Astronomy 2110 - Fall 2013 - Course Details

Professor: Michael Skrutskie

General Philosophy: This course represents an introduction to astronomical application of physical law. Incoming students are expected to have some adeptness with basic physics (at the level of Physics 1610/20) and Calculus (at the level of Math 1210/20 or 1310/20). Deriving equations and cranking through results is an important foundation of this course, but it is not the ultimate objective. I'm hoping you will leave this classroom thinking like an astronomer (not like a student trying to master and manipulate equations). This sort of thinking involves intuitive comfort with the application of concepts and equations - choosing the right strategy for solution based on physical principles - as well as a capability for quick assessment of solutions based on order of magnitude calculations.

Textbook:The course will follow fairly closely the content of Foundations of Astrophysics by Ryden and Peterson. Astronomy 2110 will deal primarily with the first 12 chapters of this book as well has the relevant parts of Chapters 16 and 17 that support the understanding of the formation of the Solar System. The same textbook will be used for Astronomy 2120 which will emphasize the remaining chapters - Stars, Galaxies and Cosmology. Relevant readings in the text will be posted with each lecture summary, although it should be easy for you to recognize the supporting text for each lecture on your own. The lectures will emphasize a fraction of the material in the text. For exams I will be very clear about any portions of the text that need to be studied independently of the topics covered in the lecture presentations (with the expectation that this independent reading will be a small fraction of the course material). There will also be assigned web-based and other readings to supplement the material in the textbook.

Problem Sets: A number of problems reinforcing the lecture topics will be distributed on Friday each week. The problems will reflect material to be covered in class in the coming week. The problems will be due in class one week from the Monday following the distribution of the problem set. Late problem sets will be assessed a 20% penalty and will not be accepted after the end of the week in which it was due. The discussion session on the Friday preceding the Monday on which the problem set is due will provide an opportunity to ask specific questions about the problem sets while providing time to complete them over the weekend. Don't be surprised if there are open ended, fuzzy questions on the problem sets sometimes without a clear answer. That's the nature of real astronomy.

Exams: There are two in-class prelims during the semester which constitute 40% of the course grade. These exams will be based on the lecture content and reading. The exam content will reflect primarly the material covered in lecture (that is, I won't fish up obscure problems from the book). The exam may include short answer questions, one or two longer essays, and problems at a slightly less challenging level than the problem sets. The final exam will count 25% toward the final grade and be of similar format but with about 1.5 times the content of the in-class exams. The final exam will be drawn primarily from the last portion of the course but will have a small component reflecting the earlier material. Missed exams may only be made up upon the presentation of a reasonable written excuse. I will be the final arbiter of "reasonableness." If possible, please make arrangements for a make-up in advance of the examination. It is "unreasonable" to know in advance that you will be missing a test but only inform me afterward.

Teaching Assistant: We have a TA dedicated to the course (Sandy Liss, Sandy will direct Friday discussion sections with a focus on clarifying course material from the previous week and providing guidance toward completing the problem sets. Sandy is available for individual consulting. She may set fixed office hours or may make herself available by appointment.

Course Grade Breakdown:

Fridays:I am trying to schedule about 2.5 lecture's worth of material for each week of 3 lectures. Doing so provides a safety valve when covering material that runs longer than expected, but it also provides an opportunity for devotion a portion of the course to the latest developments in the field (for 2110 that means Planetary Science in particular). My hope is that some of this time will be spent in at the interface between popular articles (i.e. the Web) and journal papers. The goal in these discussions will be to expand your breadth in the field and thus your astronomical vocabularly, knowledge, and insight. Ideally you'll get to see some of the basic physical principles discussed in class in application at the cutting edge of the field.

Observing Activities:It is important to me that this course connect to the actual night sky. During the semester everyone must spend an evening at McCormick Observatory either by signing up for and execuiting the standard Telescope Observing laboratory or by attending a public night and providing your own brief freelance report of the the event (some of you may already be night assistants for public night at McCormick or spending a lot of time at McCormick with Astr 3130, so can creatively adapt you experience there). In addition, there will be several do-it-yourself observational challenges during the semester. All combined completing these activities will account for 10% of your final grade. You will turn in an "observing portfolio" at the end of the semester that covers these assignments - all meant to be fun and easy (as long as you keep up).

Course Notes: I will try to post notes for each lecture the afternoon of the lecture. A draft version of the notes will be posted before the lecture, but may not quite match what I show in class (which I will do my best to post as an update at the last minute before entering the classroom - recommendation, then, is to reload when class starts...).

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 and lecture notes 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.

Final Grading: Exams and problem set results, if they fall below a mean of 80% will be scaled so that their mean is close to 80%. I will similarly scale the final problem set totals. As a result your computed final course grade will correspond fairly closely to a 90-100=A range, 80-90=B range, etc grading system. Please don't regard these ranges as absolute as I will make some small adjustment in scaling to account for intangibles and to try to coordinate grading with previous semesters.

Extra credit: Extra credit is not available for this course.

Honor policy: Close collaboration on 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 an independent effort. The primary 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 and basic problem set question strategies with other students and collaborate in the preparation for exams.

Recordings: Under no circumstances may material recorded from class be posted online or distibuted by the recorder. Nor should class materials be re-posted elsewhere. You are welcome to make recordings (and print-outs of course material) for personal use, but I ask that you inform me that you are doing so.

Alternative Meeting Site: Should the classroom or building be unexpectedly closed the class will meet/reconvene in the area in mall area between the dorms directly across McCormick Road from the Chemistry Building.