Mac Lab Report

Astronomy Podcasts and Videocasts for the Classroom

- 2006.03.22

As we all know, iTunes is becoming a portal for all sorts of entertainment media: music, movies, television shows, and radio. Less well known is its function as a distributor of educational material.

A brief search on the iTunes music store yields a considerable amount of material available for your on-demand use in the classroom. In the list below, the headings are the search terms you should use in the iTunes Music Store to find the podcasts.

All of the content listed is free. This isn't everything offered, but it's a good start.



Take a look at "Stardate", the well known astronomy radio program often used on local stations as filler between programs. Produced by McDonald observatory, you can subscribe to Stardate via the iTunes Music Store (do a search for "stardate" and look for McDonald Observatory as the artist). This two minute program would be a terrific class opener while you take attendance. The podcasts are updated daily. The online version falls a day behind the radio version to give the radio version added value to the stations that broadcast it.

Science @ NASA Feature Stories Podcast

Usually narrated by Dr. Tony Phillips, this podcast features current science and NASA's various missions in a weekly program. There are actually several different NASA podcasts, so try several to see what meets your needs.

Astronomy 162

Richard Pogge has posted his entire astronomy course lecture series online for students and others to listen to. Going to have to look into that myself someday....

Universe Today

In this podcast astronomers are interviewed about the latest research in astronomy. Also online at, an excellent astronomy news blog (based on my first look).


Ask an Astronomer by the Spitzer Science Center

The Spitzer Space Telescope is a space-borne infrared telescope similar to the Hubble Space Telescope. This series of videos has an emphasis on infrared astronomy and shows such things as zoo animals seen in infrared light. Very useful for teaching the electromagnetic spectrum, space-based astronomy, and just for cool special effects. This is a fixed length series of videos not currently being updated, as it is merely converted from other forms already produced by the SSC.

Organizing Video Clips and Audio Clips

You may not be aware of it, but iTunes can import video clips from other sources just as easily as it imports audio files. I have long had this idea rolling around in the back of my head that I would maintain a little library of video clips I can call up on demand to show my classes; the first step on the moon, an aircraft breaking the sound barrier, an animation of the phases of the moon, and so on.

iTunes offers a way to keep these video clips organized and in one place. As a demonstration, I went to the NASA's One Small Step site and downloaded the MPEG version of Neil Armstrong's first step on the moon.

For some reason, the QuickTime version wouldn't play on my Mac, claiming to need an unknown plugin to operate. Anyway, I downloaded the MP3 version, dragged it to the content window of iTunes, and then it was automatically added to the library. From there I dragged it to a new playlist I made called Science Video Clips, and voilà, I can now call it up anytime without being online, using Google, or searching my cluttered hard drive.

Stuff like this is one of the hidden features and real powerful tools offered by Apple's superior media management scheme over the Windows world. Since the video clip is in iTunes, I can now access it as content when making a PowerPoint or other document.

If you have a new way of using iTunes in the classroom, drop me a note.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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