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. 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 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 movie, to help you with the vocabulary and with a few facts that may not be clear from watching the movie.

Some notes about the second movie, "Death of a Star."

(These are to help you understand the movie; you shouldn't just copy these definitions into your paper.)

SN1987A - the official designation of the supernova, which was the first one to been seen in 1987, hence the "A"

Oscar Duhalde - the assistant at the observatory in Chile who may have been the first to actually see the supernova with his own eyes.

Ian Shelton - the young Canadian astronomer who recognized the supernova and sent the telegram to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Las Campanas Observatory - the observatory where the first sighting was made, located in the mountains in Chile (in South America).

progenitor - the star that blew up (the word actually means "parent" but the core of the original star is usually left over and forms a new object, a neutron star). The actual name of the progenitor star was Sanduleak -69 202a which was a blue giant star and not the usual red giant star that causes most supernova explosions. It was part of a 3-star system, so there was confusion about which one blew up.

Neutron star - a compact object about 10 km across (somewhat larger than Macomb) which is entirely made of neutrons, and very dense like the nucleus of atoms. These are left over from the supernova explosion.

Neutrinos are very light particles (much lighter than an electron) which are produced in the supernova. They are very hard to detect, but the underground detectors in Japan saw 11 of them from the supernova explosion.

Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) - a small galaxy which is a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. The 1987A supernova was in a nebula called 30 Doradus, which is part of the LMC. It is about 170,000 light years away. This was only visible in the southern hemisphere; we didn't see the supernova in the USA.

Telex - a type of telegram sent to remote locations using automated typewriters, used before the internet and more reliable than telephones (especially at night when nobody is there to answer the phone and most phones didn't have answering machines or recorders in 1987).

Stirling Colgate - interviewed on a mountain top in New Mexico where he had an automated supernova search underway with a medium size telescope.

Crab Nebula - supernova remnant from an explosion in 1054

Stanford E. Woosley - Professor at University of California at Santa Cruz and an expert on supernovae.

Bob Kirchner - the Harvard professor who had the incorrect theory.

The neutrino detector was located in an underground mine in Japan, near a small town called Kamioka. The facility is often called KamiokaNDE (where NDE stands for neutrino detection experiment). An upgraded facility is still operating there, and is now called Super Kamiokande.

See your textbook for more details about this supernova (sections 23.2 and 23.3, p. 809-823)

I looked for the movie on YouTube, but I did not find one. This is due to the copyright restrictions on the movie. If someone posts a copy of the video, YouTube will probably get a complaint from the producers at WGBH (a PBS television station that made this film) and YouTube removes the video. However, thanks to a suggestion from a student in the class, I found one at  (Note: there are ads with this video.)
I did not find a transcript with all the words, so I hope the audio is audible.

Near the end of class, some students had to leave. The segment starting at 48:15 in this dailymotion version is about speckle interferometry, and did not contribute to the understanding of the supernova. It turned out to be a "red herring." Then from 51:22 to the end, they conclude the film with a few remarks by the major figures seen earlier.