Syllabus: ASTR 5460: Fall 2006


Instructor:                     Michael Brotherton

Office:                          217 Physical Sciences

Phone:                          766-5402

E-mail:                (best way to contact me)

Websites:            (course materials here!)

Office Hours:               MWF 11 AM to noon, or by appointment

Lectures:                      MWF 10:00AM-10:50AM Cinnamon Room

Texts:                            Introduction to Cosmology, Barbara Ryden; Introduction to Active Galactic Nuclei (Brad Peterson)

Course Content

The course title officially is Galactic Structure and Evolution; Cosmology. We’re trying something a little different this year, and there will be little on galaxies. Most of the general galaxy topics will be covered in Mike Pierce’s course Stars and the Milky Way. We will focus primarily on cosmology, and also my specialty, active galactic nuclei (AGN). It should be about 2 parts cosmology and one part AGN. You could have a year long course on just cosmology or AGN or galaxies. I will attempt to stay focused on the fundamentals of these topics and things I think are necessary, but not a lot more, for anyone with a PhD who might work someday in observational extragalactic astronomy.


I expect regular attendance at lectures. Sometimes things come up, I know, and when they do please let me know as soon as possible and arrange to make things up when necessary. Lecture will be a mix of traditional lecture, blackboard work, powerpoint slides, and should be interactive. There may be some computer work from time to time in class as well.

Homework and other Assignments

I will assign regular homework, but not necessarily something every single week. More often I will have homework every other week, but may also have special assignments that could involve programming or data analysis, or writing assignments. In addition to the textbook readings, there may be extra reading (e.g., journal articles). The reading is not likely to be graded (but watch out for homework or exam questions to test this) but is very important – I can’t cover everything in class.


There will be two exams, a midterm and a final. The final will not be cumulative and will likely only cover AGNs. Both will be closed book and timed. I’m likely to make these take-home exams on an honor code.


The grading scheme will be:

A = 80+

B= 70-80

C = 60-70

D= Under 60

I tend to round up, and I may curve final grades. The exams will count equally, and total 60% of your grade. Homework will count for 40%, so do your homework well!

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. 


Course Topics in order

Weeks 1-10: Cosmology from Ryden

Introduction and Fundamental Observations, Gravity and intro to general relativity (light version), Cosmic Dynamics, Simple and Complex Universes, Cosmological Parameters and our Universe, Forms of matter in the Universe, Cosmic Microwave Background, Advanced Cosmological topics (bigbang nucleosynthesis, fundamental points of inflation, structure formation, etc.)

Weeks 11-14/5: AGN from Peterson (first 5-8 chapters or so)

Introduction and History of AGN, Taxonomy, black hole paradigm, continuum emission and accretion disks, emission line regions, and the unification of AGNs. Note Peterson also has a couple of useful cosmology chapters that are good references.

I will be absent for about two weeks in October to attend a meeting in China. I will discuss options to make up the lectures. I would like to propose that we let class run 75 minutes rather than 50 minutes if that works with people’s schedules. We can do this in general and take days off if there is enough interest after the .