From our Star to the Cosmos: Dr. Kenneth Moats teaches the wonders of physics

By Raylene Lung

Dr. Ken Moats loves to share his enthusiasm for physics and astronomy with others who might be interested in the subject. His online course, “From our Star to the Cosmos,” is the place to do it. 

This is his second time teaching PHYS 1902, the only introductory astronomy course offered by CUOL. It has no prerequisites and is aimed at students who have minimal knowledge of science, math and physics. 

The course relies on descriptive explanations and diagrams to help students learn about stars, galaxies, the universe and basic laws of physics. It offers interesting phenomena and new discoveries that students would not have the chance to learn in other introductory science courses. The class delves into ideas concerning the structure, origin and evolution of the universe, pulsars and even supernovae. 

The course also discusses the endless cycle of stars, giving students a sense of the Milky Way and how astronomers answer fundamental questions about how the universe was formed and how big it really is. 

Students also have the chance to come to campus for observing sessions at Carleton’s observatory. Located on the roof of the Herzberg Building, they can look through a computer-controlled 14-inch telescope. Moats offers observing sessions after each lecture. 

“Almost like science fiction”

Moats has taught this class before in winter 2019. He says he enjoys teaching the course and seeing students have a genuine interest in the subject matter.

“I hope students will look at our place in the universe with a different perspective and a sense of wonder,” Moats says. “And that they will be able to explore the night sky on their own.”

He hopes this class will leave students wanting more, to the point where they will enroll in other courses in astronomy, physics or science. 

“One of my favourite parts of teaching this course is seeing how amazed students are when they learn just how unbelievably big the universe is compared to the small part of it that we live in on Earth,” Moats says.

He also enjoys teaching students about the most extreme objects in the universe, such as supernovae, black holes and galaxies that collide with each other.

“These may seem almost like science fiction,” Moats says. “But I get to show students some real examples of these, with lots of pretty pictures.”