Chapter 26 Galaxies
Collaborative Group Activities
- Throughout much of the last century, the 100-inch telescope on Mt. Wilson (completed in 1917) and the 200-inch telescope on Palomar Mountain (completed in 1948) were the only ones large enough to obtain spectra of faint galaxies. Only a handful of astronomers (all male—since, until the 1960s, women were not given time on these two telescopes) were allowed to use these facilities, and in general the observers did not compete with each other but worked on different problems. Now there are many other telescopes, and several different groups do often work on the same problem. For example, two different groups have independently developed the techniques for using supernovae to determine the distances to galaxies at high redshifts. Which approach do you think is better for the field of astronomy? Which is more cost effective? Why?
- A distant relative, whom you invite to dinner so you can share all the exciting things you have learned in your astronomy class, says he does not believe that other galaxies are made up of stars. You come back to your group and ask them to help you respond. What kinds of measurements would you make to show that other galaxies are composed of stars?
- Look at Figure 26.1 with your group. What does the difference in color between the spiral arms and the bulge of Andromeda tell you about the difference in the types of stars that populate these two regions of the galaxy? Which side of the galaxy is closer to us? Why?
- What is your reaction to reading about the discovery of the expanding universe? Discuss how the members of the group feel about a universe “in motion.” Einstein was not comfortable with the notion of a universe that had some overall movement to it, instead of being at rest. He put a kind of “fudge factor” into his equations of general relativity for the universe as a whole to keep it from moving (although later, hearing about Hubble and Humason’s work, he called it “the greatest blunder” he ever made). Do you share Einstein’s original sense that this is not the kind of universe you feel comfortable with? What do you think could have caused space to be expanding?
- In science fiction, characters sometimes talk about visiting other galaxies. Discuss with your group how realistic this idea is. Even if we had fast spaceships (traveling close to the speed of light, the speed limit of the universe) how likely are we to be able to reach another galaxy? Why?
- Despite his son’s fascination with astronomy in college, Edwin Hubble’s father did not want him to go into astronomy as a profession. He really wanted his son to be a lawyer and pushed him hard to learn the law when he won a fellowship to study abroad. Hubble eventually defied his father and went into astronomy, becoming, as you learned in this chapter, one of the most important astronomers of all time. His dad didn’t live to see his son’s remarkable achievements. Do you think he would have reconciled himself to his son’s career choice if he had? Do you or does anyone in your group or among your friends have to face a choice between the passion in your heart and what others want you to do? Discuss how people in college today are dealing with such choices.