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Pass Your Astronomy Course

A guide by Norman Sperling "Editor, The Journal of Irreproducible Results" (San Mateo, CA USA)
(REAL NAME)   

Products sampled from this guide:
Maybe you read a neat astronomy book, like Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension or NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe or A Brief History of Time, and think a college survey course would be good. You’re right!

Welcome to the most fascinating subject in the Universe: the Universe itself. Boggle your mind and tweak your curiosity! Examine lots of pretty pictures, travel vicariously to exotic places, and enjoy tales of power and grandeur. You might observe through telescopes, and use a planetarium.

Most people enroll in college astronomy courses because they have to take a science course and all the other alternatives seem worse. Hardly any of your fellow students are all that interested, and only a few will do anything astronomical after the course ends. Out of pure interest, you’ll shine brightly among your classmates.

The subject itself is important: how the universe works! That seems remote, but it tells how you got to be you: the hydrogen in you came from the Big Bang; your carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and iron were all cooked inside red giant stars; and all other elements in you were cooked in supernova explosions. Characters like Copernicus (The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus is a splendid new book), Galileo (anything by Stillman Drake is tops), Newton, and Einstein play big roles. You’ve already heard of them.

Most profs require a textbook. Roughly 20 of those dominate this market.
Explorations: An Introduction to Astronomy
The Cosmic Perspective, Third Edition
Astronomy: A Beginner's Guide to the Universe, Fourth Edition
Astronomy Today (5th Edition)
Discovering the Universe & CD-Rom featuring Starry Night Backyard: with CD-ROM featuring Starry Night® Backyard
Astronomy: Journey to the Cosmic Frontier
Voyages Through the Universe (with CD-ROM, Virtual Astronomy Labs, and InfoTrac)
Universe w/Starry Night CD-ROM
Astronomy: Cosmic Journey
Astronomy: The Cosmic Journey (with The Sky CD-ROM, WebTutor(TM) Advantage Plus on Blackboard, and InfoTrac)
21st Century Astronomy with CDROM
Astronomy! A Brief Edition
In Quest of the Universe Fourth Edition
Astronomy For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech))
Astronomy: From the Earth to the Universe (Non-InfoTrac Version)
The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium, Media Update (with TheSky(TM) CD-ROM, Virtual Astronomy Labs, and AceAstronomy(TM))
Horizons: Exploring the Universe (with TheSky CD-ROM, Virtual Astronomy Labs, and InfoTrac)
Foundations of Astronomy (with CD-ROM, Virtual Astronomy Labs, AceAstronomy, and InfoTrac)
Astronomy: The Evolving Universe, 9th Edition

Most of them are strikingly similar. They include the same things and leave out the same things.

Find out exactly what the prof wants you to read, and when. Find out which questions, if any, you need to answer. To find out what you’re missing because of your textbook, read my supplement, What Your Astronomy Textbook Won't Tell You: Clear, Savvy Insights for Mastery.

My book also corrects common knowledge. A popular book along that vein is Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax". More scholarly is Heavenly Errors.

Naturally, find out everything that your prof requires, and do it all. Scour the syllabus and the opening lecture. You can ask questions anonymously before the prof knows anybody’s name. Set up your schedule so you meet every requirement.

Students have a harder time with astronomy’s words than with its concepts! A lot of the universe certainly is very unEarthly, but it’s learnable. The terms get in the way, however. So find your book’s glossary, and use it all the time. The words are most students’ hardest challenge. If you can master them, the concepts are merely strange.

There’s no need to cheat! Many cheaters put more effort into cheating than they’d need to do things right in the first place. If you have a problem, tell your prof about it, and you can probably work out something reasonable for your circumstances, that convinces the prof that you understand the course.

The most under-used resource in college life is the Office Hour. Almost all profs are required to hold them, and would be happy to, if students actually visited. But students rarely do. A lot of your profs are probably interesting or even nice. All of them happily talk about their specialties. Go meet them! They’ll be happy to see an actual student in office hour – very startled, but happy. Tell your astronomy prof that Norm Sperling suggested that you visit – some of them know me.

If you’re trying to get through with the bare minimum of work, you’ll be lucky to eke out a barely passing grade. If you want to understand astronomy more completely, read the sections the prof doesn’t assign. Read a whole different take. Cosmos is quite stirring, and though it’s somewhat out of date the book is still gorgeous, and used copies are abundant and therefore economical.

A step beyond that would take you to one of the monthly magazines like Astronomy or Sky & Telescope. Visit your local planetarium or astronomy club.

What hurts instead of helping are those plastic sheets with quicky answers. They just aren’t correct. All the ones I’ve seen are so full of blunders that anyone learning from them flunks my tests.

Have a great time in your survey course. That should put the various things you’ve heard of into an overall context, so you’ll appreciate them all the better. And it will introduce you to a lot more aspects that you’ll find interesting to explore.

