ASTRONOMY 101 - Principles of Astronomy
Office: Physics (P)
Building Room 243
Office Phone: (619) 594-2694
Office Hours: T 10-12 AM, W 3:30-5:30 PM; or by appointment
- MW 2-3:15 PM in Hepner Hall (HH) Room
- Understanding Our Universe (Palen, Kay,
Smith, & Blumenthal)
Reading assignments posted on the class Blackboard website: blackboard.sdsu.edu
- Classroom response keypad ("i>clicker")
Thought Questions posted at http://mintaka.sdsu.edu/faculty/erics/teach/questions.html
Mid-Term Exam #1: Monday, February 25, 2013 in class.
Mid-Term Exam #2: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 in class.
Monday May 13, 2013 at 1:00 PM in HH 130.
Why Take This Class?
If you have ever wondered about the planets, the Sun, the fate of the
Universe, black holes, or extraterrestrial life, for example,
then you have been doing something that our ancestors have
been doing for thousands of years. BUT we live in a special time
- one in which we can start to answer many questions.
This course can benefit you in several ways:
- You will realize that your experiences on Earth can help you
understand everything in the Universe - from planets to stars
to galaxies to the Universe itself. Astronomy is not something for a
select few to understand - you can understand too.
- You will get practice in using the scientific method to
understand your world. I want to encourage you to OBSERVE your
surroundings and to THINK CRITICALLY about what you observe. You
should realize that true understanding is not knowing a name - it is
being able to frequently and correctly PREDICT.
- You should realize that none of us knows everything - there are
many questions left out there to answer. And in answering one question, we
may often create another one!
If you take this course we will cross the Universe, trying to
Attendance and Classroom Rules
Attendance is optional. HOWEVER, there are a number of reasons for
regularly attending classes.
To make class time useful for everyone, please follow the following rules:
- Lectures will NOT be directly from the book. I can't and won't
cover the entire book. I will try to explain important and/or difficult
topics. EXAMS ARE MORE LIKELY TO COVER WHAT I CONSIDER IMPORTANT, NOT
WHAT THE AUTHOR OF THE BOOK CONSIDERS IMPORTANT.
- In class, I will give frequent ungraded "thought questions" to give you
practice in thinking about important course topics. These are also examples of
the kinds of questions that will show up on exams.
- If you come in late or if you know you have to leave early, sit in the
back of the class. That way you will minimize distractions to me and to
- Don't start packing until class is over. This is very distracting,
and can cause you to miss important information at the end of class. I work
hard to keep the lectures within class time - don't be worried that I will lose
track of what time it is.
- Turn your cell phone off. In-class ringing will incur the creepy
stare. You don't want that.
The course grade will be based on
- Class Participation (10% of grade)
- Online Assignments (15% of grade)
- Mid-term exams (20% and 25% of grade, respectively)
- Final exam (30% of grade)
Exams: Exams are closed-book and will typically be mostly
multiple-choice (25-30 questions for each midterm exam, and 50 for the
final exam), a few short answers, with one or two essay questions (and
usually an additional short answer section on the final). Exams MUST be taken
in the class you are registered for if there is more than one
section. You will be allowed to bring a single 3-by-5 card to each
exam, and you will be able to write whatever you want on that card. My
suggestion is that you use it to hold important ideas and definitions
that you want to be sure to remember. HOWEVER, the multiple choice
questions are NOT geared toward memorization of the material. More
often they resemble the thought questions that I will be presenting
during most lectures. THE EXAMS WILL ALSO EMPHASIZE MATERIAL FROM THE
ONLINE ASSIGNMENTS (see below). The exam questions are intended to test
whether you understand the material and can use it, rather than
your ability to simply memorize.
The final exam will not be cumulative, but will focus on the material
in the last one-third of the class. However, concepts like gravity and
light that are covered earlier in the semester will appear since they
are important in all areas of astronomy.
POLICY ON MAKE-UP EXAMS: In the case of missed exams,
make-ups will only be considered under the direst of circumstances. It
is your responsibility to see me as soon as possible to arrange the
make-up exam. In cases where a make-up midterm exam is allowed, the
exam will be 7 - 10 essay questions (generally about a paragraph
long). 3-by-5 cards are NOT ALLOWED on make-up exams.
Class Participation: During classes, I pose thought questions related
to the material we are covering, and ask students to enter answers using the
i>clicker response pad. This way I get a feeling for how well
the class is understanding the material, and you get some practice on questions
similar to ones that will show up on the exams. You will get participation
points based partly on trying to answer the questions, and partly on getting
You MUST use the clicker to get participation points.
I believe that it is helpful to have read about the material before coming to
class, so some of the questions will be right from the reading.
(I will announce reading assignments in the class before, and they
will also be posted on the web at the class Blackboard website: blackboard.sdsu.edu.)
You will be able to get up to 50 points in each one-third of
the semester for a total of 150 points. These points will be given as follows:
Make-ups will not be given for missed classes.
- 2 points for a correct response to a thought question.
- 1 point for an incorrect response to a thought question, or any response to
a survey question.
- 0 points will be given for clicker questions that you don't respond to.
In order for you to get an idea of how astronomers learn, you are
going to be asked to complete a number of tutorial assignments outside of
class. These assignments will graded online, but MATERIAL FROM THE
ASSIGNMENTS WILL BE EMPHASIZED ON THE EXAMS.
TO BE ABLE TO DO THE ASSIGNMENTS, you need to be registered with the
SmartWork website (smartwork.wwnorton.com). See the directions on
the last page of the syllabus.
