Astronomy, Day One

On Tuesday November 27 we were pleased to see the launch of Duke’s fourth MOOC on Coursera, “Introduction to Astronomy” where students will study “quite literally, everything in the universe,” according to Dr. Ronen Plesser, Associate Professor of Physics and Mathematics at Duke.

“Astronomy is an exciting frontier of knowledge as our understanding of the cosmos is changed by new observations and theoretical advances. To me, as a physicist, the most thrilling aspect of the field is the extent to which humans have been able to understand our Universe.” – Ronen Plesser, Course introduction, ‘Introduction to Astronomy’

Nearly 11,000 unique students have already watched videos in the course site since it went live yesterday, but already these students have been watching more than just their computer screens. As Dr. Plesser noted in his opening announcement, this occasion was also marked by an astrological event – students in Europe and Eastern Asia were encouraged to observe a dimming of the Moon due to a deep penumbral lunar eclipse ar 14:33 GMT on November 28 as well as a conjunction of the full Moon and Jupiter (which all students could potentially observe).

Appropriately, the interest in this course is also global – over 57,000 students in more than 125 countries have registered their interest in the course, and over 18,000 have logged in since it went live on Tuesday.  Over 3200 students have already submitted the homework for the first week and more than 1000 students have posted or commented in the discussion forums on topics including the recent conjunction of Jupiter and the full moon, their motivations for taking the course, what planetarium software to use, math help with LaTeX, and the most interesting concepts in the Week 1 videos.

Study groups for the course began forming before the course site went live -as one example, over 250 have already joined an international Facebook study group. Over 3600 have ‘liked’ a more general Facebook community for the course, and students from every continent (except Antarctica) have pinned themselves on a Google class map.

For more information on Duke’s online courses, click here: