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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 01/26/2008

Free/Low-Cost Classes

Skywarn; climate course; astronomy for non-scientists

If you're interested in learning something about meteorology and also performing a public service, the National Weather Service (NWS) has several Skywarn classes scheduled in the metro region. Skywarn is a program through which trained members of the public can become spotters for weather events such as severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail and flooding, and report their observations to the local NWS. The classes, which are free, consist of one three-hour introductory session. Several optional advanced sessions are also offered separately.

The next scheduled Basics I class (prerequisite for all other classes) inside the Beltway is Feb. 9 at the University of Maryland in College Park, sponsored by the meteorology graduate student organization. You can register for the class online and also view the slides and videos from a previous presentation. Other upcoming classes in the Washington/Baltimore region are scheduled for Leesburg and Towson. For graduates of Basic I training, Basics II, Flooding, and Tropical classes are also available.

The Teaching Company, which happens to be based in Chantilly, is again offering its course, Earth's Changing Climate , at a major discount for a limited time: 80% off the regular price until Jan. 31. The course consists of 12 30-minute lectures and is available in several formats: DVD, audio CD, audio download, and audiotape. Sale prices range from $19.95 to $39.95, depending on format. Because the company is based in Chantilly, regular shipping is usually overnight.

It's closer to meteor-ology than meteorology, but astronomy fans should check out the free online version of Yale's Astronomy 160, Frontiers and Controversies in Astrophysics. Yale has recently followed the lead of MIT, which is putting all of its courses online, in providing free access to some general-interest courses on the web.

ASTR 160 is a course for non-science majors; in fact, science majors are prohibited from enrolling. The only math requirement is high school algebra. It "focuses on three particularly interesting areas of astronomy that are advancing very rapidly: Extra-Solar Planets, Black Holes, and Dark Energy. Particular attention is paid to current projects that promise to improve our understanding significantly over the next few years. The course explores not just what is known, but what is currently not known, and how astronomers are going about trying to find out." Lectures are available as either audio or video podcasts; lecture transcripts and copies of the lecturer's notes are available for download. Based on listening to the first two lectures, I would strongly recommend this course to anyone interested in science, regardless of background.

By Steve Scolnik  |  11:00 AM ET, 01/26/2008

Categories:  Education

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