and death; and the distribution of one's cremated ashes. Really. Now, the birth, life, and death of stars, as opposed to humans, does in fact get most of the attention. This is almost entirely at a descriptive, story-telling level. And Professor Stassun does a fine job here - the story is fascinating and well-told, and accompanied by many beautiful photos and artist's conceptions. You will come away with a broad, if not deep, understanding of what stars are all about, and - I think - an appreciation for the truly wonderful cosmos in which we are fortunate enough to live. Be aware, though - Almost none of the underlying science is developed. About the most complex concept mentioned is gravity. E=mc2 gets some play, just in order to make the point that matter can be turned into energy. And quantum mechanics is mentioned a few times, but only to say that it has something to do with an entity called "degeneracy pressure," which prevents gravity from pulling things too closely together, up to a point. A few other basic equations are noted, almost in passing. The one essential concept which is discussed in a bit more depth is the binding energy curve, which helps explain why and how much energy is released or absorbed when one element is fused or fissioned into another. Professor Stassun has the imperturbable, warm, smiling, open, gentle, and friendly personality of, well, you know who. This, along with the level of the presentation, would make this an excellent course to view along with a child who might be interested in science. And if you, yourself, have no background in this area, it would be a fine first course. It is for those in this category that I rated the course 5 stars. If you have any appreciable background in the basics of astronomy or astrophysics, however, even at the level of the many popular books available, you are likely to find this course less than enthralling. And I have to mention that the cuteness quotient becomes unbearable in the final two lectures. Had I seen either of these first, I would have returned the course forthwith. So - a worthwhile course for those with no prior knowledge of the life and death of stars, who would like to enjoy this fascinating story told by a guy you will wish was your neighbor, and who don't mind the absence of science or math at any level approaching challenging. P.S. - A prediction: Regardless of how wonderful an astronomer Professor Stassun may be, in ten years he will have become either an obstetrician or a nursery school teacher. Stay tuned.
Date published: 2014-01-24
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