Office: RLM 16.230
Office hrs: TTh 9:30-10:30 or anytime by appointment
FINAL CURVE FOR AVERAGE OF BEST 4 TEST GRADES
Syllabus, Chapter's 1 & 2
Chapters 21 & 22
AST 309L Links
Tentative Schedule for Fall 2002
The Search for Life in the Universe, 3rd Ed. by Goldsmith and Owen
There will be 5 tests. The lowest of the test scores will be dropped. There will be absolutely no make-up tests, no matter how good your reason is for missing the test (If you have an excused absence, talk to me before the test about taking it early). If you contact me about your problem after the test has taken place or have simply not had time to study because your best friend just broke up with his girlfriend and you had to spend all night drinking with him, you clearly have to plan on dropping that test! Dropping the lowest test score will cover the situation where a test is missed due to illness. Tests will be a combination of multiple choice, true-false, and essay questions. Cheating will be dealt with very harshly; don't do it!
Introductory Remarks To AST 309L and Answers to Typical Questions
As shown on the course syllabus, this course will basically follow the Goldsmith and Owen text from start to finish with a few small deletions. I will, however, be passing out fairly regularly handouts of copies of newspaper articles and, perhaps, a few short magazine articles which present new results related to the class. I find this class a great deal of fun to teach because it combines so many different topics together.
To get us thinking about what we mean by life, we start out reviewing some basic astronomy which I'm hoping you will remember most of from your introductory astronomy classes. (If, in spite of the course prerequisite, you choose to take this class without having had some intro Astronomy course, I will leave it up to you to decide if that is the best choice!). After that, we cover topics in: planetary and solar system astronomy; biology and biochemistry; geology, paleontology, evolution; planet searches and the concept of habitable planets; and finally, interstellar communication and travel, including UFO's.
My tests typically consist of 25 - 30 multiple choice questions and a few essay questions of which you can usually skip one. The paper due later in the semester will be roughly two pages and require that you read and summarize an article from ``Scientific American'' magazine. Your final grades will be curved based on the raw average of your best 4 grades (out of the 4 tests plus paper). After each test, I will tell you what the curve would be if I were forced to give you a letter grade based on that one test. This should help you have a feeling for how you are doing. In general, I find that the final curve at the end of the course is a few points more forgiving than the raw scores, but not more than that.
I am quite open to questions and suggestions for topics to cover if there is time. I will have a small box available each class for you to drop questions or comments into after each class (anonymously if you prefer). Although I have listed some official office hours on the syllabus, in general I am happy to see you in my office any time you can catch me. Typically I am in my office or lab between 9am and late afternoon with the exception of my excercise times (lunchtime MWF, and late afternoon TTh) and times of meetings and seminars in the Astronomy Department. By far the best thing to do if you want to see me is to arrange a meeting time by phone or just ask me at the end of some class what a good time would be to meet.
Every few times that I teach this class I receive a question about reconciling the material in this class with someone's religious beliefs. This class takes a scientific look at the issues related to the possible existence of life anywhere else in the universe than just Earth. I will assume that if you are taking this class, you will consider the possibility that life does, indeed, exist in other places, possibly even life as intelligent as we are (In fact, the material presented, will make it very hard to believe that we are alone in the universe). In the course of our discussions, we will also be reviewing how intelligent life came to be on the Earth, based on geological, paleontological, and archeological evidence. If you feel that this will be difficult to deal with for personal reasons, feel free to talk to me to see if you want to remain in this course.