Astronomy 301: Unique number 47520

Introduction to Astronomy. Instructor: John Scalo

Classroom and time: Welch Hall 3.502, MWF 9-10.

Course web site:
Nearly all materials will be sent via Blackboard email, but you can access them this site as well.

Textbook web site: (course “name” is MASCALO83076)


John Scalo
Phone: 471-6446 (office), or 478-2748 (home)

Office: RLM 15.318


Office hours: TBA (see below)

My schedule is probably more flexible than yours, so if those times interfere with classes or work, just tell me a time that would be convenient if you need to talk to me about course material. If you don’t have a 10am class, we can also talk outside the classroom (in the foyer) after class. For short questions there is usually no need for you to walk all the way to my office. I welcome phone calls at home—it is an extremely efficient way for us to communicate while a particular question or problem is on your mind. I usually cannot give adequate answers to questions by email, so I’d appreciate it if you only send email if you have non-subject matter comments that do not require a reply; especially welcome are any suggestions or criticisms as the semester progresses (e.g. “You tend to mumble” or “I can’t read your handwriting on the board” etc.).

Teaching Assistant:

Julie Hollek


Materials: The only items you need to purchase are the textbook and some #2 pencils. I will assume you have convenient access to the internet, and that you check your email regularly.

Textbook: Chaisson, E. and McMillan, S. Astronomy Today (with Access Code), 7th Edition, Vol. 2, Stars and Galaxies. ISBN: 9780321718655.

It is crucial that you purchase the seventh edition, and that you buy volume 2 of the two-volume version, which comes bundled with an online access code (called “Mastering Astronomy” by the publishers). To compensate for the steep price of the one-volume textbook, I am using only the second volume of the twovolume version, but this will require that students study for one of the exams using the textbook web site—so you do need the “Mastering Astronomy” access. (Details later.) Basically, you purchase an expensive text, but only have to buy half of it, however for ¾ the price.

The Co-op carries the correct (new) textbook, and I suggest you purchase it as quickly as possible. Since it is a new book, you can return this book for full value if you decide to drop the course. The price listed is $89.40, or $80.46 after annual Co-op Rebate.

I have found it impossible to purchase a used version online or anywhere else without incurring serious expense or without having part of the course materials. You can find a used 7th edition online for low price, but it will not have the access code, so you’ll have to purchase an access code online (at the Pearson web site), which costs about $50. Do not trust sellers who list a used 7th edition as having the access code—as far as I know that is impossible. Also, the earlier edition (6th) will be seriously misaligned with the current edition (wrong subsection and page numbes, etc.), and will likewise not have an access code. Finally, you should not buy the Astronomy Today one-volume version, which is much more expensive than our v.2 of the two-volume version. For the first week or two, a couple of copies will be on reserve in PMA Library (24th and Dean Keaton, ground floor).

-->It is important, once you have the book, that you take time to look through it, to see the layout, level of math, and generally get familiar with what this course is about, before we begin with specific material. Trust me that it will be beneficial to “get the feel” of the book before diving into details.

The course in a nutshell: 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 is on description of astronomical phenomena, how astronomical observations are performed and interpreted, and theories for the evolution of various astronomical objects. We will cover a broad range of phenomena, from our solar system, to other stars and extrasolar planets, to galaxies and the universe at the largest scales. I strongly urge you to flip through your textbook at your earliest convenience to get a good overview of the subject matter.

The pattern of lectures and exams is 5 in-class lecture periods, then an exam. I will send you a review sheet 2-3 days before each exam. Starting with the second exam, we will have review sessions on the day before the exam, Tues. 4:45-5:45, except for the last exam (review on Thursday). There is no comprehensive final, but there will be an optional comprehensive final for extra credit (replaces lowest score) given on the final exam day. There are also pop quizzes and a homework assignment, described below.

