Knowing the Universe: Teaching the History and Philosophy of Astronomy


  • Chris Impey University of Arizona



course, history, philosophy, pedagogy, online


Astronomy is the oldest science, with connections to development of the most important concepts in physics. A course is described that covers its evolution from prehistory to modern cosmology, giving due weight to the philosophical implications of the subject. The pedagogy is designed to let students develop their writing and reasoning skills. The newly developed course has been delivered to three distinct audiences: non-science majors at a major public university, adult community members taking the course for enrichment, and a worldwide audience of lifelong adult learners who enroll in a massive open online course (MOOC). Class content is informed by the scholarly literature on philosophy and the history of physics and astronomy. Subject matter is divided into thirteen chronological topics: Ancient Skies, Greek Science, Revolutions, Telescopes, Gravity, Evolution, Mapping, Relativity, Quantum Theory, Stars and Atoms, Galaxies, the Big Bang, and Life in the Universe. The topics are presented at a rate of one per week during the standard university semester, and they are parsed into five two-hour sessions for the local community audience and seven weeks of self-paced video lectures for the online MOOC audience.






Astronomy Education and Practice