Syllabus: ASTR 1050: Survey of Astronomy, Spring 2006


Instructor:                     Michael Brotherton

Office:                          217 Physical Sciences

Phone:                          766-5402

E-mail:                (best way to contact me)

Websites:            (course materials here!)

                            (WebCT for HW, etc)

Office Hours:                MW 2 PM to 4 PM, or by appointment

Lectures:                      MWF 0110PM-0200PM GE 216

Text:                             Horizons: Exploring the Universe, Michael Seeds, 9th Edition

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, although we won't overdo it.  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 deeper 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 -- this will make lecture easier to follow and engender better questions.  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 (I suggest importing the slides from internet explorer into powerpoint and printing from there).  Lectures are an opportunity to address 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 (which should have at least a "log" button and support scientific notation, but does not have to be expensive or fancy).  We will sometimes work problems in class to make sure everyone is getting it.


Attendance at lab is required.  Mark Reiser and Travis Laurence are your dedicated lab instructors and will have their own lab syllabus.  Lab meets for the first time this week (no lab the second week of classes).  A few labs (one required, probably plus an additional optional one) 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. 


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 WILL hurt your grade!


There will be three in-class exams during the semester, plus a final exam (which will be over the solar system, not the entire course).  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 BLUE 5 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 Friday Feb 3, Monday Mar 6, Wednesday Apr 12, and the final Wednesday May 3.

Extra Credit

There will be 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.  There may be other extra credit opportunities announced during the semester (usually seeing a Planetarium show will count).


The grading scheme will be:

A = 90-100%

B = 80-90%

C = 70-80%

D = 60-70%

F < 60%

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, exams are normally curved).  You will not automatically fail the course for missing lab, but if two or more labs are missed you will lose a letter grade.  People tend to get high scores on the homework and labs, do a lot of extra credit, and wind up with very good grades despite lower exam scores.  The components of the course are weighted:

            Laboratory                   = 25%

            Exams                          = 60%

            Quizzes/Homework      = 15%

Special Accommodations

If you have a physical, learning, or psychological disability and require accommodations, please let me know as soon as possible.  You will need to register with, and provide documentation of your disability to, University Disability Support Services (UDSS) in SEO, room 330 Knight Hall, 766-6189, TTY: 766-3073

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 paperback is available now, and the full text can also be downloaded for free from

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 9, 11, 13        Scales, the Night Sky                                       Ch. 1, 2

2          Jan 16                          Holiday

            Jan 18, 20                    Motions in the Sky                                           Ch. 3

3          Jan  23, 25, 27            History of Astronomy, Astronomical Tools     Ch. 4, 5

4          Jan 30, Feb 1              More Tools, review                                          Ch. 5

            Feb 3                         Exam #1 on the Sky, Moon, Seasons+             Ch. 1-5

5          Feb 6, 8, 10             Atoms & Starlight, Start The Sun                    Ch. 6, 7

6          Feb 13, 15, 17             Properties, Formation & Structure of Stars     Ch. 8, 9

7          Feb 20, 24, 26             Formation and Structure of Stars                     Ch. 9-10

8          Feb 27, Mar 1, 3         Deaths of Stars, Review                                    Ch. 10

            Mar 6                          Exam #2, chapters 6-10

9          Mar 8, 10              Neutron Stars & Black Holes         Ch. 11

Mar 13-17 Spring Break

10        Mar 20, 22, 24           Milky Way, Galaxies                                        Ch. 12, 13

11        Mar 27, 29, 31            Active Galaxies/Quasars, Cosmology              Ch. 14-15

12        Apr 3, 5, 7                  Cosmology                                                       Ch. 15

13        Apr 10                        Catch-up/review                                               Ch. 11-15

13 Apr 12 Exam #3 Ch. 11-15

13        Apr 14                        Easter Break

13        Apr 17, 19, 21       Solar System & Terrestrial Planets                   Ch. 16, 17

14        Apr 24, 26, 28            Jovian Planets and “Debris”                              Ch. 18, 19

Wed      May 3, 1:15AM        Exam #4 on Solar System                                 Ch. 16-19


I encourage you to read Chapter 20, "Life on Other Worlds," but we probably will not get to it before the end of the semester.


I will be absent for research-related reasons a few times this semester (probably early March, for instance). There will be a substitute lecturer on these days.