Course Prerequisites: None. Math usage is very minimal, but you will have to be able to deal with some very small and large numbers, and be able to understand some graphs. The emphasis is on understanding the ideas and concepts, rather than solving problems. The most useful asset to bring to this class would be an interest in astronomy--part of my job is to help you develop a genuine interest in the material.

Grading: 75% of your grade is based on 7 exams, 15% on pop-quizzes, 10% on homework. Details of these are given on the next page. There is no comprehensive final. You will be offered an optional comprehensive final as extra credit—it will replace your lowest exam score (but not a zero—you must take all exams).

Final letter grades. Plus/minus grades are now mandatory in UT classes. Final grades in our class will be assigned on the following basis (numbers refer to your final percentage average over the exams, quizzes, and homework):

A+ = 96-100, A = 90-95.9, A- = 87-89.9
B+ = 84-86.9, B = 80-83.9, B- = 77-79.9
C+ = 74-76.9, C = 70-73.9, C- = 67-69.9
D+ = 64-66.9, D = 60-63.9, D- = 57-59.9
F = below 57.0

Final percentages will not be “rounded up.” 86.87 is a B+, not an A-.

Just under the cutoff? The optional comprehensive final is a feasible way to increase your final grade by ½ to 1 letter grade. If at the end of the semester you are just under the cutoff for a grade, by any amount, do not ask me to lower the cutoff--this is unfair to all concerned. Cutoffs will not be lowered to accommodate your individual score. At the end of the semester I review all student scores carefully before deciding on final grades, and usually end up being generous about borderline cases, when they are truly borderline and no other students are unfairly affected.

Departmental policies: Please download and read the “Memo to Undergraduate Astronomy Students regarding Astronomy Courses” at if you did not receive it in class.

Special requests: Students with disabilities may request appropriate accommodations for the exams or more general accommodations from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Servies for Students with Disabilities, 471-6259,

If you have any other special request of any sort (excluding those not allowed, like lowering the grade cutoff), please put the request in writing, preferably by email, or call me on the phone. Please state clearly and explicitly 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 stop twitching so much during your lectures?” Such requests or comments are useful and welcome . Any suggestions for improvement of the class as we proceed will be greatly appreciated--an email is usually the easiest way.

Attendance: You will not be graded explicitly on your attendance except insofar as it affects your exam and quiz scores. 1. The exams are weighted toward the lecture material, as well as the textbook readings, so attendance is beneficial. 2. Frequent absences will affect your earned points on pop quizzes (10% of grade). In a sense, the pop quizzes are random takings of attendance.

Dropping the course (see General Information, ch.4, for details of required approvals, and authoritative documentation of the dates given here). I list a few important dates here.
Monday Aug. 29 is the last day of the official add/drop period; after this you need approval of the department chair and usually the student’s dean. The 12th class day, Friday, Sept 9, is the last day to add or drop courses and receive a refund. Tuesday Nov. 1 (49th class day) is the last day to Q drop without urgent and substantiated nonacademic reasons (e.g. extended health-related problems or family emergencies).

Incompletes: 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.

Cheating: Academic dishonesty will result in failure of the course and a report to the Dean of Students, who will decide on further action. Depending on the size of this class relative to the number of seats, you will be asked to sit at least one seat apart during exams. Also, bring your UT ID card with you to exams and be prepared to show this card if asked. There will be no speaking during pop quizzes, and the homework log must be verifiably original, and written in your own words.

Student observing opportunities (schedule is tentative—see for official schedule and updates). Students interested in observing the night sky through small telescopes have several opportunities. 1. The Painter Hall Observatory (24th E. of Guadalupe) has UT Student/Staff Night on Fridays and Public Night is on Saturdays. These sessions are free and open to all ages; no reservations are required. 2. The Astronomy Department sponsors weekly “Star Parties” on the 18th floor observing deck of R.L. Moore Hall 30 minutes after sunset on Wednesdays. This is free and open to the public. Call 471-5007 for a list of all Astronomy Department public events, since the schedule may have changed. The list of events is preceded by a description of the current night sky. Call 232-4265 for weather cancellation information.