The assignments deal with difficult but important concepts in
astronomy, and are intended to get you to focus on these topics and
seriously think through a series of short questions. It is
important for you to figure out for yourself when you do or don't
You are welcome to see me or email me to ask questions - my office hours are
listed at the top of the syllabus, and I am usually willing to talk at other
times if I am not otherwise occupied.
We also have graduate students that act as teaching assistants for the
The TA specifically for our course is
Nicholas Earl (email@example.com). You can see any TA for
help, but Nicholas will be sitting in on class, and will have a better
idea of what has been covered.
TAs have office hours in Physics-Astronomy (PA) 215 at the times shown
below. (My office hours are shown also, but my office is Physics 243.)
TA Office Hours for Fall 2011
Mount Laguna Observatory: We will have at least one optional evening
observing session during the quarter
using the telescope at Mount Laguna Observatory.
If the weather cooperates, you will have an opportunity to view the Moon,
planets, stars, etc. Attending this session is strongly encouraged - if you
haven't been out of the city to see the stars, you will be surprised how
much you can see and how spectacular it is!
Due to liability issues we can only allow students that are registered in
the class to attend, and every student attending will be REQUIRED to sign a
liability waiver form. We haven't had any injuries yet, but it pays to be
careful and aware. So:
Planetarium:SDSU also has its own (small) planetarium, and there will be
presentations outside of class time during the first few weeks of the
- If you are driving another student, be sure to pick them up and drop
them off in safe areas and make sure they get to their destination.
- The last section of the drive is on a mountain road, so pay careful
attention to the road, and keep alert for fallen rocks, wildlife, or cows
(occasionally...) in the roadway.
- DRESS WARMLY! No matter how warm it is in San Diego, it will always be
cooler up on the mountain. Bring the heaviest clothes you have. You may not
need them, but at least you will have them if you do.
- Carry a flashlight and watch for wildlife on the observatory grounds.
- There is no food at the observatory, so please eat before you get there.
- Be aware that most cell phones will not have reception at the
observatory. If you run into problems at the observatory, find the professor
or a TA as soon as possible.
- Useful contact information:
- SDSU Public Safety: (619)594-1991
- Department Office: (619)594-6182
- Eric Sandquist's office: (619)594-2694
Please keep in mind that the schedule of topics is subject to
change. (However, dates of exams will not be changed except under extreme
circumstances.) There is a lot of material that can be covered, and
it is impossible to do everything. But if you have an interest in
something let me know, and I will try to work it in!
Week 1: January 23
Topics: Day and Night; Rotation of the Earth
Week 2: January 28, 30
Topics: The Seasons; Phases of the Moon; Eclipses
Week 3: February 4, 6
Topics: Constellations; Planet Motions; The Scientific Method
Week 4: February 11, 13
Topics: Earth-centered and Sun-centered Models of the Solar
System; Brahe and Galileo's observations; Kepler's Laws
Week 5: February 18, 20
Topics: Newton's Laws of motion; Gravitation
Week 6: February 25, 27
Topics: MIDTERM; Light
MIDTERM EXAM #1: Monday, February 25, 2013 in
Week 7: March 4, 6
Topics: Blackbody Radiation; Atoms
Week 8: March 11, 13
Topics: Formation of the Solar System
Week 9: March 18, 20
Topics: The Earth and the Terrestrial Planets; Jupiter and the Jovian
Week 10: March 25, 27
Topics: The Sun's Surface; How the Sun Generates Light; MIDTERM
MIDTERM EXAM #2: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 in
SPRING RECESS: MARCH 30 - APRIL 7
Week 11: April 8, 10
Topics: Characteristics of Stars; Star Birth; The Lengths of Star Lives
Week 12: April 15, 17
Topics: The Main Sequence; Star Death
Week 13: April 22, 24
Topics: The Milky Way; Black Holes
Week 14: April 29, May 1
Topics: Galaxies; The Big Bang; The History of the Universe
Week 15: May 6, 8
Topics: The End of the Universe; Are We Alone in the Universe?
Monday May 13, 2013 at 1:00 PM in HH 130.
Registering for Online Assignments
TO BE ABLE TO DO THE ASSIGNMENTS, you need to be registered with the
SmartWork website (smartwork.wwnorton.com).
In both cases, you will need to enter the registration code, a valid email address, the enrollment key
("UNDUNIV4355"), and your Red ID number for the "Student ID".
- If you bought your
textbook new, a registration code in a paperboard folder will come with
your book. In that case, follow the included directions for registering.
- If you bought a used textbook or rented one, you will need
to purchase online access. Go to books.wwnorton.com/books/buysmartwork/,
choose the class textbook ("Understanding Our Universe") from the list, and
"Buy" the (cheaper) single-term access with a credit card. This will give you a
Registering your Clicker
TO BE ABLE TO GET CLASS PARTICIPATION CREDIT, you need to register your
i>clicker remote online before the second week of class. The i>clicker
will be used every day in class, and you are responsible for bringing
your remote to class regularly. The registration directions can be found at
- REGISTER YOUR CLICKER THROUGH BLACKBOARD. Follow the
online directions for Blackboard. The clicker may come with directions to
register on the iclicker website, but do not use them.
- YOUR CLICKER MAY NOT BE USED IN CLASS BY OTHER PEOPLE. This is
simply dishonest, and is a violation of academic integrity. Any infractions
will be referred to Academic Affairs.