ASTR 1050: Survey of Astronomy Fall 2003


General Information

Instructor: Michael Brotherton

Office: 217 Physical Sciences

Phone: 766-5402



Office Hours: MW 10:00 AM to Noon, or by appointment

Lectures: MWF 9:00AM9:50AM, CR 302

Text: Horizons: Exploring the Universe, by Michael Seeds, 8th Edition

Contemporary Activities in Astronomy, by Hoff, 5th Edition (for Lab)


Course Content

Astronomy is the study of everything beyond the Earth, the entire universe in fact! Topics will include the sky, planets, stars, galaxies, and more. We won't just take census of the amazing things in the universe; understanding how we know what we know is equally important. Science is the most powerful method of deriving new knowledge ever developed, and understanding science is key to understanding our increasingly complex, technologically driven civilization. Science often relies on math, and astronomy is no exception. We will use simple geometry, trigonometry, and algebra and useful math tools like logarithms and scientific notation. We'll only pull out the math when we need it, and we'll spend whatever time it takes to make its application clear. I sincerely hope you all complete the course with a deepened sense of wonder about the universe and an appreciation for the science that has revealed that wonder.



Attendance at lecture is strongly encouraged, but not required. I expect the assigned reading to be completed before class. The lectures will not necessarily cover all the topics in the reading and should not be viewed as a substitute for the reading. Lectures are an opportunity to address the more challenging concepts and to explore material beyond the text. Please bring questions to class and be prepared to discuss concepts. Please also bring a scientific calculator to class (should have at least a "log" button and support scientific notation, does not have to be expensive or fancy).



Attendance at lab is required. Jim Verley and Mark Reiser are your dedicated lab instructors and will have their own lab syllabus. Lab meets for the first time the week of Sep. 812 (next week). There will also be opportunities during the semester to use a telescope. These sessions are optional and will be announced during the semester.



In addition to the reading, weekly homework assignments will be posted on Mondays on-line via the University's WebCT system and due as indicated (typically a week later). The procedures for self-registration are explained at (this is also the login site). Additional course information will be available on WebCT.



There will be four in-class exams during the semester. There will be no final! While the exams will not be comprehensive in general, the material in the course does build on itself and several topics reappear in different forms. Each in-class exam will cover several chapters of material and consist of a mixture of multiple choice, true/false, and short answer problems. A calculator may be used don't forget to bring yours! The exams will be closed-book, but formulas and physical constants will be provided and need not be memorized. Exam dates are Sep 22, Oct 27, Nov 21, and Dec. 12.



The grading scheme will be:

A = 85-100%

B = 75-85%

C = 65-75%

D = 55-65%

F < 55%

I tend to round up, and I reserve the right to adjust the scheme in your favor if the score distributions are lower than expected (for instance, because of an unintendedly difficult exam). You will not automatically fail the course for missing lab, but if two or more labs are missed you will lose a letter grade. The components of the course are weighted:

Laboratory = 25%

Exams = 60%

Quizzes/Homework = 15%

Special Accommodations

Please let me know if you have a disability that requires special accommodations. Procedures exist to address such needs through Disability Support Services (766-6189;


About Me

I am an observational astronomer specializing in the study of quasars and other types of active galaxies thought to be powered by super-massive black holes. I received my PhD from the University of Texas at Austin and have previously worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Kitt Peak National Observatory. I've really used the Very Large Array (the "VLA", a radio telescope in New Mexico featured in the movie Contact), the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, so I can provide you with first-hand details not found in textbooks. I'm also a science fiction writer my first novel Star Dragon is about an expedition to a distant binary star system and will be published in hardcover by Tor in October.


Final Comments

I plan to solicit feedback via questionnaires a few times during the semester to gauge how well I am meeting your needs in this course and will make adjustments to meet those needs if possible. I love astronomy and look forward to sharing the wonders of the universe with you!


Course Schedule and Reading Assignments (subject to change)


Week Dates Topics Textbook Reading

1 Sep 3, 5 Scales, the Night Sky Ch. 1, 2

2 Sep 8, 10, 12 Motions in the Sky, History of Astr. Ch. 3, 4

3 Sep 15, 17, 19 Information from Distant Objects Ch. 5, 6

Sep 22 Exam #1 on the Sky+ Ch. 1-6

4 Sep 24, 26 The Sun Ch. 7

5 Oct 1, 3 Properties of Stars Ch. 8

6 Oct 6, 8, 10 Formation and Structure of Stars Ch. 9

7 Oct 13, 15, 17 Deaths of Stars Ch. 10

8 Oct 20, 22 Neutron Stars and Black Holes Ch. 11

Oct. 27 Exam #2 on Sun & Stars Ch. 7-11

9 Oct. 29, 31 Milky Way Ch. 12

10 Nov 3, 5, 7 Milky Way, Galaxies Ch. 12-13

11 Nov 10, 12, 14 Quasars, Cosmology Ch. 14-15

12 Nov 17, 19 Cosmology Ch. 15

Nov 21 Exam #3 on Galaxies + Cosmology Ch. 12-15

13 Nov 24 Begin Solar System Ch. 16

14 Dec 1, 3, 5 Solar System & Terrestrial Planets Ch. 16, 17

15 Dec 8, 10 Jovian Planets and "Debris" Ch. 18, 19

Dec 12 Exam #4 on Solar System Ch. 16-19


I encourage you to read Chapter 20, "Life on Other Worlds," but will not hold you responsible for it on an exam.