Twinkle, twinkle, little star,

How I wonder what you are.

That little child’s rhyme encapsulates the spirit of astronomy.  While the study of the reaches of space, and the development of means whereby to strike out into it and expand our horizons, have, no doubt, fueled advances in technology and engineering, it is not the desire for control over nature that gave birth to that noble art.  True, the space program brought us Tang and Velcro and many more and better things.  But it is wonder—the desire to know—that is the real driving passion behind astronomy.  Even the hard-headed astrophysicists of today, when one watches them on this or that documentary, or reads their popular books, are plainly on fire with curiosity, with a kind of admiration for the universe, and just as plainly wish to communicate their enthusiasm to the rest of us.  We humans need good food, effective medicines, comfortable shelter, means of self-defense, of transportation, of communication.  We also need pleasure, entertainment, and forms of recreation, if life is to be worth living and not mere surviving.  But if we regard ourselves as having some share in the noble, in the divine, it is not so much for our ability to meet these basic needs of ours, much less for having them in the first place.  It is instead because, unlike other animals, we take an interest in the whole universe, not just in our tiny portion of it or in what it can do for us.  We are born explorers.  We are creatures of wonder. . . .

-Michael Augros, Thomas Aquinas College

Advanced Course

In the first astronomy sequence presented on this site, we saw what it means to call astronomy a “liberal art.” That course took us through the principal contributions of Ptolemy, Copernicus, and Kepler. We are now at the next step in the journey: Isaac Newton. This course is a tour through some of the central material in his Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis, or “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.” Although we will be learning plenty about astronomy from Newton, the very title of his work shows that it is not restricted to astronomy. It is nothing less than classical physics in its first form. This prompts the question: “Is physics a liberal art?”

-Michael Augros, Thomas Aquinas College