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Inquiring-mind Science: How Did Kepler Discover Elliptical Orbits?

Inquiring-mind Science: How Did Kepler Discover Elliptical Orbits?

In this class, we will learn how Kepler figured out that the planets moved in elliptical orbits about the sun.

Enroll on Outschool, or contact me to set up a course for you, a small group, or your school.

Modern astronomy and knowledge of the solar system also depend on knowing the shape of the planets’ orbits. Without this knowledge, we are missing understanding of physics and the solar system. To understand an idea, we need to know where it comes from. Memorization of someone else’s words is not knowledge. And we have to know that the orbits are elliptical before we try to explain it — Kepler had to come before Newton.

In this class, we will learn how scientists did it and we will do some of their calculations ourselves, and so learn a bit about how to do science ourselves. We will do a combination of lecture, Q&A, and independent work.

Enroll on Outschool, or contact me to set up a course for you, a small group, or your school

Students need some knowledge of geometry: line segments, triangles, circles, perpendicularity, the Pythagorean Theorem. In class, we will learn the math that we need to grasp the idea of ellipse and to get Kepler’s work.

This is a class for everyone — science is all around us! — but especially for those who want to go into science or engineering careers, or study science in school.

Day 1: Review some geometry. Learn about ellipses. Discuss some essential scientific background to Kepler: Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Greek philosophy, etc. Start discussing Kepler’s work: method, causality, philosophy,

Day 2: Continue discussing Kepler’s work. Tabulate Kepler’s measurements for the planets’ orbits, showing ellipticity. Calculate how elliptical they are (compare with circles).

Time permitting, we might discuss some of the work of Kepler and Kepler’s Laws.

Enroll on Outschool, or contact me to set up a course for you, a small group, or your school