Exams, quizzes, and homework

Exams: 75% of your grade will be based on 7 exams (about one every two weeks, beginning with Exam 1, Friday, Sept. 9). All exams will be weighted equally except that your lowest exam score will only receive a weight of 1/2 compared to the others. So you have to take all the exams, but if you have an off day (or week, etc.) it won’t hurt your final grade too much. The topics and dates of the exams are listed on the last page of this syllabus. There will be no comprehensive final. However there will be an optional comprehensive final that is offered as extra credit for those who think they can benefit from it at the end of the semester. Details will be provided separately.

Exam description. The exams will consist entirely of multiple-choice questions, usually 25-40 of them. I will prepare you for the nature of the exam questions by occasionally giving sample questions during lectures, by pointing out the types of information that I expect you to understand or remember, and giving examples on review sheets. There is a good multiple choice interactive self-testing part of the textbook (Mastering Astronomy) web site that I urge you to use, since the exam questions will be of that form, and some will be taken from this source. I will suggest which questions to try as we finish each chapter. You need an access code, which accompanies every new textbook, in order to use this feature of the textbook (click on “Study Area” button in the upper right part of the Mastering Astronomy web page).

Special circumstances. In case of medical or other non-academic emergencies or situations, contact me (and the TA) as early as possible--it should be possible for you to take an exam a day or so early or late in these cases (but not for academic reasons). For observance of religious holy days that interferes with an exam day, you must notify me of your pending absence at least fourteen days prior to the date of the exam. You will be given an opportunity to take the exam on an alternate day. For students with other special concerns, such as athletes who need to be out of town on the day of an exam, or students who need special accommodation, please notify me as early as possible so that we can make alternative arrangements. UT rules specify the 12th class day as a deadline for these cases, but I realize that special circumstances may arise. We make an extra effort to be sure that no student is unfairly penalized for circumstances that could not be foreseen, so be sure to contact me and the TA in such cases, even if it is the day of an exam.

Students with disabilities may request appropriate academic accommodations for the exams or more general accommodations from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Servies for Students with Disabilities, 471-6259,

Receiving your exam grades. We will return exam grades through the UT Blackboard system, hopefully within one or two days of the day of the exam. You will turn in your exam when you turn in your scantron answer sheet, but can compare your answers with an exam marked with correct answers, located at the back of the classroom, a couple of days later. For this reason, you should record your answers (e.g. 15a, 16d, …) on a separate piece of paper before you turn in the exam. A few days after each exam, take time to carefully compare your answers with the correct answers—this is often good preparation for the next exam.

Quizzes: I will give a series of short (~ 2-3 min) quizzes at the beginning of some classes that will consist of simple questions covering the material you should have read before class, and/or that was covered in the previous lecture. Fifteen percent of your grade will be based on quizzes. Expect about 10-14 of these through the semester. You will just turn in a piece of your own paper with your name and answer—usually only a few words will do. These quizzes will be coarsely graded as 3 (exceptionally clear answer), 2 (adequate answer), 1 (you answered, but incorrect), or 0 (not turned in).

The quizzes are intended to force you to keep up with the reading (difference between a 1 and 2), and also to attend class (difference between a 0 and anything larger). Attendance is often a problem at 9am, but it is undeniably difficult to do well without being there for most of the lectures—reading ahead and attending class offers you an opportunity to increase your grade significantly through the pop quizzes, but it is equally valuable for enhancing your exam scores. I project that the quizzes will make a significant difference (e.g. between a B and a B+ or B-) for most of the students, either in a positive or negative sense, and a full letter grade for perhaps 10-20% of the class. Remember that this is 15 percent of your grade, more than one letter grade, so you cannot afford to miss more than a few of them before having a (slightly) negative effect.

