Astronomy 1210 - Section 2 - Spring 2012 - Course Details

Professor: Michael Skrutskie

Teaching Assistants: The TA schedule for the night labs is posted and updated at A support TA will be assigned to this specific section of Astronomy 1210 and that information can be found on the course home page. You may contact the TA to set up an appointment to review course material or for help with the on-line computer labs (should you choose to do one for extra credit). In general, the TA's are available to assist with the understanding of the course material and the execution of the labs. All inquiries about grading or other policy issues need to be directed to the professor. If the night labs are clouded out a TA will be on duty from 9:00 - 10:00 p.m. to answer general questions about course material or about the on-line observing labs. The location of this "floating" TA will be posted on the front doors to the Astronomy building closest to the night lab area.

Labs: Upon registering for the course you are automatically enrolled into 'no-credit' sections of the 'Sky Lab' and 'Day Lab'. This registration entitles you to conduct the required Telescope Observing lab and other optional labs for credit or extra-credit. The schedule for these labs, including a detailed description, is available at Please read this page carefully.

Course Grade Breakdown:


Course Notes: An extensive series of web-based lecture notes accompanies this course. These notes distill the primary topics which are the basis of the exams. The exams, however, are not based entirely on the lecture notes, but also cover material from the assigned readings and from lectures.

The notes for each lecture can be found at the Lecture Notes link on the course home page. As with the readings, the notes for the subsequent lecture will be posted at the time of the current lecture. Some of these lecture notes will be revised in advance of the lecture. With these notes available, students should be able to spend more time listening instead of frantically taking notes during class. Some students might find it ideal to print out notes in advance of class so that they can make minor annotations during class.

Exams: There are three in-class exams during the semester which constitute 55% of the course grade. These exams will be based on the lecture content and reading. A review session will be scheduled prior to each exam and a study guide will be made available to aid in preparation for the test. The test will be composed of both multiple choice and short answer questions. The multiple choice questions will constitute approximately 75% of any given test.

The final exam will count 25% toward the final grade. The final consists of two parts: First, a midterm-like exam covering the last quarter of the course; Second, a cumulative component which will contain multiple choice questions taken verbatim from the semester exams. All four exams will be graded on a 100 total point scale. Missed exams may only be made up upon the presentation of a reasonable written excuse. The professor will be the final arbiter of "reasonableness." If possible, please make arrangements for a make-up in advance of the examination. Barring extraordinary circumstances, you may only make up one test during the semester.

Course Home Page: The course home page at is kept current and provides access to virtually every detail of the course. It also provides reference to a variety of websites which provide supporting information. The Home Page provides links to the following course resources:

The Department of Astronomy's home page at provides another rich resource for information related to the Department's courses and research, as well as Astronomy at large.

Lecture Attendance: Attendance at lectures is not mandatory, however there is a clear positive correlation between student attendance and course grades. If you must miss a lecture the readings will largely help fill in the missing details, but you are also encouraged to stop by office hours or inquire after class to review the missing material. More importantly, 10% of the course grade is based on "wild-card" assignments. The majority of these assignments will take place during the class time.

Final Grading: Because all of the examinations are scaled, your exam grades and final exam grade can be estimated from your point total (out of a possible 100 points) from a standard 98-100=A+ 93-98=A 90-93=A- 88-90=B+... grading system. I will scale the final letter grades to make the course grade distribution consistent with the previous semesters in which this course has been offered, so the ranges above are an approximate guide.

Extra credit: Extra credit is not available on a case-by-case basis. Instead, everybody uniformly is permitted to complete one of several lab exercises for up to 3% additional course credit. Note that completing more than one additional lab does not earn additional credit. Three percent is the maximum extra credit bonus. See the lab web pages for details.

Course Level and Pre-requisites: This course satisfies 3 hours of the College Natural Sciences Area Requirement. It is a descriptive and qualitative introduction to Astronomy designed for liberal arts students. There are no pre-requisites. No prior exposure to college-level science or math is assumed. You will, however, be asked to develop a quantitative perspective on astronomical topics. You will need to be comfortable expressing numbers in scientific notation. Equations governing some of the topics will be introduced, but will be discussed in a mainly qualitative way. For example, if one quantity in an equation is doubled, by how much does one of the other quantities change in response.

Honor policy: Collaboration of any kind on any submitted work in this course is expressly forbidden (except were explicitly stated in the assignment) . All work must be pledged, and your pledge will be taken to signify a completely independent effort. The only help you should seek in completing an assignment should be from the professor or the TA's. Writing the word "pledged" on an assignment or exam will be interpreted as shorthand for the complete statement of responsibility. Despite this admonition, you are strongly encouraged to discuss the course material with other students and collaborate in the preparation for exams.

Cell Phones: Please note that the University has adopted an explicit policy that cell phones be turned off during a class.

Recordings: Under no circumstances may material recorded from class be posted online or distibuted by the recorder. You are welcome to make recordings for personal use, but I ask that you inform me that you are doing so.

Alternative Meeting Site: Should the classroom our building be unexpectedly closed the class will meet/reconvene in the area in front of Thorton Hall (the next building to the North of Clark Hall, across Emmet Street).

Class/Exam Schedule and Topics