Read the full story by Judith Hertog, originally published in the March/April 2012 issue of Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.
“I got Vega! No, I just lost it…yeah, there it is!”
To passersby on the Green it must be a strange sight: a group of shadowy figures lying in the grass, peering through portable telescopes into the night sky. The figures are students in “Exploring the Universe,” an astronomy course for non-science majors, and this is their lab assignment: They must locate Jupiter, two stars—Vega and Capella—and a double star, Albireo. Then the students must sketch each star as it appears through the telescope.
Professor Brian Chaboyer, who has been teaching “Exploring the Universe” for more than a decade, observes that when you spend some time out in nature, away from city lights, you realize why in ancient times people were so intimately aware of the night sky. He says that for modern humans as well it is important to look up from earth and get some sense of the size of the universe and how humanity fits in.
“It’s good to keep in mind that our lives are ruled by the sun,” says Chaboyer. “Astronomy gives us these vast time scales. You realize human beings have been around for only a fraction of astronomical time. We think of ourselves as a successful species, but where are we going to be in 10 million years?”