Printable syllabus (pdf)
Unique Numbers: 47735, 47740, 47745
Classroom: RLM 13.132
This course is designed to provide you with hands-on
experience in the techniques of basic
astronomical observations. Along the way you will become familiar with the scientific
methodologies and analytical skills necessary to interpret data and make your own discoveries.
We hope to convey to you some of the excitement and satisfaction that we ourselves derive from
investigating and understanding the physical world around us, while simultaneously inspiring
and motivating you to do the same. We will observe the night sky using the naked eye,
binoculars, and small telescopes, as well as undertake indoor laboratory activities. In a typical
semester there is more cloudy weather than good weather, so we will generally spend a good
portion of the class doing indoor activities. The class is usually made up of students with diverse
science backgrounds but is generally oriented to non-science
Prerequisites and Corequisites
You must have credit for or be concurrently registered for either AST 301 or 307. You cannot
receive credit for both AST 103L and AST 101L, 302, or 303.
Required: Each student is required to have the following materials:
- Valid email address that you must check regularly
- Calculator with basic scientific functions
You should let your instructor know well in advance of class if you have trouble accessing the materials.
You should let your instructor know well in advance of class if you have trouble accessing the
Optional/Suggested: The following materials are not required but may be helpful to you during
the course of the semester.
- Planisphere (also called a starwheel; we recommend the 10" Miller Planisphere). We should have
enough of these in the lab but if you would like your own, they supposedly are for sale at the Co-Op.
- Flashlight with red filter. Useful for reading/writing in the dark.
- Meterstick or yardstick. We should have enough of these in the lab but feel free to bring your own.
programs such as Starry Night (http://www.starrynight.com; available on
our lab computers), Voyager (http://www.carinasoft.com/), Stellarium
(http://www.stellarium.sourceforge.net), or Celestia
latter two are freely available and are most highly recommended.
- Astronomical Calendar 2011 by Guy Ottewell (2011, Universal Workshop: Greenville,
- Peterson Field Guide to the Stars and Planets by Jay M. Pasachoff (2006, Houghton
Mifflin Company: New York) [mandatory for the serious amateur and some
- Colored pencils (for drawing what you observe)
- Your 301 (or 307) textbook
Course Format and Grading
This course will include both outdoor observing and in-class
laboratory activities. Each activity
will be graded based on your performance (see section on Collaboration), the quality of your
work, and your demonstrated understanding of the concepts involved. All setups,
tables, charts, graphs, conclusions, answers to questions, etc. must be recorded on the handout
for that lab. The final grade will be based on your cumulative performance over all labs. The
grading scale is provided below. Absolutely no incompletes will be given, no exceptions.
There are two required labs (see below) that are worth 35% of the final grade. The other regular
labs are worth 65% the final grade, with each being approximately 6%. There are no tests or
quizzes; there is no final exam.
If you do not earn >50% on a lab, you may rework it and have it graded again to earn back up to
half the missed points (e.g. a lab graded at 40% may be reworked to earn back up to 30%, for a
final grade of 70%). Each lab can be graded a maximum of two times: the initial attempt and a
Late Work: Typically, exercises are conducted in class and the lab report is due the following
week in class. Lab reports not turned in on time will be penalized by 5% the total grade for each
day it is tardy after the due date. In addition, any rework attempts are also due after one week.
Required Exercises: Most of activities will be conducted in class, but there are two exercises,
“Astronomical Motions I. Motions of the Night Sky” and “Astronomical Motions II. Celestial
Motions,” that require the student to apply basic and fundamental principles of observational
astronomy outside of class. These are considered required exercises because they exemplify the
foundation of the course. While Motions I is a regular lab that is due the week following its
assignment, Motions II is a longterm
observing exercise that requires the student to make
multiple observations of the sunset and moon over a specified period of time. These two
exercises are more heavily weighted than the other activities. Motions I and Motions II are
worth 15% and 20% the final grade, respectively. These labs are included in the grading scale
above. A student who does well on all the regular labs must still attempt both of these labs in
order to receive an A. The required labs should be treated seriously!
