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AST 301 · Introduction to Astronomy    1   2   3   4   5  

Course Description
This course is meant as a descriptive introduction to a wide range of topics in astronomy for students who are not science or math majors. The emphasis in this course is on description of astronomical phenomena, how astronomical observations can be interpreted, and physical theories for the evolution of various types of astronomical objects. Concerning the mathematical level, it is minimal in this course. Students will rarely be required to manipulate equations as part of the exams. However you will encounter a few important but simple formulas in the text whose understanding will be helpful. You should also get used to seeing very large and very small numbers expressed in "scientific notation" (be sure to read Appendix 1 of the text, at the end of the book, on this). Another thing that will be very helpful is to develop a comfort with looking at graphs, if you're not already. Comfort with scientific notation and graphs will greatly enhance the ease with which you comprehend concepts later in the course, and so I urge you to spend some time on these matters early in the course. However most of the emphasis in this class will be focused on a verbal-level presentation and understanding of the material.

m74 The lectures will generally emphasize the most important and/or difficult topics covered in the text and attempt to clarify their connections. The lectures will not cover every topic covered in the text that you are responsible for, so don't assume that if it's not covered in lecture, it won't be on the exam; I will tell you in lecture (and on review sheets before each exam) which parts of the text you can skip or are of minor interest. Similarly, there are a few topics to which I will add material not covered in the text. So you may find it a distinct advantage to attend classes regularly, especially since some of the exam questions will be taken directly from lecture material.

Since reading is all you have to do in this course (besides the homework consisting of self-test questions), I expect you not to get behind. In particular, I will assume that you have tried to read the relevant text material before the corresponding lecture, so that the lecture can serve as a concentrated review and clarification.

Your textbook has a number of features worth noting, which I will remind you of as the course proceeds. I chose this text partly because of its outstanding visual displays, which I am hopeful will clarify the text and lectures. Of particular note are the use of "zoom-in" photos and diagrams, and the "spectrum icon" labels under all the photographs, which you will see if you leaf through the book.

The CD-ROM accompanying the book contains a LOT of material, including the whole textbook, with links to updates on developments that have occurred very recently, links between figures and topics in the text and animations; hyperlinks between all cross-links, glossary terms, and learning objectives; and other stuff. I will NOT hold you directly responsible for any of the material on the CD-ROM that is not in the text. The CD-ROM material can be perused at your discretion. It should be emphasized, however, that you might find your understanding of the material strongly enhanced by, say, looking at pictures and animations on the CD-ROM, so I want to encourage you to at least dabble in the CD-ROM as we cover each new topic.

Similarly, there is a World Wide Web site organized around the chapters and up-dated monthly (, that includes audio and animation clips, a collection of links to astronomy resources, and additional questions and exercises. Use of this site is entirely optional, and I will not assume that you have examined the site at all, EXCEPT for the use of the multiple choice self-testing module at that site. (Click on Astronomy Today 5/e, then "Study Guide".) A separate handout will be passed out listing specific suggested study guide questions.

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25 August 2006
Astronomy Program · The University of Texas at Austin · Austin, Texas 78712
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