Issue Numbers
Volume 9 Issue 1-2
Volume 8 Issue 6
Volume 8 Issue 5
Volume 8 Issue 4
Volume 8 Issue 3
Volume 8 Issue 2
Volume 8 Issue 1
Volume 7 Issue 6
Volume 7 Issue 5
Volume 7 Issue 4
Volume 7 Issue 3
Volume 7 Issue 2
Volume 7 Issue 1
Volume 6 Issue 6
Volume 6 Issue 5
Volume 6 Issue 4
Volume 6 Issue 2
Volume 6 Issue 1
Volume 5 Issue 6
Volume 5 Issue 5
Volume 5 Issue 4
Volume 5 Issue 3
Volume 5 Issue 2
Volume 4 Issue 3
Volume 4 Issue 2
Volume 4 Issue 1
Volume 3 Issue 7
Volume 3 Issue 6

Understanding the Universe: Volumes 1 through 5

College level lectures by Professor Alex Filippenko

Produced by The Teaching Company

Ph: 1-800-TEACH-12 (1-800-832-2412)


4151 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite 100, Chantilly, VA 20151-1232

Office hours: 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Mon - Fri; 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sat. After hours, an automated voice mail system is available. Fax: 703-378-3819;


Professor Alex Filippenko is a professor of astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley. He holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology. The Teaching Company refers to him as "the most widely cited researcher in astronomy; he has published over 430 papers." He has also been voted "Best Professor" by UC Berkeley students in 1995, 2001, 2003 and 2004.

Professor Filippenko’s course is divided into five eight-lecture courses, 40 lectures in all, each running approximately 45 minutes long. These lectures are available in a DVD set of five cases (two DVDs in each volume) and five astronomy books. For those who don’t enjoy watching a recorded lecture, the books have chapters that are outlined for easier understanding of the material. The back of the books have a glossary of terms for the topics covered, as well as a universe timeline, a solar system timeline and biographical notes. The glossary terms make it easy to look up definitions when a topic or theory is unclear. The universe timeline makes it easier to understand in what time frame the creation of the universe and its components took place, and the biographical notes help reinforce which astronomer or physicist did what and in what time periods.

The combination of the DVD set and the books is extremely helpful in learning all of the material with much ease. The beginning of each chapter in the books is almost identical to what Filippenko discusses in his lectures. This makes it much easier to follow along with his teachings and to go back in case something was not clear.

Filippenko’s course is designed for beginner, intermediate and expert astronomy students. Filippenko has a slow paced style of teaching, which makes it very easy to follow and understand the materials that he discusses in the numerous lectures. The course offers many visual aids which help explain the topics of Filippenko’s lectures and make the theories and hypotheses seem easy. The course also offers mathematical explanations that help explain why certain theories make sense.

The introduction to the lectures in his first DVD set introduces some of the many topics that he will discuss. He starts by giving an overview of the definitions of stars and galaxies. Although to some it may seem elementary, it makes it much easier to understand the complex theories and assumptions that are made later on. He then continues with an overview of timescales of the universe and the explanation of what a light year is. Filippenko makes an interesting point that goes on throughout his lectures, which is that light plays a huge role in understanding galaxies, stars, planets and everything else in the universe. The study of light allows us to determine the components and capabilities of the universe. With this, one can study the timescale of the universe, meaning how old planets, stars, galaxies and the universe are.

This astronomy course covers, in great detail, the origin, composition, formation and function of the universe and its components. The large quantity of knowledge that Filippenko shares in his lecture is incredible. He makes everything seem logical, which makes it easier to understand when he is discussing "the corpses of massive stars." His teaching method catches the audience’s attention by his sharing of interesting facts and theories which explain the history of the universe and how everything in it is formed and functions. This is the course to listen to if anyone is interested in learning about astronomy.

Some of the many categories that Filippenko covers are the timescales of the universe, light years, the study of light and its chemical composition, temperature and distance. He also discusses the spectrum of different elements such as mercury gas, sodium gas and helium gas which are substances of which galaxies are made. Filippenko also includes in his lectures the answers to thought-provoking questions such as: How are stars formed? Why is the sky dark at night? Is there life out in our universe or other universes?

The astronomy course is more than a lecture; it is an insight into the universe we live in. It provides answers to why things are the way they are and why they occur. He describes how stars are formed, the different characteristics of planets and stars, and the atom, as well as the chemical components of stars, planets, asteroids, comets, black holes, and much more.

According to Professor Filippenko, astronomy has many discoveries being made every day, every week, every month. They have been the birth of stars, the explosions of stars, the new birth of galaxies, colliding galaxies, the possibility of life on other planets, galaxies and universes. Easy and complex theories will be introduced in easy manners so that it may spark an interest in beginners and reinforce the knowledge that is already known. "Astronomy is a study of our origins." Where do things come from? How were we formed? What will happen to our earth and our universe? These are all important questions, which we cannot fully answer but only hypothesize. This course will inform the student of how science works and provide answers to the questions above and much more.

Ideas need to be formed, tested and continue to be tested. It is a constant process, never ending. Much like the scientific method, this course will give its viewers ideas and slowly show how they prove true, by thoroughly testing and examining them.

One of the many likeable traits of the course is that Filippenko does not preach his ideas to his audience as being the final say in astronomy. Instead, Filippenko admits that his teachings might become outdated in the near future and that is okay because science is a never-ending learning process. Theories are constantly being hypothesized one day and proved wrong the next, but in the long run the foundation of his teachings will still be there.

This course takes a different approach than most students have encountered when learning about astronomy. It is not necessarily a better way, just a different approach to looking at the world. Professor Filippenko does not wish to promote the idea of "Why are we here?" but simply to show "how laws are used and how to make new predictions of how the universe works." For those who fear complex math, don’t worry. Math is used in the lectures to show the mathematical explanations, but it is not necessary to know for the course. In order to enjoy the course, all that is required is an open mind and a DVD player. -- Reviewed by Alex Scoble.