ASTRONOMY 110G - Sections M02,M03,M04 - Fall 2013 - Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Jon Holtzman

Office: Department of Astronomy, Room 102

Office hours: By appointment, but generally available: immediately after class is a good time

Phone: 646-8181


Web information:, available directly or through Canvas (

Class time: 11:30-12:20 Monday, Wednesday and Friday, in Biology Annex 102

Lab time: EITHER Monday 3:30-5:30 pm, Tuesday 1:30-3:30 pm, OR Tuesday 3:30-5:30 pm in Biology Annex 102. The lab is part of the class and comprises a significant part of the total grade.

Campus Observatory: you will need to visit the campus observatory twice during the semester; it will be open from 9-10 pm two days each week (Monday and Wednesday). See attached Observatory information pages; more details will be given in lab.

Teaching Assistants: Sten Hasselquist,, Astronomy Room 108, phone 646-6328, office hours Thurs 2:30-3:30 or by appointment; Laura Mayorga,, Astronomy Room 110, phone 646-2107, office hours Tues 3:30-4:30 or by appointment. Both TAs have mailboxes in Astronomy Room 101.

Textbook/supplementary materials: There is no required textbook for this class. However, you will likely be asked to find material to read on the web, on which you may be questioned in class. In general, the lecture material defines the class, which is why class attendance is important.

Class notes are available on the class web site, and are probably your most valuable resource for reviewing and previewing what we do in class.

Lab text: AY 110G Lab Manual. This is required, and you must bring it (at least the appropriate lab) to every lab class. We will discuss options for obtaining it in class and lab.

Grades will be based on:

Homework 15%
In class questions 5%
Lab reports 30%
Midterm 1 12.5%
Midterm 2 12.5%
Project/paper 5%
Final 20%

A total grade of 90% will guarantee you an A, 80% a B, and 70% a C, although it is possible that the cutoffs will be a bit lower than these. Most likely, a minimum grade of 50-60% will be required to barely pass the class.

As discussed below, ``clickers" will be distributed free-of-charge for the semester. These must be returned at the end of the semester: failure to return or replace these will result in your receiving an INCOMPLETE for the class, until the situation is rectified.

Attendance policy: Attendance at every lecture is highly recommended. This is especially true since we will not be following a specific textbook. Attendance will be taken at each lecture, and may be factored into your in-class question grade (see below). When you come to class, you are expected to be polite with respect to other, e.g., no cell phones or talking in class, except when discussing class material.



General goals

The main goal of this class is that you will be more interested and knowledgeable about astronomy and the process of science when you leave this class than when you started it.

General education goals

This class satisfies the New Mexico general education requirement for a laboratory science. This requirement is designed to help students become competent in the following five areas:

The class is designed to attempt to educate in these areas through examples in astronomy. Of course, we also hope that students come away from the class with increased interest and knowledge in general astronomy!

Many of the core competencies are addressed through the laboratory section, so students are urged to spend some time and effort thinking about the labs and handing in assignments that reflect this thought.

Content goals

The class is split up into five main sections, as listed below. Some of the questions we will address in each section are also given:

  1. Introduction: Science and Astronomy Why is astronomy interesting and relevant? What is the scientific process? What is the difference between astronomy and astrology?
  2. Motions in the sky: astronomy by eye. How do the Sun and stars appear to move through the sky, and why? Why do we have seasons? How does the Moon appear to move through the sky, and why does the moon have phases? What is an eclipse? How do planets appear to move through the sky, and why? How do we know that the Earth and planets revolve around the Sun? What were the historical steps that led to this knowledge?
  3. Overview of the Universe. What are all of the different objects in the Universe, and roughly how far away are they? How do astronomers look back in time? How do astronomical objects move through space? What is the size, shape, and age of the universe?
  4. The physical basis of astronomy: gravity and light. Why do objects in the Solar System move as they do? How does gravity work? How can we use our understanding of orbits to measure masses of objects in the Universe? What are the masses of different object? What is dark matter and why do we think it is there? What is light, how is it produced, and what can it tell us about the objects that produce it? Why do we use telescopes and how do they work?
  5. Interesting questions in astronomy. Why are the compositions of the planets different from each other, and why are they different from stars? What is it like on the other inner planets compared to Earth? Where might we find life in the Solar System? What determines the surface temperature of a planet? What is the greenhouse effect? Is there any evidence for find life in the Solar System? Is there intelligent life in the Universe? What do we know about planets around other stars? How do stars produce energy? Where do the elements come from?


Lab Description

Lab is comprised of weekly indoor labs and two visits to the campus observatory over the course of the semester. The lab sections are taught and run by the TAs; if you have questions about labs or lab policies, consult with them first, but the professor has ultimate responsibility for both class and labs, so feel free to come to him/her if you have any unresolved issues.

Indoor Labs

Lab sessions are scheduled for two hours each week. To increase your understanding and efficiency, you must read the labs before coming to the lab session. Some introductory questions may be asked to make sure you're doing this reading.

LAB ACTIVITIES (65 points): This section is completed in groups. You will work in groups of 3-4 people in the lab to answer questions from lab materials. Each group will hand in a single write-up of these questions with the names of all of the group members. Please try to write things up neatly: illegible handwriting cannot be graded. These writeups should be handed in at the end of the lab session.

