Basic Course Outline

The Polaris Project is our name for a set of web-based courses designed to introduce you to the fundamentals of finding your way around in our universe. In the first course, North Star, we set out to show you the sky from the perspective of being on the earth - where things are, how they move or appear to move, and why. This is the sort of practical astronomical knowledge that our ancestors have used for millennia to set up a calendar and to navigate around our globe. These skills were vital to their survival. Now, of course, we have very sophisticated devices for keeping track of the date and time and our location. Still, it helps us feel connected to our past and our planet, and helps us to understand what it took for humanity to spread out over the Earth, if we understand something of what happens in the sky. In Evening Star , we will look at what it takes to explore our solar system and take a trip to Mars; and then in Destination Star, what we might need to do to travel to another star system.

Who May Take this Course

This course is intended for interested individuals who may be university, community college, or advanced high school students. It is also intended to be appropriate for in-service teachers, amateur astronomers, and anyone else with a general interest in the subject. The design of the course assumes no particular background, but some curiosity and willingness to put effort into the course are expected because the concepts involved are not all that simple. Resources available to help you navigate through the Evening Star class include: the course on-line discussion group; the instructor; and a planetarium/sky simulation software package such as Voyager IV, Stellarium, or Starry Night. If you are at ISU, you are welcome to use the computers in the MacLab that already have Voyager IV installed. To obtain your own software, google "planetarium software" or "sky simulation software" and see which one suits your needs and computer.

How to Proceed from Here

After you finish this introduction section, go to the First Activity (Activity 0), then Unit 0, etc.. The activities are meant to give you a chance to add experience to the more abstract exercises presented in the units.

Credit for the Course

To get full credit for the course, you need to complete Units 1-6 (15 points each) and also Unit 7 (20 points) -- applying what you have learned to planning a trip to Mars. There is also a final exam that will be administered at a location to be arranged.

Ungraded Exercises

Activities are not graded, however they are meant to give you hands-on experience with the concepts discussed in the course.

In each unit there are also a variety of interactive exercises with instant feedback. These exercises are meant to let you test your understanding as the course proceeds, and answers are provided by clicking on the answer icons.

Graded Exercises

At the end of each unit you will have the opportunity to complete an end-of-unit assignment. This may include a variety of different types of questions for you to complete, and serves both as an intermediate test of your comprehension and as your graded homework for the course.

In some units you will use the Blackboard site to complete the end of unit assignments. Since the system is set up to only allow you one try at the graded material, you should wait until you feel that you understand the material throughly before you try each of these end of unit assignments. They are based entirely on the main course material, but the Extras (the red flashy cutouts) will probably help most people develop their understanding of the main material. To complete an end of unit assignment, go to the end of unit assignment page linked in each unit. On the page, you will see instructions for the assignment for that particular unit.

If you are having trouble with the material presented, you can pose your questions on the class discussion list. The class discussion list is also on the Blackboard site. You may also contact the instructor for help. In either case, specific questions are most likely to get useful answers.

For registered students to use the class discussion list, go to the Blackboard site and select the "EveningStar" class. Enter your user name and password. You will need to login with your NetID.

Please Note: The people that run the Polaris Project web site (this site) and the people that run the Blackboard web site are in two different groups on the Iowa State campus. If you have trouble with Blackboard, the first person you should ask for help should be your Polaris Project instructor. However, if they can not help you, you may have to contact the Blackboard people directly.

If your browser has trouble with the Blackboard site, you may need to update the browser. Run the "Browser Check" to make sure your browser is compatible.

Final Exam

The course involves a proctored midterm and a proctored final exam. If you are in central Iowa, you may come to ISU to take your exams. If you are not able to do this, you will arrange to take the test at a convenient site - a local high school, library or learning center, for example. Any student enrolled in this course is also welcome to visit the astronomy program at Iowa State if you happen to be in the area. We can arrange for you to see some of our other activities and resources and meet some of the people behind the course.