Rochester Museum And Science Center

The Big Bang Universe (Homeschool astronomy for ages 12 and older)

The Big Bang Universe (Homeschool astronomy for ages 12-16)
Course # T887

Fall 2013
Six 90-minute sessions, all on Wednesdays from 9:30am to 11:00am
September 4, 11, 18, 25; October 2, 9

Instructors: Steve Fentress, Planetarium Director, and Paul Krupniski, Strasenburgh Planetarium school show presenter
Location: Strasenburgh Planetarium lobby and Star Theater
657 East Avenue, Rochester, NY 14607

Fee: $135, includes paper handouts and a 3-ring binder

"The Big Bang Universe" is our third course for parents and students around 12 to 16 years old who want a course that offers substance and challenge and uses the unique capabilities of the Strasenburgh Planetarium! Students will be offered a thorough introduction to one of the most revolutionary discoveries of the last century: multiple lines of evidence indicating that our universe began expanding from a hot, compressed state 13.7 billion years ago. We will divide our time between activity tables in the Planetarium lobby (which will be reserved for us) and the ideal indoor sky of the Planetarium Star Theater.

Both your instructors have had the honor of being invited to special intensive short courses for planetarium educators at the University of Chicago's Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, where they heard lectures and participated in discussions with some of the leading researchers in the field. Most recently, both Paul and Steve attended in 2012 and 2007, and Steve attended in 2010 as well.

How to Enroll

Please phone (585) 697-1942 and ask for course T887, The Big Bang Universe. You'll need: child's first and last names, age and birthdate; parent's or guardiant's e-mail and daytime phone; payment information (credit card, check or cash accepted). Our primary way of communicating about the course will be by e-mail.

Course description

This outline is subject to change as we make our way through the material!

Session 1: The Scale of the Universe. A simple but important hands-on activity to visualize the scale of our solar system, which is tiny compared to our galaxy. In the Star Theater: "The Big Bang: Dawn of Our Universe."

Session 2: Our Own Galaxy. We map the positions of globular star clusters to find the center of our galaxy. Experimenting with light sources, we explore light and what it tells us, particularly the relation of apparent brightness to distance. In the Star Theater: the structure of the Milky Way in the sky; how to find the Andromeda Galaxy.

Session 3: More on light and what it tells us: diffraction gratings, spectra of chemical elements. In the Star Theater: explore the current night sky

Session 4: Review of spectra. Spectra of galaxies. Doppler shifts and velocity. We begin our Hubble's Law activity, in which we compare galaxy distances and speeds to e-create the process by which astronomer Edwin Hubble found the first evidence that the universe is expanding. in the Star Theater: the southern sky including the two Clouds of Magellan

Session 5: Finish our Hubble's Law activity. In the Star Theater: "Mysteries of the Dark Universe."

Session 6: Other key evidence for the Big Bang: helium and the cosmic microwave background. The discovery of dark energy. How you can use the internet to learn more on your own, and even help with research.

Enrollment expectations

Enrollment deadline 4pm Thursday, August 29, 2013. Attendance at all six sessions is expected to gain maximum benefit from this course. Enrollment in previous homeschool courses at the Planetarium is *not* required. Minimum enrollment 12, maximum 25. If minimum is not reached by the deadline, the course may be cancelled with full refunds. No refunds or makeups for missed sessions unless it it RMSC's fault. Parents are welcome at all sessions and may work alongside their students or sit at the side, as they wish. Parents are responsible for administering all needed medications. Parents are responsible for arranging non-distracting alternate activities for siblings who come along but are not enrolled.


Mathematical skills expected
  • Multiply and divide numbers with digits to the right of the decimal point, either by hand or with a calculator or computer
  • Given a table of x and y values, plot a graph
  • Perform simple unit conversion calculations. For example: one light-year is about 6 trillion miles. The star Sirius is about 9 light years away. About how many miles away is Sirius?
  • Using a ruler, measure distances in millimeters, centimeters, or inches

To enroll in the course, phone (585) 697-1942. For questions about the content of the course, e-mail Planetarium Director Steve Fentress at