Introduction to Astronomy
Summer 2002 Unique No. 90105 | MTWThF 10:00-11:30 pm | WEL 3.502

John Scalo
Office: R.L. Moore 17.2206
471-6446 (office), or 478-2748 (home)
Office Hours (subject to change): Monday and Tuesday afternoons, 1-3, or by appointment.
However I urge you to feel free to call me at my home or office, or to talk to
me after class (outside the classroom, if necessary); for short questions
there is usually no need for you to walk all the way to my office.

Zhaohui Shang
Office: RLM 17.312
Office hours (subject to change): Tuesday and Thursday 2-4.

This syllabus is tentative and is intended for general information purposes only. The professor reserves the right to change or alter this syllabus at any time in order to fit the needs of the class.

Chaisson, E. and McMillan, S. Astronomy Today, 4th Edition
It is important that you purchase the 4th Edition.

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 1of 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 focussed on a verbal-level presentation and understanding of the material.

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, although I will often tell you in lecture which parts of the text you can skip or are of minor interest. Similarly, there are a few subjects 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 may be taken directly from lecture material.

Since reading is all you have to do in this course (besides trying the 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 happened since this edition was published, links between figures and topics in the text and animations; hyperlinks between all cross-links, glossary terms, and learning objectives; and interactive self-scoring end-of-chapter tests. I will NOT hold you directly responsible for any of the material on the CD-ROM that is not in the text, EXCEPT for the interactive multiple-choice questions, which I think are of high quality and should be a very useful guide to the types of questions you will encounter on the exam. The rest of 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. However you may find the additional sample questions of interest in reviewing and self-testing.

In general, I am hoping that your performance in and enjoyment of this class should not depend significantly on whether or not you have easy access to a computer. But I also want to allow all of you access to the additional features that are available through your textbook using a computer, if you wish to use them. So if you don’t have access to a computer (your own or a friend’s), obtain a university computer account and learn to use the facilities at the Student Microcomputing Facility in the Undergraduate Library (UGL) as soon as possible if you haven’t already.

Finally, summer session students need to recognize that you are in a special situation. The advantage is that daily exposure to the material usually results in better comprehension and better grades than in long semesters. However because of the accelerated pace and weekly exams, getting behind in the reading or missing lectures can be disastrous. Also, there may not be enough time to cover everything in lecture, so in some cases you will be responsible for text material not discussed in class.

Because of the large number of topics included in “astronomy” and the finite length of the semester, I have decided to omit several chapters that consist of discussions of objects in our solar system (chapters 6-15), and to not discuss the history of astronomy, except in ways that I will make clear in class. Students are urged to skim through the chapters on the solar system if just to look at the pictures; the reading is easy and, if interested, you can easily read it on your own. But that material is not assigned reading and you will not be tested on it. We will also probably omit Ch.28 (extraterrestrial life and intelligence), depending on how much time is left at the end of the semester; take AST 309L for a full-semester treatment of this subject.
We need to first develop the background physical principles that will be used to understand observations and theories. This might be the most crucial part of the course, because it may seem dry and difficult, but much of your later success in understanding the material will depend on how comfortable you are with these basic physical concepts. So probably the most important advice for this course is to NOT get behind in the reading and self-testing for the first part of the course, especially chapters 3 and 4 on the topic of light.

Here is a list of the reading assignments for each of the five exams. I suggest you copy this to a separate sheet and keep it handy. However because we only have about four lectures per exam, and there may be unforeseen circumstances, you should consider this list tentative; if the reading schedule is changed, it will be announced prominently in class.

Exam 1
Chapters 1 (basics), 2 (gravity, orbits,...), 3 (radiation), 4 (spectroscopy). Also see Appendices 1 and 2 at the end of the textbook. Chapters 3 and 4 are especially important for later chapters.

Exam 2
Chapters 5 (telescopes), 16 (the Sun), 17 (properties of stars), 18 (the interstellar gas and dust).
Exam 3
Chapters 19 (the birth and early evolution of stars), 20-22 (stellar evolution and death).
Exam 4
Chapters 23 (Milky Way galaxy), 24 (normal galaxies).
Exam 5
Chapters 25 (peculiar galaxies, if time permits), 26 (cosmology), 27 (the early universe)

I will detail in class and/or in handouts which material you will not be responsible for. This occurs mainly for chapters 1 and 2; we will read nearly all of the remaining chapters that are in the above list.


100% of your grade will be based on 5 exams (tentatively: one every Wednesday, starting with the 2nd Wednesday of the course), all of which will be weighted equally. There will be no comprehensive final. The exams will consist entirely of multiple choice questions. I will try to prepare you for the nature of the exam questions by occasionally giving sample questions during lectures, by trying to point out the types of information that I expect you to understand or remember, and by assigning homework that emphasizes the concepts most important for the exam. There is an excellent interactive self-testing part of the the CD-ROM accompanying the text that I urge you to use, since the exam questions will be of that form, and some will be taken from this source..

There is homework in this class, but it won’t be turned in. Instead the homework consists of a subset of the questions at the end of each chapter and especially on the interactive self-testing part of the CD-ROM. The purposes of the homework are to give you a way of testing your understanding of the material, to provide a guide to the most important concepts, and to force you to keep up with the material. Although the homework will not be turned in or graded, you will find that your exam grades suffer significantly if you do not attempt to work through these assignments.

Final grades will be assigned on the basis of:

A 87-100
B 78-86.9
C 67-77.9
D 55-66.9
F <55

Just under the cutoff?
If at the end of the semester you are just under the cutoff for a grade (by, say, one, or two, or 0.3, percentage points), whether you are just under a D, say, or an A, do not call Prof. Scalo asking him to lower the cutoff--this is unfair to all concerned. Cut-offs will not be lowered to accomodate your individual score.

Special requests
If you have any special request of any sort (excluding those not allowed, like lowering the grade cutoff), please put the request in writing. Please compose a written (or email) document, addressed to Prof. Scalo, clearly and explicitly stating your request and why it is reasonable. Include a phone number so that I can contact you about your request.

Obviously (I hope) this procedure does not apply to minor requests such as “Could you write a little larger on the board?,” etc.

Dropping the course
See the Course Schedule, Summer 2002.

An incomplete (X) will only be considered for students who cannot complete the required course work for reasons other than lack of diligence (illness or other imperative nonacademic reasons), but only if the student has a passing grade on the work completed.

Academic dishonesty will result in failure of the course and a report to the Dean of Students, who will decide on further action.

Students interested in observing the night sky through small telescopes have several opportunities, but only during the Fall and Spring semesters. 1.) The Painter Hall Observatory has UT Student/Staff Night on Fridays from 9:30 to 10:30. Public Night is on Saturdays, 8:30 to 10:30. These sessions are free and open to all ages; no reservations are required. If you have questions, call 471-3000 (general Astronomy Dept. phone) and ask. 2.) The Astronomy Department sponsors weekly “Star Parties” on the 17th floor observing deck of R.L.Moore Hall 30 minutes after sunset (8pm) on Wednesdays this fall. This is free and open to the public. (These times may change in the future-call the astronomy department 471-3000 or see The Astronomy Outreach website for more information.

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23 April 2002
UT Astronomy Program • The University of Texas at Austin • Austin, Texas 78712
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