High school courses for Astronomy
"A professional research astronomer does not merely appreciate the beauty and wonder of the objects in the sky. This is the daily challenge - to come to some sort of understanding of the basic underlying physics that gave rise to the universe and the objects in it. It is this challenge and the satisfaction gained by solving these puzzles that drew me to astronomy."
— Tereasa Brainerd, California Institute of Technology. Primary research of interest: the origin and evolution of structure in the universe.
A New Universe to Discover
When astronomer James Scotti was asked to photograph a newly discovered comet with the University of Arizona's 36-inch telescope, he was not prepared for the image that appeared on his computer screen. What he saw was not one comet but a chain of comets that looked like a string of pearls. "I was struck by the unique appearance of a train of individual [comet] nuclei all lined up in a row, " Said Dr. Scotti. "I had never before seen such a unique image in a comet." In fact, nothing like it had been seen by other astronomers either. The pearls were the remnant of a comet that had come too close to Jupiter and broke into at least 21 fragments. Even more extraordinary, 18 months later these comet fragments, known collectively as Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, would collide with Jupiter, providing astronomers the opportunity to study such an event for the first time!
The Magellan spacecraft had already mapped over 84 percent of the surface of Venus with its imaging radar when it revealed a surprising new feature: a narrow channel snaking its way 4, 200 miles across the hellish surface. The channel is 55 miles longer than the Nile River, the longest river on Earth. Water could not have carved out this channel, because the planet's high surface pressure and temperature would have quickly transformed liquid water to vapor. Lava is one possibility, but to carve the narrow channel, it would have had to flow rapidly and with the consistency of paint. "The very existence of such a channel is a great puzzle, " said Dr. Steve Saunders, project scientist for the Magellan mission. "If the long channel were carved by something flowing on the surface, the liquid must have had some unusual properties."