MOOCy Monday: Imagining Other Earths on coursera

Warning: What you are about to read may sound like the newest infatuation of a teenage girl.

otherearths-logoIn a sense, that’s what I feel like whenever I find something as exciting as the course ‘Imagining Other Earths’ on coursera. And that’s why I have to talk about it. It’s the best course evah 11tyoneone!!!

Seriously, all the MOOCs I’ve seen so far, on different platforms with different themes, were carefully designed, interesting, educational, and mostly well presented. But there are some that are outstanding in the good crowd. Imagining Other Earths is one of them.

Can you imagine being confronted with topics and themes that always seemed somewhat dry when you learned or read about them? Watching long and complicated mathematical formulae certainly isn’t exciting for people who aren’t mathematicians, physicists or astronomists, right? Wrong!. Professor David Spergel from Princeton understands to present these themes in a way that make every new bit of information interesting and captivating. Watching how he ‘plugs in’ data into formulae and determines distances, the power of impact and the speed of objects all of a sudden makes you want to  brush up on your algebra and follow the calculations. These, certainly, are the attributes of an excellent teacher.

If you are interested in cosmology, or science in general, or Science Fiction, then following this course is worth your while. The professor understands to present the material in an entertaining way that does not entirely rely on formulae and tables with data. Instead, he brings a lot of real-life comparisons or plain fun. During one lecture, he shows us how to determine the influence of the planet Polyphemus on the moon Pandora in the movie Avatar just from seeing the planet on the horizon in one of the scenes. We learn that Pandora has to be tidally locked and consequently faces Polyphemus all the time. We also learn what a tidal lock is and why this happens. Does this sound fascinating? If not, that’s my fault, not that of the course.

The journey begins with an introduction to the things around us: life, the atmosphere, ways to identify what we see. Then we move to the solar system, take a closer look at the moon and Mars and later move to the outer solar system and beyond. This is intriguing information. I’ll soon run out of synonyms for fascinating…

For example: did you know that there is a site for Mars on Google Earth? You can travel around just like on the earth and different views help to ‘see’ the structures and landscapes. The link below leads you to a view of Olympus Mons, the highest mountain known in the solar system. Imagine a mountain 22 km high. the images below give you an impression (google doesn’t permit to publish images, thus the link). Isn’t that fascinating enthralling?

Olympus Mons on Mars      



I usually like to watch the course videos like documentations, only they are better. Documentations are always full of sensational pictures and information, made more dramatic by mysterious and dangerous sounding background music. This may be entertaining, but it always is a show and not always presents the newest or most accurate view of things. In the courses, we often lack the drama, but get the information, most often directly ‘from the horse’s mouth’. I very much prefer that, that’s my type of infotainment.

Imagining Other Earths can be watched like a documentation. But I regret that I didn’t have the time to really follow it and at least think about the assignments. The last assignment is about constructing your own solar system, and describing it. How exciting is that? I put myself on the watch list and hope that the course will be repeated. Maybe I’ll brush up on my algebra a bit in the meantime. I used to be decent at math, but by now I forgot everything.

Finally, here’s a link to a youtube video that shows the introduction video of the coursera course.


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