Syllabus: ASTR 2310: Spring 2012


Instructor: Michael Brotherton

Office:  217 Physical Sciences

Phone:  399-9524 (cell)

E-mail: (best way to contact me)

Websites: (course materials here under ASTR 2310 link)

Office Hours: TR 1-2PM, Wed. 3-4pm, or drop by if I am in -- I want to meet and speak with you!

Lectures:  TR 11:00AM-12:15PM, PS 234

Lab/Discussion: Led by Shannon Hall (, separate syllabus, starts week 2

Text: Foundations of Astrophysics, by Barbara Ryden and Brad Peterson


Course Content

This course is intended as one of two parts, taught in alternate years with ASTR 2320, that constitutes a broad introduction to astronomy at a level appropriate for Freshman and Sophomore astronomy/physics majors. There will be calculus in the course, but kept to a minimal level as necessary. Everyone should be at least enrolled in Calculus 1 or have already had the course, and similarly for Physics 1 or equivalent.


ASTR 2310 focuses on solar system and related topics, while ASTR 2320 focuses on stars and galaxies. The universe is a really interesting place and we know a lot about it.  Hopefully you will all also realize that there's a lot we don't know about it, and there yet exists ample opportunity for original research.


I love astronomy



I expect regular attendance at lectures. Sometimes things come up, I know, but for astronomy majors at least this course should be primary. We'll use a combination of powerpoint, blackboard, videos, and discussion in class. These lecture slides will be places on the course webpage (usually before class, but not guaranteed).


Labs and Discussion

These start in the second week.  There will be a scheduled discussion section in PS 234 led by teaching assistant Shannon Hall. This will primarily be an opportunity to discuss homework, work problems, review for exams, and discuss any other topics you or Shannon feels will enhance the course. She will also run labs, which will meet in PS 133. There will be a separate syllabus for these topics, and these sections will begin during the second week of classes.  We hope to get you outside a few times looking at the sky, naked eye and also with telescopes.


Homework and other Assignments

There will be regular problem sets due approximately every week, usually Thursday mornings in class.  Homework normally will not be accepted late unless prior permission is given from me or Shannon, and not at the very last second.  One homework will count as extra credit, so missing a single homework will not count against you, and doing them all will result in a small bonus.  If you miss more than one, sorry, so get them in on time.


Everyone should read the textbook as directed in class. There may also be preparation or write ups for labs.



There will be three exams (two during the semester plus the final). These will each cover about 4 chapters of the textbook. They will be in class, closed book, calculators ok, and scheduled 1-2 weeks in advance, likely on Tuesdays.



The grading scheme will be:

A = 90+

B= 80-90

C = 70-80

D= 60-70

F= Below 60

I tend to round up, and I may curve final grades. The exams will count equally, and total 45% of your grade. Homework will count for 30%, so do your homework well! Lab will count for 25%.


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 publishing with Tor Books.  My first novel, Star Dragon, is about an expedition to a distant binary star system.  My second novel, Spider Star, features a dark matter planet.  


I love science and astronomy.  Please be very encouraged to share my enthusiasm and engage in discussion, whether in class or office hours.



The textbook is pretty good, the right length, and we will cover the first 12 chapters. ASTR 2320 will cover the final 12 chapters in the Spring semester alternate years. We will spend approximately one week per chapter (longer on chapter 5).  Reading ahead is a good idea.  We'll skim or skip over the calculus-heavy portions of the text.

1. Early Astronomy

2. Emergence of Modern Astronomy

3. Orbital Mechanics

4. The Earth-Moon System

5. Interaction of Radiation and Matter

6. Astronomical Detection of Light

7. The Sun

8. Overview of the Solar System

9. Earth and Moon

10. The Planets

11. Small Bodies in the Solar System

12. The Solar System in Perspective