SUMMARY: (35 points): This section is to be completed on an individual basis. What we are looking for in a summary is a description of what you learned (or did not learn) from the lab; it can also include your opinion of the lab, addressing both positive and negative points. Most labs also include some questions at the end that might provide some guidelines about what you might talk about in the summary. Summaries are to be typed or well-written in black or blue ink. They should be between around 1 page typed (double spaced) or 2 pages hand written.

If you complete the lab activities in less than 90 minutes (out of a 120 minute lab session), we want and expect that you will stay in class and work on your summary while things are fresh in your mind. If you can hand in everything before you leave, you won't have labwork to do during the week (aside from reading the next week's lab)! Otherwise, the summaries will be due at the beginning of the next lab meeting.

Campus Observatory

You must visit the campus observatory twice during the semester: once during the first half (before October 16) and once during the second half. The observatory will be open on Monday and Wednesday from 9-10 PM; additional information or changes will be given in class. It is usually much more crowded, and thus takes more time, if you go just before the mid-semester date and/or just before the semester ends; if you go early in the first half of the semester, and then early in the second half, you will probably spend less time there. Also, remember, the weather is unpredictable, so saving things for the last few nights in the period can be dangerous!

There will be a TA present (not necessarily one of the TAs for our particular class section), who you will have verify what objects you have looked at. You will to go to the observatory and look at several objects that the TA is showing. You should then hand in a written description of each object (color, shape, etc.) to your lab TA using forms that are available on the class web page. BRING FOUR OF THESE FORMS TO THE CAMPUS OBSERVATORY WHEN YOU GO! For each object, we want you to look up information about each object and write it down along with your object description.

The campus observatory is located next to the NMSU track.


Labs are worth 100 points each. We will drop the lowest two lab grades. Each campus observatory report is also worth 100 points. Lab scores comprise 30% of your total grade in this course.

There will be a 25 percent penalty for each week after the due date. No labs will be accepted more than two weeks late (basically, they wouldn't be worth much by that point). If you have a valid excuse (medical reasons, etc.), talk to your TA. Late submission can be handed to your TA in person or dropped in their mailbox.


You are expected to read the lab manual before each lab meeting; the labs will make much more sense if you spend a bit of time getting acquainted with them beforehand. Arrive on time. Please turn off cell phones, as they are a huge distraction; if they become a problem your lab instructor may take further action.

Lab Philosophy

The labs are used as tools to aid in the understanding of the concepts explored in the lecture. These concepts are expanded upon by applying them in a practical manner in the classroom and at the campus observatory.

You will probably do well in lab if you do the following:

  1. ATTEND ALL LAB MEETINGS: There will be NO make up labs. If you know ahead of time that you will miss lab, you can possibly make arrangements with your lab instructor to attend a different lab section that week. Since emergencies and illness do occur, your two lowest lab grades will be dropped.
  2. COMPLETE LAB PROJECTS: All lab summaries are due the next time your lab meets, usually the next week. Keep in mind that each of the labs is worth 100 points and the summary comprises 35 of these points. Don't forget the campus observatory visits!
  3. PREPARE FOR LAB: To be adequately prepared, you need to read over the lab before coming to class.
  4. PARTICIPATE: You are encouraged to ask questions at any point during the lab about anything that is related to the material being covered. Remember, you are in the class to learn about astronomy, not just to finish the labs. Participating in class is not only a good way to help you learn, but it also helps others in the class.

If you have questions about an upcoming lab or about one that you have completed, be sure to stop by during office hours.


The assignments, except for midterms, mostly refer to assignments in Canvas. Note that these will generally be due Friday classtime, unless otherwise noted in class. The assignments include both reading and a set of homework questions; only the questions are graded. When you do the online assignments, take advantage of the online feedback so that you go away from the problems understanding more, whether you got them correct or not.

Week Subjects Assignment Lab
8/23 Intro class    
8/26-8/30 Science: astronomy, pseudoscience. Canvas: Pre-class assessment Introduction lab
9/4-9/6 (Labor Day) Motions of stars and sun; seasons Science NO LAB
9/9-9/13 Moon. Motions, Seasons and Moon The Origin of the Seasons
9/16-9/20 Motion of planets. History. Kepler's laws Motions of Planets The Surface of the Moon
9/23-9/27 Overview: our place in the Universe / solar system Solar system overview; Midterm Measurement
9/30-10/4 Overview: Milky Way galaxy, galaxies Milky Way and Galaxies Shaping Surfaces in the Solar System
10/7-10/11 Overview: expansion of the Universe, distances. Universe and Distances Galaxy Morphology
10/14-10/18 Newton's Laws of Motion. Gravity. Orbits. Kepler's and Newton's Laws Measuring distances using parallax
10/21-10/25 Gravity as a mass probe, dark matter. Light. Orbits/Dark Matter Kepler's laws
10/28-11/1 Spectra. Continuous spectra. Reddening Light. Midterm 2 Optics
11/4-11/8 Emission and absorption lines. Stellar spectra Spectra The Power of Light: Understanding spectroscopy
11/11-11/15 Brightnesses of stars. Measuring motions. Stars and Doppler Shift The Hertzsprung-Russell diagram
11/18-11/22 Life in the Solar System. Temperatures on planets. Greenhouse effect. PROJECT DUE Introduction to the geology of the terrestrial planets
12/2-12/6 Life in the Universe. Extrasolar planets. Stars and elements. Canvas post-course assessment. Class evaluations Review

Jon Holtzman 2013-08-23