Homework: The homework for this class will consist of choosing, for each chapter we cover, one or two relevant images from an online source of astronomical images, and writing a few sentences about your choice that is relevant to the material being covered in the course. Note that the image and your sentences must be relevant to the material in the course. You will have to understand enough to type in a search word at:
You will keep your short writings on each image in a “log” or “journal” that will be turned in twice during the semester (dates will be announced later). This type of homework assignment is meant to help keep the material fresh in your mind. I recommend doing this soon after you finish reading each chapter. Postponing until just before it is due defeats the purpose, which is to help you become more comfortable with the topics covered on each exam. The grade on these “logs” will contribute 10% to your final grade.

The reading and exam schedule is on the next page, followed by a course description and suggestions.

AST 301 Fall 2011: Introduction to Astronomy (Scalo)
Reading and Exam Schedule

Here is a list of the reading assignments and dates for each of the seven exams (given during the normal class period and classroom--bring a #2 pencil.). I suggest you keep a copy with your textbook. If the reading schedule is changed slightly, it will be announced prominently in class and by class email. Note: The exams are all on Wednesdays except for the first and the last (Friday).

Note: All quizzes (not listed here) will be at the beginning of class, and unannounced.

The pattern of lectures and exams is 5 in-class lecture periods, then an exam. I will send you a review sheet 2-3 days before each exam. Starting with the second exam, we will have review sessions on the day before the exam, Tues. 4:45-5:45, except for the last exam (review on Thursday).

There is no comprehensive final. There is an optional comprehensive final for extra credit (replaces lowest score) given on the final exam day.

Exam 1. Chapters 1 (basics 8/26), 2 (history, gravity, orbits,...8/29, 8/31), 3 (radiation, except we will postpone sec. 3.5 on the Doppler effect for exam 2; 9/2, 9/7) Also see Appendices 1 and 2 at the end of the textbook. Chapter 3 is especially important for later chapters.

In Ch. 1 you will only be tested on sections 1.1, 1.3, and 1.6. In Ch. 2 you should read sec. 2.2, 2.3, but the concentration will be on sections 2.5 through 2.8. We will cover all of Ch. 3 (except postponing 3.5).

Date of exam: Friday, Sept 9 (Note: No class on Monday Sept --Labor Day)

Exam 2. Sec. 3.5 (Doppler effect 9/12; Chapter 4 (spectroscopy, 9/12, 9/14), 5 (telescopes, 9/16, 9/19). Chapter 4 is especially important for later chapters, and is usually difficult for students.

Date of exam: Wednesday, Sept 21

Exam 3. Chapters 6 (survey of the solar system, 9/23, 9/26) and 15 (formation of the solar system, 9/28, 9/30), extra material on extrasolar planets 10/3.

[This material is available only online at the textbook website, not in your hardcopy (v.2) textbook. Note that we are skipping chaps.7-14 covering details of the solar system.]

Date of exam: Wednesday, October 5

Exam 4. Chapters 16 (Sun, 10/7, 10/10); we will skip secs. 16.4, 16.5.

17 (properties of stars, 10/10, 10/12, 10/14)

18 (the interstellar gas and dust, 10/14, 10/17); we will skip secs. 18.2, 18.3.

Date of exam: Wednesday, October 19

Exam 5. Chapters 19, 20 (not 20.6), and 21 (Formation of stars, stellar evolution and death. 10/26-10/31).

Date of exam: Wednesday, November 2

Exam 6. Chapters 22 (neutron stars, black holes, gamma-ray bursts, 11/4),

23 (Milky Way galaxy, 11/4); we will skip 23.7,

24 (other galaxies, 11/7, 11/9); we will skip 24.4, 24.5.

Date of exam: Wednesday, November 16

Exam 7. Chapters 25 (galaxies and dark matter, 11/18) 26 (cosmology, 11/21, 11/28) and 27 (the early universe 11/28, 11/30). [Wed 11/23 and Fri 11/25 are Thanksgiving holidays]

Date of exam: Friday, December 2 (last class day)

I will explain in class and/or in emails if there is material for which you will not be responsible. This occurs mainly for chapters 1 and 2 (see above), but also a few subsections in later chapters.

