Physics 101 - Astronomy - Spring 2019 - writing assignment based on watching movies in class

Writing assignment:
This course is a general education course, and has a writing requirement. You will write two papers which will count for 20% of your grade. The topics will be based on 2 movies which will be shown in class. You must come to class to see the movies if you want to get credit for the papers. I suggest that you take notes during the movies. You will then write the paper, based on the material you saw in the movie. The second movie will be shown later in the semester. All students are encouraged to see both movies, because they are both related to the material that we will be covering in the class. If you are unable to see one of the movies, you will need to write a paper on a topic involving recent exploration of a solar system object, such as Pluto, Ceres, comet 67P, asteroid Ryugu, or Mars, all of which were in the news during the last year or so.

Each paper should contain at least 2 pages of text (double-spaced), not counting a title page (which is optional) and not counting any figures (which should be included only if they contribute to the content and meaning of the paper). If you use material that is not in the movie or in the textbook, you should include a bibliographic reference at the end of the paper. Since the paper is written for the class, and is based on the movie, you don’t actually have to mention the title of the movie in the paper, unless you want to. Be sure to include your name on the paper (upper right corner is best, so that you can see it when I return the papers and spread them out on a table), and include your SIGNATURE beside or underneath your printed name!

The most effective paper will be an essay similar to a short magazine article, which tells a story about one of the topics of the movie. It should explain ideas for a general reader, not just for your professor (who already knows this material quite well). If you just list a bunch of facts that you got from the movie, you will not "tell a story" and it would not be an effective article. You may want to write about the topic that is most interesting to you. For help on this assignment, you might go to the University Writing Center

The paper is due by the end of class one week after the movie is shown, but it will be accepted any time earlier. Early papers may be brought to class or put in the folder by my office door in Currens 532 (top floor). Please turn in a printed or typed paper. Late papers will be accepted, but you will be penalized 20% of the possible score for each weekday the paper is late!

Physics 101 Astronomy - Movie Schedule

Movie # 1 will be shown Tuesday, February 19, and the paper is due February 26

Movie # 2 will be shown Thursday, April 11, and the paper is due April 18

The first movie is from a series on public television, produced by WGBH in Boston. Origins, Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution is hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. We will watch the first segment of four that were produced, called “Earth is Born.”

The second movie is also from public television, and tells the story of the observations of Supernova 1987A, which was a very important event in the recent history of astronomy, because it was the brightest supernova seen for many years, and modern instruments were able to capture important observations which contributed greatly to our understanding of supernovae.

I have written some notes about the movies, to help you with the vocabulary and with a few facts that may not be clear from watching the movie.

Some notes about the movie "Earth is Born."

These are to help you understand the terms in the movie; please do not copy these into your paper, but think of different ways to describe some of these ideas if you need to.

The movie used an analogy with a 24 hour clock, to compare with the 4.6 billion year history of the Earth. All the times in the movie were relatively early on this clock.

Some vocabulary in the movie:

Planetesimal - a small planet-like object that formed from the original material in the protoplanetary disk and then collided with other planetesimals to form the planets.

Carbonaceous chondrite - a carbon-rich meteoroid or meteorite that is relatively rare, but contains interesting chemical compounds. These tend to dissolve in the rain and so are very rare in their intact form. The movie talks of one that landed on top of an ice-covered lake and remained intact and frozen.

Iron catastrophe - the period when liquid iron sank down into the Earth's core, and greatly altered the composition of the rocks above. This also created the liquid iron core of the Earth and hence the magnetic field of Earth was formed. The solid iron inner core formed much later in the history of the Earth after it cooled for billions of years.

Zircon - a crystal of zirconium oxide (ZrO2) which is very hard and stable, so those found in the Earth's crust may be very old.

Zircon dating - the analysis of these crystals can be used to deduce their age (or the time when they crystallized). The movie said that these indicate the presence of liquid water on Earth much earlier than expected.

Oxygen 18 - Ordinary oxygen has a nucleus with 8 protons and 8 neutrons and is called oxygen-16, but some oxygen atoms have a nucleus with two extra neutrons, so they have 18 nucleons (protons or neutrons) and are thus heavier than ordinary oxygen-16. The amount of oxygen-18 in a specimen can be related to its age.

Heavy water - water molecules in which one of the hydrogen atoms has a nucleus with a proton AND a neutron (an ordinary hydrogen atom has only a proton as its nucleus). These heavy atoms of hydrogen are called deuterium, with chemical symbol D. If a water molecule has an atom of deuterium instead of hydrogen, its chemical formula becomes HDO (instead of H2O). Comets might contain water with more HDO than is contained in the water in Earth's oceans (seawater and river water however, is mostly H2O with only a small amount of HDO).

Comet Hale-Bopp - a bright comet seen in 1997, which was mentioned in the movie when scientists tried to get a remote spectrum of the water vapor coming out of the comet.

Scientists that appeared in the film Origins: Earth Is Born

NEIL deGRASSE TYSON (Astrophysicist)
MIKE ZOLENSKY (NASA Johnson Space Center)
BILL HARTMANN (The Planetary Science Institute)
STEPHEN MOJZSIS (University of Colorado)
DAVE STEVENSON (California Institute of Technology)
LARRY NEWITT (Geological Survey of Canada)
SIMON WILDE (Curtin University of Technology)
MICHAEL MUMMA (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

If you had trouble hearing the movie, you could look at the transcript at (click on the word transcript). If you need to watch the movie again, there might be a version of it on YouTube (the one to watch is 48 or 53 minutes long and has "Earth is Born" and the word Origins in the title).