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Curriculum Overview

"The science of Astronomy is admirably calculated to elevate the minds of youth ... a contemplation of the sublime and majestic involve the mind in wonder and reverential awe...."

--attributed to Robert Goodacre, c. 1802

Basing SSP's curriculum on celestial mechanics provides two benefits:
1) academic subject matter not taught in high schools, so that all students start on a level playing field, and
2) a central research project -- observation of an asteroid and calculation of its orbit -- that motivates most of the curriculum, and that can be initiated and completed by these bright students in six weeks of intense but rewarding effort.

Morning lecture in Ojai.
 
Understanding and carrying out an orbit determination requires not only astronomy, but also vector calculus and physics, plus methodologies of experimental science such as precise measurement and data reduction (using software written by the student). Students find this unified educational experience to be both challenging and motivating. No grades or formal credit are given; cooperation and teamwork are emphasized. Like scientists, they learn new material because they need it for their research, or because it is inherently interesting, not because "it will be on the test". Like scientists, they work together and help one another.

Lecture Topics

Lectures are designed both to develop a thorough understanding of orbit determination, and to provide exposure to related concepts as chosen by the faculty. There are approximately 130 hours of regular lectures, balanced about evenly between mathematics, physics, astronomy, and programming. The material is presented at a college level. Homework assignments are assigned to help students digest the lectures.

Topics to be covered in lectures typically include:

Astronomy Physics Mathematics Other Topics
celestial coordinates, analog and digital observational techniques and image reduction, asteroids and planetary science, gravitation, stellar structure and evolution, galaxies and cosmology, history of astronomy
classical mechanics, celestial mechanics, electromagnetic theory, atomic physics, optics, introduction to relativity and quantum mechanics
spherical trigonometry, infinite series, matrices, differential and integral calculus, vector calculus, numerical methods, differential equations
computer programming, college admissions, science and society, current research interests of faculty