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Question about basic astrophysics

  1. Apr 23, 2007 #1
    I have no clue if this has been done before, even though I Searched...

    But I'm 17 and want to learn about Astrophysics, it is one of the things that really appeals to me. I tried to take Physics in school but my teacher was terrible and wouldn't even answer my questions.

    Do any of you know a set of books or a website that will give the fundamentals of Physics/Astrophysics? Like from the beginning(basic stuff) to harder stuff after I understand the basics.

    One last thing: How much Math is needed to study astrophysics? Trig or Calculus or what?

    Thanks a lot.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 23, 2007 #2
    if your in canada: Serway-intro to physics, Carroll & Ostlie: INtro to astrophys...

    you need both trig and integration and differentiation.

    If you got a university/college near you try to go to the library and see if these books are on the shelf.
  4. Apr 23, 2007 #3
    Well there is a community college near me. I have looked at the public library in my city but they had nothing of it.

    My problem is, with Epilepsy I have trouble remembering things, that's why I asked about Math. It's hard to apply those ideas to another thing. Hopefully the books I read will help. Know of any good books for those types of math?
  5. Apr 23, 2007 #4


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    I'm unfamiliar with the US education system, so I can't offer specific advice, but I would have thought you could learn basic maths in High School? It's probably easier learning the maths that way than from a book or website.

    For physics, again learning the basics would be best done through school, though you did mention some problems you had with your teacher.

    From my experience maths and physics in High School can be presented in a very 'dry' way, all formulas to remember but none of the excitement. I would recommend sticking at the maths and physics in school but reading some interesting books in your own time so you can see where the things you learn in school are leading and why they are needed.

    Try the popular science section of your local bookstore or library for a book that seems interesting. If you are into astronomy there should be a lot of guides for amateur astronomy. You can see a surprising amount just with you eyes or a pair of binoculars and a good guide with show you what to look for. Of course a small telescope would be better but even a 'cheap' one is expensive! I'm a professional astronomer in training (PhD student) and I've never owned a telescope.

    I hope others can give you more specific advice on particular books that may be good. I would steer clear of textbooks for now and start with some good popular science. One good book I can think of is "the Big Bang" by Simon Sing (last name might be spelt wrongly), a very good clear book on modern cosmology and astrophysics.
  6. Apr 23, 2007 #5
    if you have epilepsy, might i suggest crib sheets...cram as many concepts onto several pages...this way you dont' have ot attempt to remember everything.
    Font size 10 and no spacing on the page =]

    Calculus: stewart.
  7. Apr 23, 2007 #6
    Here I can't take Trig because I'm still in Algebra II.

    Here it goes Algebra->Geometry->Algerba II->Trig/Pre Calc->Calculus

    That's what the school offers. But I'm a junior so I can only get to Trig.

    @nuerocomp- I don't have that kind of Epilepsy ;)
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2007
  8. Apr 23, 2007 #7


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    In that case just take those courses in that order, no hurry :) (and have another go at physics) The maths and physics will be needed to do tertiary level physics and astronomy, but you won't need them until then.

    At your stage the best way to get more interested in astronomy would be to try and do a bit of skygazing and read some good pop science. The more serious textbooks can wait for later (Uni or college or whatever it's called in the US).
  9. Apr 23, 2007 #8
    Yeah, I just have to find a way to learn the math and sciences. You have any clue what I'll be taught if I were to pursue this type of science?
  10. Apr 23, 2007 #9


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    Basically you learn how to describe natural phenomena (such as stars, galaxies, the Universe..) in terms of physical laws written in the language of maths.
  11. Apr 24, 2007 #10
    still crib sheets are your friend? unless you have som elarge memory databse.
  12. Apr 24, 2007 #11


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    Don't get discouraged if you don't have the higher math yet. There's a lot you can do with just Algebra.

    I've noticed that the term "Astrophysics" seems to imply more than just "physics" as it applies to "astronomy". A course titled "Astrophysics" will require you to have the higher math as a prerequisite. But there's a lot of algebra-based astronomy problems you can solve that require a basic understanding of physics.

    Trig opens a lot of new doors. But the most useful stuff comes from SOHCAHTOA, which you will learn in your first 2 trig lectures. So you can probably teach it to yourself in an hour with a trig textbook (or Wikipedia) in hand.

    Calculus is real handy because lots of stuff is explained using Calculus terminology. But unless you're on the cutting-edge of your science, you'll find that someone else has already solved all the useful integrals for you. For example, if you wanted to find the area of a circle, you could start with the circumference formula, integrate it to get Pi*r^2 and solve for your area. Or you could take advantage of the fact that hundreds or thousands of years ago someone else figured out Pi*r^2 for you, and start from there. There's lots of other examples. If you want the angular momentum of a certain shape, you need Calculus. But someone else has already integrated the basic shapes (cylinder, sphere, cone, donought, etc...), so you can just start with a table of formulas and your algegra skills. Or the basic rocket formula requires Calc, as the a rocket continuously loses mass. But without the Calc, you can just Google "rocket formula" and find that someone else has integrated it for you.

    If you teacher won't answer your questions, it may be that he/she does not know the answers. But you've found PhysicsForums.com, and there are pleanty of people here that will answer your questions, and even debate themselves over what the best answer to your question is, so stick around...
  13. Apr 24, 2007 #12
    Well, as for my teacher he was one of the smartest men I have ever met.But it's like he thought he was better than all others.

    As for learning the maths, you mean there are math applications for things such as black holes and stars.

    My school offers a Astronomy semester class. Good idea to take?

    And thank you all for answering my questions.
  14. Apr 24, 2007 #13


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    Sure. You can compute event horizons and tidal forces with nothing more than algebra.

    It would be an excellent idea to take the astro class.
  15. Apr 24, 2007 #14
    Problem with our school is they don't give much of a description of classes.

    I'm not thinking Astronomy class has math, but the curriculum of the class is not available.

    Have any of you take that?
  16. Apr 24, 2007 #15
    At the University I attend anyway, the astronomy courses is recognized as being one of the most difficult first year modules to sit through.

    I had typed a bit of a rant, decided it was useless and irrelevant to your questions! In short, Astronomy is normally very focussed on math - it is difficult so you need to be prepared for the possibility that whilst interesting it's also a lot of hard work. True, there are many parts of introductory astronomy that take major approximations and simplifications (as do all introductory courses, to pretty much anything) - this is because sometimes it's the concepts that are difficult to understand, other times its the processes.

    In the meantime there's no reason why you shouldn't visit the lovely book reviews section of this fine forum and pick yourself some popular science astronomy related texts- good reading and it means that when the time comes for you to cover the concepts in a mathematical standpoint - you'll already know in words what's going on.

    Take the astronomy course! Any questions at all, theres always lots of people here happy to help.
  17. Apr 24, 2007 #16
    Yeah, I'm glad I found this forum because you all are so helpful. I have never found a site where a new member isn't agnored. So thanks.

    Anyway I think I'm going to rechange my schedule to take the Astronomy class. Is chemistry helpful for my goal at all?

    P.S. I just bought a book that goes with the beginning of physics (the fundemetal elements) :)
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