-->Ask me questions about anything that is unclear, or not covered, in this syllabus. Course description and some suggestions for success follow.

Course Description and Suggested Study Approaches

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 is on description of astronomical phenomena, how astronomical observations are performed and interpreted, and theories for the evolution of various astronomical objects. The mathematical level is very low in this course--I do not believe manipulation of formulas demonstrates understanding. However you will encounter a few important but simple formulas in the text whose understanding will be essential in later sections of the course, so please don’t interpret this paragraph as suggesting that you should ignore the important equations!

You should get used to seeing very large and small numbers expressed in “scientific notation” (be sure to read Appendix 1 of the text, at the end of the book, or at the web site, on this; for example, “Our galaxy contains about 1011 stars.”). It will also be very helpful to develop a comfort with looking at graphs. However most of the emphasis in this class will be focused on a verbal-level presentation and understanding of the material.

You are expected to keep up with the material. In particular, I would like to assume that you have tried to look over the relevant text material before the corresponding lecture, so that the lecture can serve as a concentrated review and clarification. If you are coming to class “cold,” without having skimmed the material in the text, you will find yourself at a disadvantage. The pop quizzes that will be given at the beginning of some classes are meant to encourage you to follow this path.

Suggestions for success: Read ahead, in the textbook, before each lecture, even if it is merely to skim the relevant pages and look at the pictures. Besides preparing you for the lecture, it will prepare you for the pop quizzes. Bring a printout of the outline of lectures to class, and take notes to include the additional material from lectures. You will find it difficult to do well on the exams if you only study the textbook and pdf outline. Ask me questions in class if something is not clear or if you are just curious about something. Most importantly, look at or think or talk about the course material as often as possible, even if it means 15 minutes every day--familiarity is remarkably important for understanding a subject conceptually. Finally, attempt to talk about the material, to yourself or someone else, or an inanimate object if necessary. My experience is that students who can explain the material in everyday language do well on my exams. The subset of students who think they have studied hard and understood the material and nevertheless do much more poorly than expected on exams are almost always those who cannot articulate the material themselves. The biggest single danger in this course, as in most courses, is to fall far enough behind, either through lack of reading or spotty attendance, that you cannot ever really understand the material being covered. A related danger is to study the material infrequently and irregularly (e.g. once per week). Subsequent chapters will almost certainly seem obscure, and the effect becomes seriously cumulative if you allow this state of affairs early in the semester, when we cover the most “physics-oriented” material that you will need throughout the rest of the book. I realize that all instructors probably say this about not falling behind, but it is one of the most important factors in controlling your success in most classes, and probably the most important factor in this one.

The textbook: I have used this textbook many times, and have stayed with it partly because its writing is clear (as far as science writing can be clear), and because of its visual materials. As soon as possible, please spend an hour leafing through the whole textbook so that you have a feel for the kinds of topics we will cover, and the level of detail that you will encounter. Also, to repeat, we are using vol.2 of the 2-volume 7th edition, with a 7th edition access code that will allow you to read chapters 7 and 14 online (as well as access interactive multiple choice sample questions).

The textbook website contains a lot of material, including links to recent developments, between figures and topics in the text and animations, to external sites; lists of glossary terms, learning objectives; and other stuff. I will not hold you directly responsible for any of this material not in the textbook (with an exception below). The website material can be perused at your discretion. Some students do report their understanding of the material strongly enhanced by, say, looking at pictures and animations, so I encourage you to dabble around at the web site as we cover each new topic.

We will use the multiple choice self-testing module at the Mastering Astronomy web site. A separate handout will be passed out listing specific suggested study guide questions for the first few exams. Some of these, perhaps in somewhat different form, will appear on each exam. A few additional “homework” questions may be assigned for each exam--none of these are turned in. If they’re on the exam, you’ll get them correct.

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John Scalo

RLM 15.318 · (512) 471-6446 · email

Office Hours


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Julie Hollek