The Universe is a big, complex, beautiful place. While astrophysical concepts can sometimes be difficult to grasp in the abstract, many can be brought to Earth through connection to hands-on projects. This not-for-credit course, which will be offered as part of MIT's Independent Activities Period in January 2016, aims to provide a setting where exploring the Universe with astrophysics is set on equal footing with learning a new craft like knitting or sketching.

The class is taught by MIT postdoc Zach Berta-Thompson, and will meet 2-4pm Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1/5 to 1/21 in the MIT Compton Gallery (10-150). We are at capacity for the course, so enrollement is currently closed. If you're interested in other astrophysics events on campus, please check out the other IAP offerings the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Crafting the Cosmos is supported by the MIT-SUTD Collaboration.


From the 2D Sky to the 3D Heavens

For most objects in the sky, we measure only their latitude and longitude. It’s much harder to figure out how far away something is, to get a 3D picture of the Universe. This session covers the methods astronomers use to measure distances to stars, galaxies, and even to the edge of time! To understand the foundations of these measurements, students will make their own stereograph viewers, and use them to explore 3D worlds, both old and new.


The Art of a Million Colors

The human eye perceives all colors as a mixture of at most three constituents. Astronomers can split light into millions of fundamentally different colors. In this session, students will make their own spectrometers so they can see a new dimension of color, in both art and nature. We will also create color exploration scrapbooks, using color LED stickers and other materials to understand the relationships among light, color, and energy on Earth and in space.

Black Holes:

Knitting a Yarn-centric Universe

Matter bends the fabric of space-time. In this session, we will try to unpack what exactly that means. Students will learn how to knit and use their knitting skills to create the curved space-time surrounding a black hole out of yarn. The weird physics of black holes will be discussed, as well as the ways astronomers observe real black holes in the Milky Way Galaxy and beyond.


Seeing Inside a Point of Light

Astronomers recently showed that most stars in the sky host planets like our own, without taking a picture of a single extrasolar planet. Students will learn how exoplaneteers search for other worlds, and they will create illuminated scale models of the menagerie of weird planetary systems that have been discovered out there in the Galaxy. MIT is currently building a new space satellite to search for more planets, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). After building their own tiny working versions of TESS, students will observe tiny mechanical exoplanets here on Earth.

The Sun:

a Daily Dose of Glorious Detail

Even though it’s overhead literally every day, we sometimes forget that the Sun is a beautiful, enormous hydrogen fusion reactor. In this session, student will dig into the complex magnificence of our nearest star using safe solar telescopes and high-resolution tabletop spectrographs. Students will produce ink drawings and paintings of the Sun’s surface from projected solar images, as well as cyanotype photograms. Our observations with visible light will be compared to images in X-rays and other types of light, to better understand the weird wonderfulness of the solar atmosphere.