Syllabus: ASTR 5460: Fall 2007


Instructor:                     Michael Brotherton

Office:                          217 Physical Sciences

Phone:                          766-5402

E-mail:                (best way to contact me)

Websites:            (course materials here under ASTR 5460 link!)

Office Hours:               MWF 1:30-2:30PM, or by appointment

Lectures:                      MWF 10:00AM-10:50AM Cinnamon Room (unless otherwise noted)

Text:                            Introduction to Cosmology, by Barbara Ryden

Course Content

The course title officially is Galactic Structure and Evolution; Cosmology. We're likely to add a second semester to this in the very near future and are currently teaching this course with a sole focus on Cosmology. Galaxies will be the focus of the second semester, and Mike Pierce's course “Stars and the Milky Way” also covers a lot of galaxy topics. One semester is barely sufficient for a basic coverage of cosmology needed for graduate students working in 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, rarely powerpoint slides, and should be interactive. There may be some computer work from time to time in class as well (when we'll meet in the computer lab).

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 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. 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 and projects 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.  My second novel Spider Star coming out in March 2008 features a dark matter planet.


Course Topics in order

Cosmology from Ryden

The textbook is good, the right length, and for about 85% of the course we'll be following it closely. We'll make some excursions into the Hubble Law, programming and line fitting, and issues involving the microwave background power spectrum. Otherwise, here are the topics: 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, Big Bang Nucleosynthesis, Inflation, and Structure formation.