Syllabus: ASTR 1050: Survey of Astronomy, Spring 2003


Instructor: Michael Brotherton

Office: 217 Physical Sciences

Phone: 766-5402


Websites: (course materials here!) (WebCT for HW, etc)

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

Lectures: MWF 1:10PM2:00PM, CR 210

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

Contemporary Activities in Astronomy, 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. Lecture slides can be found on the course webpage -- you may wish to print these before class. 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). We will sometimes work problems in class.


Attendance at lab is required. Jim Verley is your dedicated lab instructor and will have his own lab syllabus. Lab meets for the first time the week of Jan. 26--30 (next week). A few labs will involve nighttime observing with a telescope and you will be able to sign up for a night of the week that will work for you for these.


In addition to the reading, weekly homework assignments will be posted 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. Please see me if you have difficulties with WebCT -- they are usually easy to solve. Not doing the homework can hurt your grade!


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 multiple choice problems. Bring a GREEN 10 ANSWER SCAN FORM and your CALCULATOR! The exams will be closed-book, but formulas and physical constants will be provided and need not be memorized. Exam dates are Feb 6, Mar 12, Apr 19, and May 7 (last class day!).

Extra Credit

There will be several chances for extra credit this semester. On Fridays we will discuss news articles about astronomy -- you can earn extra credit (equivalent to about one homework) for bringing in an article once. You can also get extra credit (equivalent to about one homework ) for attending a planetarium show this semester (bring your ticket stub or other evidence of attendence to me at the start or end of class). There may be other opportunities announced during the semester.



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. The hardcover is available now, and a paperback will be out in the fall.

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 Jan 21, 23 Scales, the Night Sky Ch. 1, 2

2 Jan 26, 28, 30 Motions in the Sky, History Ch. 3, 4

3 Feb 2, 4, Astronomical Tools Ch. 5

Feb 6 Exam #1 on the Sky+ Ch. 1-5

4 Feb 9, 11, 13 Atoms & Sunlight, The Sun Ch. 6, 7

5 Feb 16, 18, 20 Properties of Stars Ch. 8

6 Feb 23, 25, 27 Formation and Structure of Stars Ch. 9

7 Mar 1, 3, 5, Deaths of Stars Ch. 10

8 Mar 8, 10 Neutron Stars and Black Holes Ch. 11

Mar. 12 Exam #2 on Sun & Stars Ch. 6-11

9 Mar 22, 24, 26 Milky Way Ch. 12

10 Mar 29, 31, Apr 2 Milky Way, Galaxies Ch. 12-13

11 Apr 5, 7 Quasars, Cosmology Ch. 14-15

12 Apr 12, 14, 16 Cosmology Ch. 15

Apr 19 Exam #3 on Galaxies + Cosmology Ch. 12-15

13 Apr 21 23 Begin Solar System Ch. 16

14 Apr 26, 28, 30 Solar System & Terrestrial Planets Ch. 16, 17

15 May 3, 5 Jovian Planets and "Debris" Ch. 18, 19

May 7 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.


I will be absent for research-related reasons a few times this semester: Feb. 6, Feb 20. There will be an exam or substitute lecturer on these days.