Blackboard is the course management software of the University of Texas at Austin
(http://courses.utexas.edu/). We will be using this
system as part of our class this semester. The
lab activities we do each week will be posted to the class website. We encourage you to
familiarize yourself with the lab activity before you arrive in class; the more prepared you are,
the more quickly and efficiently you will be able to complete the assignment. We will also use
this system to communicate with you; make sure your email address in the Blackboard system is
one that is current and checked regularly. Typically, you will receive one email a week from
your instructor indicating the plan for that week: which lab we plan to do, whether you should
come prepared to observe outside, etc. Because our activities are significantly affected by
weather and observing conditions, it is important for you to stay updated on what is going on.
All work must be your own. Plagiarism, collusion, and/or cheating will not be tolerated. Students
who violate University rules on scholastic dishonesty are subject to disciplinary penalties,
including the possibility of failure in the course and/or dismissal from the University. Since such
dishonesty harms the individual, all students, and the integrity of the University, policies on
scholastic dishonesty will be strictly enforced. You may work with others only under the
conditions described in the section “Collaboration”.
Science is a collaborative effort. Therefore, you are expected to work with your classmates,
share ideas, discover together, and learn from each other. However, you must adhere to the rules:
- Clearly indicate your partners’ name(s) at the beginning of all collaborative work;
- Distribute work fairly with each person making an equal contribution to all parts;
- Everyone writes his or her own notes, observations, calculations, reports, etc.;
- Everyone turns in his or her own lab report.
Attendance is mandatory. As a laboratory course with limited
meetings, you cannot afford to
miss class. All absences must be excused in advance, including religious holy days, which by
University policy require 14 days advance notification. Any unplanned absences must be taken
up with your instructor as soon as the situation arises. These will be evaluated on a case-by-case
basis. There is no excuse for failing to inform your instructor in a timely fashion. Unexcused and
excessive absences will adversely affect your grade. We will do our best to help you make up a
lab that you must miss for an excused reason, but because our activities are affected by weather,
we cannot guarantee you will be able to make up any specific lab.
Special equipment, including small telescopes, binoculars, cameras and developing equipment,
mirrors and lenses, and the like are available for some activities and to students wishing to
pursue advanced topics. You may check out some of this equipment from the Educational
Services Office (RLM 13.122). You are responsible for any equipment you check out. Contact
your instructor or Lara Eakins in the Educational Services Office at 471-1307
Two buildings on campus have rooftop telescopes available for public viewing, free to both
students and the general public. The RLM 16-inch
reflecting telescope is open on Wednesday
nights and the Painter Hall 9-inch
refractor is open on Friday and Saturday nights. Visit the
website at http://outreach.as.utexas.edu/public/viewing.html for the latest information.
The UT Astronomy Students’ Association (http://www.as.utexas.edu/~asa/) hosts star parties on
a roughly monthly basis (location TBD). Additionally, the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve
(http://www.wildbasin.org/) also holds public viewing nights. You are strongly encouraged to
attend star parties to gain more observing experience than time allows during class. Students
who have documented proof of attendance at any extracurricular stargazing opportunities will
receive proportional extra credit (ask your instructor first).
Information on astronomically interesting phenomena and local astronomy-related
well as updates of the RLM and Painter Hall observing schedules, can be obtained by calling the
UT Skywatcher’s Report at 471-5007.
Students With Disabilities
Any student with a documented disability who requires academic accommodations should
contact Services for Students with Disabilities at 471-6259
(voice) or 232-2937
(Video Phone) as
soon as possible to request an official letter outlining authorized accommodations.
Course Content and Schedule
The schedule of the class is determined by the weather each week. Below is a list of activities
that we may do over the course of the semester. We will not complete all of these activities.
- Introduction to Starry Night
- Angles and Parallax
- Revolution of the Moons of Jupiter
- Reflecting Telescopes
- Refracting Telescopes
- Properties of Telescopes
- Spectroscopy 101
- Hubble Redshift-Distance
- Determining the Velocity of a Comet
- Direct and Retrograde Motion
- Building a Deep Sky Database
- The Solar System
- Galactic Rotation
- Motions I: The Night Sky
- Motions II: Celestial Motions
- Targeted Observing Exercise 1
- Targeted Observing Exercise 2
- The Moon
- Properties of Telescopes