Products mentioned include:
1.  Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension  by Robert O'Keefe
$14.40 Used & New from: $0.35
4.4 out of 5 stars   (230) | 1 customer discussion
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2.  NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe  by Terence Dickinson
Used & New from: $0.01
4.9 out of 5 stars   (65) | 1 customer discussion
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3.  A Brief History of Time  by Stephen Hawking
$10.17 Used & New from: $2.38
4.3 out of 5 stars   (372) | 2 customer discussions
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4.  The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus  by Owen Gingerich
Used & New from: $0.03
4.4 out of 5 stars   (41)
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5.  Explorations: An Introduction to Astronomy  by Thomas Arny
Used & New from: $0.01
4.2 out of 5 stars   (5)
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6.  The Cosmic Perspective, Third Edition  by Jeffrey Bennett
Used & New from: $0.01
3.0 out of 5 stars   (1)
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7.  Astronomy: A Beginner's Guide to the Universe, Fourth Edition  by S. McMillan
Used & New from: $3.69
4.4 out of 5 stars   (7)
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8.  Astronomy Today (5th Edition)  by S. McMillan
Used & New from: $2.46
4.1 out of 5 stars   (29)
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9.  Discovering the Universe & CD-Rom featuring Starry Night Backyard: with CD-ROM featuring Starry Night® Backyard  by William J. Kaufmann
Used & New from: $0.01
4.1 out of 5 stars   (27)
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10.  Astronomy: Journey to the Cosmic Frontier  by John D. Fix
Used & New from: $2.59
1.0 out of 5 stars   (1)
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11.  Voyages Through the Universe (with CD-ROM, Virtual Astronomy Labs, and InfoTrac)  by Andrew Fraknoi
Used & New from: $5.00
4.0 out of 5 stars   (3)
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12.  Universe w/Starry Night CD-ROM  by Roger A. Freedman
Used & New from: $0.11
4.2 out of 5 stars   (54) | 1 customer discussion
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13.  Astronomy: Cosmic Journey  by Hartmann
Used & New from: $0.01
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14.  Astronomy: The Cosmic Journey (with The Sky CD-ROM, WebTutor(TM) Advantage Plus on Blackboard, and InfoTrac)  by Chris Impey
$101.72 Used & New from: $19.99
4.5 out of 5 stars   (2)
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15.  21st Century Astronomy with CDROM  by Jeff Hester
Used & New from: $0.92
5.0 out of 5 stars   (3)
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16.  Astronomy! A Brief Edition  by James B. Kaler
Used & New from: $0.01
4.0 out of 5 stars   (1)
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17.  In Quest of the Universe Fourth Edition  by Karl F. Kuhn
Used & New from: $0.17
4.0 out of 5 stars   (5)
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18.  Astronomy For Dummies (For Dummies (Computer/Tech))  by Stephen P. Maran
Used & New from: $0.01
4.6 out of 5 stars   (47)
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19.  Astronomy: From the Earth to the Universe (Non-InfoTrac Version)  by Jay M. Pasachoff
Used & New from: $0.73
4.0 out of 5 stars   (5)
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20.  The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium, Media Update (with TheSky(TM) CD-ROM, Virtual Astronomy Labs, and AceAstronomy(TM))  by Jay M. Pasachoff
Used & New from: $10.14
1.0 out of 5 stars   (1)
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21.  Horizons: Exploring the Universe (with TheSky CD-ROM, Virtual Astronomy Labs, and InfoTrac)  by Michael A. Seeds
Used & New from: $0.01
3.8 out of 5 stars   (17)
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22.  Foundations of Astronomy (with CD-ROM, Virtual Astronomy Labs, AceAstronomy, and InfoTrac)  by Michael A. Seeds
Used & New from: $0.01
5.0 out of 5 stars   (1)
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23.  Astronomy: The Evolving Universe, 9th Edition  by Michael Zeilik
$78.43 Used & New from: $2.75
4.3 out of 5 stars   (6)
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24.  What Your Astronomy Textbook Won't Tell You: Clear, Savvy Insights for Mastery  by Norman Sperling
Used & New from: $0.94
3.0 out of 5 stars   (2)
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25.  Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax"  by Philip C. Plait
$12.88 Used & New from: $0.55
4.4 out of 5 stars   (79)
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26.  Heavenly Errors  by Neil F. Comins
$70.09 Used & New from: $0.01
2.5 out of 5 stars   (4)
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27.  Cosmos  by Carl Sagan
$7.19 Used & New from: $0.01
4.7 out of 5 stars   (324) | 2 customer discussions
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28.  Sky & Telescope [Magazine Subscription] [Print]  Magazine Subscription New Track Media
$37.95
4.5 out of 5 stars   (25)
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Author

Norman Sperling "Editor, The Journal of Irreproducible Results" (San Mateo, CA USA)
(REAL NAME)   
Qualifications: astronomy teacher and author
Last updated: 2/15/05
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