Columbia University
Astronomy and Astrophysics
Center for Backyard Astrophysics

Joe Patterson     Joe Patterson
electronic mail:
office:     1422 Pupin Physics Laboratories
telephone:     +1 (212) 854 - 3276
facsimile:     +1 (212) 854 - 8121

Lecture Courses

Summer 2021
Astr 1610: Theories of the Universe, From Babylon to the Big Bang
Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, & Thursdays, 2:45pm - 4:20pm, location tba
Syllabus: coming soon [previous spring 2020 version: 3 pages (980KB PDF)]
Book: click here
Course description:
Milestones in the science of cosmology over the past 6000 years. Skylore and observation in ancient cultures. The twin revolutions of the Greeks: Pythagoras and Ptolemy; and Aristotle, Aquinas, and the Great Chain of Being. The "scientific revolution": the impersonal and deterministic world-order of Newton, Laplace, and Kelvin. The erosion of that world-order by mathematics and experiment in the 20th century (relativity, quantum physics, dark matter, and the expanding universe). Today's searches for a new grand order in the Universe, which can cope - or maybe not - with these blows to yesterday's comfortable wisdom.
Autumn 2020
on sabbatical
    Spring 2021
on sabbatical
Autumn 2019
on sabbatical
    Spring 2020
Astr 1610: Theories of the Universe, From Babylon to the Big Bang
Tuesdays & Thursdays, 2:40pm - 3:55pm, Pupin 1422
Autumn 2018
Astr 1610: Theories of the Universe, From Babylon to the Big Bang
Tuesdays & Thursdays, 2:40pm - 3:55pm, Pupin 329 & Fayerweather 310
    Spring 2019
Astr 1610: Theories of the Universe, From Babylon to the Big Bang
Tuesdays & Thursdays, 2:40pm - 3:55pm, Pupin 329
Other select past courses
Autumn 2015- Astr 2001: Introduction to Astrophysics, I [Syllabus: 3 pages (1.3MB PDF)]
Spring 2015- Astr 1404: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology [Syllabus: 3 pages (1.7MB PDF)]

Research Interests

CV Most stars are found in binaries, yet the theory of stellar evolution is almost exclusively about single stars. It is high time to remedy that oversight! Towards that end, one of my major research goals is to understand the structure and evolution of cataclysmic variables, especially the oldest ones (the WZ Sge and AM CVn stars) where both components have evolved to degenerate states.

DQ Her model

I have also been working for 20 years to understand the structure of DQ Her stars, often called intermediate polars in those parts of the world where confusion and error still reign (particularly east of the mid-Atlantic ridge). Look, there's one at the right. Click on the 1994 review paper, and wallow in this subject a bit.

Until recently my observational activity was ~60% from the National Observatories, maybe 30% from various X-ray telescopes, 10% from other satellites. But in ~1991 we formed the Center for Backyard (neé Basement) Astrophysics, a network of primarily amateur astronomers spanning the globe and collaborating on observation of variable stars. This has provided a powerful tool to study periodic processes in these stars, free from aliasing (because of the global distribution) and free from problems with weather (it's always clear somewhere). CBA map It also proved timely, because it was just about then that NOAO decided to kick us out (they don't like 15th mag stars anymore). Click on the CBA, and read all about us. I'm particularly interested in precession phenomena in accretion disks, which are manifested as superhumps.


2014     Naming Award, Asteroid 8796, International Astronomical Union
1996 - present     Professor, Department of Astronomy, Columbia University
2002 - 2003     250th Anniversary Distinguished Teaching Professor, Princeton University
1997     Presidential Teaching Award, Columbia University
1988 - 1996     Associate Professor, Department of Astronomy, Columbia University
1989 - 1991     Visiting Professor, Department of Astronomy, University of California at Los Angeles
1983 - 1988     Assistant Professor, Department of Astronomy, Columbia University
1980 - 1983     Research Scientist, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
1979 - 1980     Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Michigan
1979     Ph.D. (Astronomy), University of Texas
1971 - 1974     Founder and Builder, Camp Uraniborg
1969 - 1972     Physics Teacher, Walden and Trinity Schools
1969     A.B. (Magna Cum Laude, History of Science), Harvard University

Scholarly Identity & Publications

NASA ADS iconNASA ADS       arXiv astro-ph iconarXiv astro-ph       ORCID iD iconORCID iD       Google Scholar iconGoogle Scholar       Scopus iconScopus

Selected Publications

Distractions . . .

Major League Baseball Sierra Club
Boston Red Sox Appalachian Mountain Club
PGA History of Science Society
LPGA Society for American Baseball Research

rev. 14 April 2021