Essay 1: Making it Personal

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Essay 1: Making it Personal

In the first chapter of The Planets, Dava Sobel introduces us to her subject by introducing us to her love affair with it: “My planet fetish began, as best I can recall, in third grade” (1). She goes on to present us with an overview of not only Earth’s solar system – which will be the topic of her book – but of her ongoing relationship with its study. One reason why she does this is, I think, revealed when she tells us the story of the poor, plump little kid forced to dress up as Earth for a school play and speak the line, “’I am twenty four thousand miles around my middle’” (4).
This is funny. Maybe not ha-ha, laugh-out-loud funny, but certainly funnier than “The earth is twenty four thousand miles in circumference.” Sobel’s using her own life to draw us into her subject – a subject many people might otherwise find dry and boring.
For this first essay, you’ll start with a bit of astronomy, and use a number of brainstorming techniques to identify and explore a personal connection to it. That bit of astronomy: a constellation. As you’ve seen in the first chapter of your AST111 text, modern astronomers use the constellations as maps to the stars. For astronomers, these patterns are tools which impose order on the thousands of stars visible from our world. For ancient cultures, these constellations had an even deeper meaning. When our ancestors identified patterns in the heavens, they tied those patterns to their deepest beliefs, populating the sky with gods, monsters and heroes of myth. When they looked up at the stars, they saw themselves, their own hopes and fears, reflected back at them.
Imposing order will also be an important part of what you’ll be doing for this essay – pulling together research and presenting it to readers with that personal touch.

Nuts ‘n Bolts


  1. Complete Web Question 65 on page 33 of Discovering the Universe. Feel free to turn to print sources – books or magazines – as well as online resources. Be sure to keep a list of your sources.

  2. Use a variety of brainstorming techniques to look for ways in which the associations the ancients made with these constellations reflect something in your own life.

  3. Settle on one constellation that’ll serve as the focus of your essay.

  4. Brainstorm to further explore and expand your personal connection to that constellation.

  5. Impose order. Write an essay describing this constellation and the myths associated with it, as supported by your research, for a modern audience, weaving in details from your own life.

Audience: This Learning Community
Learning Objectives: This assignment touches on all of the Outcomes of 112. After completing work on your essay, you should be able to:

  • Use a variety of search tools to find relevant, reliable information on a subject.

  • Generate and explore your own ideas using a variety of brainstorming techniques.

  • Impose order on all of this material, pulling together an essay that is easy for your audience to follow and interesting.

  • Offer advice to other students, and evaluate and use their advice, in writing groups.

  • Present a summary of your research to the class.

Gateway Criteria:

  1. Must be 2-3 pages.

  2. Must be typed/word-processed.

  3. Must use Times New Roman or Arial 12 point font.

  4. Must use default margins (1” left and right, 1.25” top and bottom).

  5. Must be double-spaced.

Tuesday, 9/12: Web Exercise 65, page 33, Discovering the Universe

Thursday, 9/14: In-class Workshop (bring work done so far)

Tuesday, 9/19: Bring rough draft for writing groups.

Thursday, 9/21: Workshop/Essay 2 Introduced

Tusday, 9/26: Essay 1 Due

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