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A Mini-course on Black Holes for People over 50

black holeBlack Holes: Space Warps, Time Machines, and the Science that Won the 2020 Nobel Prize with astronomer Andrew Fraknoi 

In this non-technical mini-course, we will learn about the theory and experiments behind one of the most remarkable phenomena in science the gruesome and powerful places in the universe called black holes. Formed through the deaths of huge stars, black holes are places where gravity overwhelms every other force in the universe and the behavior of space and time is altered, almost beyond recognition. Designed for non-scientists and presented in everyday language with lots of beautiful illustrations, the class will first describe how black holes emerged from Einstein’s work and then show how new instruments on Earth and in space are demonstrating that black holes of various sizes really do exist.

Week by Week Outline

Week 1: Introduction to the Universe & Theory The realms of physics & astronomy. What Einstein called “the happiest thought of my life”. Introduction to Warped Space-time, The rubber sheet, and the trained ant help us understand relativity

Week 2: Black Holes in Theory The rubber sheet leads to ultimate collapse.  Understanding black holes and their structure and properties Black holes and the nature of time.   What it would be like to be near a black hole.  Black holes in science fiction.

Week 3: Observations of Smaller Black Holes.  Finding black holes produced by single stars (x-ray revelations).  Finding black holes of intermediate size using gravity waves.  Black hole mergers in the universe.  How big can a black hole get?

Week 4: Supermassive Black Holes, The 2020 Nobel Prize observations: Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way.  Black Holes and Galaxy Mergers.  Super-sized Black Holes: Quasars and Other Phenomena at the Largest Levels.  Black Holes and the Beginning and End of the Universe (briefly)

Andrew Fraknoi retired as the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College a few years ago, and now offers short classes to seniors for enjoyment.  He is the lead author of a free, on-line introductory textbook in astronomy (used by over 300,000 students) and has written two children’s books and three published science-fiction stories.  Fraknoi appears regularly on local and national radio, explaining astronomical developments in everyday language.  He was selected as the California Professor of the Year in 2007, and has an asteroid named after him. 


Offered through the SF State Osher Life-long Learning Institute (OLLI), but open to anyone over age 50.  When you register for the class, if you are not a current member of OLLI, you will be asked to sign up, but it’s a free process.

NOTE:  This is a Mini Course it is not necessary to be a member. However, you must be signed in.  Check website.


Thursday, 01/28/21

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San Francisco State OLLI Program

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