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Introduction to Stars and Planets

An activities-based exploration
Alan Hirshfeld


How do astronomers know what they know about the stars and planets? That is the question behind today's rapid pace of cosmic discovery, for every new finding rests upon a centuries-long foundation of astronomical practice. Introduction to Stars and Planets: An activities-based exploration reveals the methods by which Earthbound observers have deduced the physical attributes of celestial bodies, whether situated within our solar neighborhood or at the far ends of the galaxy. The book's 28 mildly mathematical activities invite readers to carry out the essential work of the astronomer by utilizing real observational data sets and high-quality celestial photographs to establish the innate properties of a range of cosmic systems. Taken in sequence, these activities illustrate the epic advancement of stellar and planetary astronomy over the past century, up to the present day.

Key Features

  • Wide-ranging topical coverage of both historical and up-to-the-minute aspects of astronomical discovery
  • Uses a learning-by-doing approach
  • Structured, goal-oriented framework centered on the methods and physical principles by which astronomers study the universe
  • Provides real-time educational feedback to students
  • Introduces elementary mathematics for students to gain a truer sense of the work astronomers do

About Editors

Alan Hirshfeld, Professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, is Chair of the American Astronomical Society's Historical Astronomy Division and a longtime Associate of the Harvard College Observatory. He is the author of Parallax: The Race to Measure the Cosmos; The Electric Life of Michael Faraday; Eureka Man: The Life and Legacy of Archimedes; Astronomy Activity and Laboratory Manual; and Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered  the  Modern Universe. He is a regular book reviewer for The Wall Street Journal and writes and lectures frequently on science history and discovery. Visit the author's website at

Table of Contents

Author Biography

Part I: The Sun
1. The Sun's Distance I: the Method of Aristarchus
2. The Sun's Distance II: Transits and Radar-ranging of Venus
3. The Sun's Diameter and Mass
4. The Sunspot Cycle
5. The Solar Constant
6. The Sun's Luminosity
7. The Sun's Surface Temperature
8. Spectral Lines and the Chemistry of the Sun
9. Is the Sun on Fire?
10. How Long Will the Sun Shine?

Part II: The Stars
11. The Distances of Stars: Stellar Parallax
12. Weighing a Star: Binary Stars and Stellar Mass
13. The Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram
14. The Distance to a Star Cluster
15. The Evolution of the Sun
16. The Evolution of Massive Stars
17. Supernovae: The Expansion of the Crab Nebula
18. The Event Horizon of Black Holes
19. Kepler's Third Law and the Masses of Black Holes
20. Our Place in the Galaxy

Part III: The Planets
21. A Slice of Earth
22. Geological Time in Perspective
23. The Comparative Density of Planets
24. Planetary Surface Temperatures
25. The Habitable Zone
26. The Search for Exoplanets: Doppler Method
27. The Search for Exoplanets: Transit Method (I)
28. The Search for Exoplanets: Transit Method (II)

Appendix A


Hardback ISBN: 9780750336895

Ebook ISBN: 9780750336918

DOI: 10.1088/2514-3433/abc249

Publisher: Institute of Physics Publishing

Series: AAS-IOP Astronomy


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