I have found that the topics that "grab" students are often those that are hyped in the media. For example, there is a big rush now on the search for extrasolar planets, especially those that are "Earth-like". Unfortunately, there is disagreement even on what Earth-like means. Is it just size, mass, temperature or what? And often the media gets the facts wrong or incomplete. In the latest hype of a discovery of an "Earth-like" planet around a M type star, the media seems to ignore the fact that the MINIMUM (m sin theta) mass is three times the Earth's. It could be higher depending on the actual orbital inclination. I try to get my students to go to the original primary source, which unfortunately doesn't appeal to them, but I have made assignments of forcing them to compare the media report to the primary source.
Black holes and similar extravagant objects are still a topic of fascination. Students also want to know about "warp speed" even if they don't understand what that means. They want to believe that we could easily travel through curved spacetime like traveling through a tunnel. I have students argue with me vehemently regarding the speed of light being any kind of natural speed limit for material objects.
The possibility of life on other celestial bodies, especially Mars or Europa are also "hot" issues. Having gotten my master's degree utilizing the data from the Viking Lander mission, and having met or worked with some of these chaps from the missions (one now works here at my institution), I am saddened how those results have been twisted so. With one exception, those PIs are dead and can't defend their conclusions, so some just re-write the results.
I guess I'm too old to find any of these topics or others to be surprising.
----- Original Message -----
From: "McDaid, Liam" <mcdaidl@...>
Date: Thursday, September 30, 2010 5:43 pm
Subject: RE: [Astrolrner@CAE] Where the passion is
> I have a question for everyone reading:
> 1). What specific topics in astronomy grab the most
> attention/fascination by the most students? Things that suck them
> in in spite of themselves.
> 1a). Which of these topics have you found the most surprising?
> Liam McDaid
> Astronomy Coordinator & Professor of Astronomy
> Sacramento City College
> 3835 Freeport Blvd.
> Sacramento, CA 95822
> (916) 558-2005