ASTR120, Fall 2013
with "ASTR120" in subject line
Office: CSS 1245
Office Hours: TuTh 12:15pm-1:15pm or by
Textbook: Universe, by Roger
A. Freedman, Robert M. Geller, and William J. Kaufmann III (ninth
edition - ISBN 1-4292-3153-X). This book will also be used
in spring 2014.
Welcome to Astronomy 120! You are about to embark on an ambitious
project - to survey the entire Solar System in one short semester. We
will study the real and apparent motions of the stars, planets, and
moons and will investigate the causes of the seasons and eclipses. We
will explore the surfaces of alien worlds and investigate their
interiors and atmospheres. We will learn how planets, moons,
asteroids, comets, and rings form and we will study the key physical
processes that make them tick. Where possible, we will tie those
concepts back to issues relevant to your life on this planet. For
example, global warming, an important worldwide issue, is central to
understanding the differences between the environments of Venus, Mars,
and Earth. At a more philosophical level, understanding the Solar
System gives us a better perspective on our place in the universe. We
hope that you will enjoy the course and learn a lot!
meet in CSS 2428 on TuTh from 11:00am to 12:15pm. Lectures led by the
professor will include discussions, worked examples on the whiteboard,
slides, videos, etc. Please turn off all phones and electronic devices
and focus on what is happening in class.
The Discussion Section meets in
CSS 2428 on Fridays from 1:00pm-1:50pm starting on Sep. 6. Discussion
sections are led by graduate student Teaching Assistant (TA) Qian Wang. The section
provides a more informal environment for further developing the
material taught in class. The TA will answer questions about the
lectures, reading, and homework and will also hold review sessions
Class Web Page is a useful resource that we will use
extensively. The website contains links to course information,
supplementary readings, and interactive programs to make ASTR120 fun
and to help you learn. You will be able to monitor your estimated
grade in the class as the semester progresses, and communicate with
other students, the TA, and the Prof. on the class blog. In
addition, this site is also a gateway to many other astronomy links,
including sites with up-to-date astronomical images that are made
available to the public from telescopes in space and on the ground.
Attendance: In order to succeed in this course, I
expect you to attend ALL lectures and discussion sections. This is
very important! The material on the homeworks and exams are based upon
the material covered in the lectures, the text, and discussion
sections. If you have to miss a lecture or section, be sure to look at
another student's notes and make sure that you understand what was
covered. See me or the TA if you have questions. There will be times
during the semester, in both lectures and sections, when we will ask
for written responses to questions. Your written answers will count
towards your grade in the class.
Preparation: I expect you to be prepared to work.
You will understand the lecture more easily if you do the reading
assignment ahead of class. A more careful rereading of key sections is
often useful while working on your homework. It is also a good habit
to study your class notes before the next lecture to make
sure that everything is clear. I encourage you to ask questions in
class, in section, during office hours, or over email.
Study Habits: Study wisely and ask for help if you
need it. If you just cram the night before the exam, you probably
will not do very well. It is better (and easier) if you keep up with
the material on a daily basis. Make it a point to read the chapters in
pace with the lectures; this is one of the best study habits you can
I grade on a point scale with different assignments weighted as shown
in the table.
Letter grades will be assigned based upon your curved cumulative
score. Here is how your grade will be determined from your point
total in the class.
The point scale makes it possible for everyone in the class to do
well. For example, if everyone scores above 80% in the course, you
would all receive a B- or better letter grade. I do use +/- modifiers:
you will earn a "+" if you are in roughly the upper 1/3 of students
with the same letter grade and a "-" if you are in the lower 1/3. I
may adjust the number of points required to get a given grade
depending on the class averages; however, any adjustment will make it
easier to get a given grade, never more difficult. You can monitor my
current estimate of your grade from the class webpage as the semester
There are a total of eleven homeworks in this course; all will be
Assignments link from the class website. Please type or writeup
your assignments neatly. Homework is due at the beginning of class.
Solution sets and your graded work will be distributed in section.
Although you may discuss the homework problems with your friends,
the final writeup must be in your own words. Copying from a
friend's homework, copying from a book, or allowing a friend to copy
your homework is academic dishonesty and will not be tolerated in this
class. If you consult a reference other than the course text, please
acknowledge it in your homework - this includes websites!
Your weekly hour-long discussion section, which begins Friday Sep. 6,
is an integral part of this course. The section is run by an
experienced TA, Qian Wang, with just general guidelines from me; they
will typically include a review of lecture material, presentation of
problems and material not covered in lecture, exercises and quizzes
etc. These sections serve as a forum to enhance your understanding of
the course material. Your TA is an excellent resource; get to know him
and use that resource! Homeworks, Exams, and other class work will be
returned to you during your discussion section. Please attend all
discussion sections. If for some reason you have to miss a section
meeting, talk to Qian before your absence and get
permission from him to do a makeup assignment.
An additional class requirement is to attend at least one open house
at the UMD observatory during the semester. The astronomy department
hosts an open house on the 5th and 20th of each month at the
university observatory which is located just off campus on Metzerott
Road. Each open house consists of a speaker talking about some aspect
of astronomy. Following this short talk, there will be public viewing
of the heavens with the observatory's telescopes (weather
permitting). Dress warmly as you will be outside when using the
telescopes! A list of scheduled speakers and topics is available
Your open house assignment consists of three parts:
The paper should be between 2 and 3 pages long; please proofread and
check your spelling!
To avoid everyone rushing to the observatory at the last minute, we
will adopt the following policy. There will be three due
dates for this report. If you turn your paper in early, you will earn
extra credit points in addition to the normal points for the
assignment. Go to one of the early Open Houses!
- Attend one open house anytime during the semester that is
convenient for you. Listen to the speaker, tour the observatory, and
take a look through the telescopes.
- Write a description (include the name of the speaker) summarizing
the presentation. You should also include a brief description of the
interesting question(s) that were asked along with the answer(s) given
by the speaker. Emphasize things that you learned and/or found
- Describe what you observed through the telescopes. Please include
(legible) drawings in this description! If weather does not permit
observing, say so in your report. In this case, give a description of
the observatory and the telescopes (there will be a brief observatory
tour given even in poor weather).
||Extra Credit Points|
|Thursday, Oct. 10||2|
|Thursday, Nov. 14||1|
|Tuesday, Dec. 10||0|
When you go to the observatory, you will be asked to write down your
name and instructor. Please note that in order to obtain extra credit,
you must turn in your paper on either of the first two due dates.
If you went to the observatory early in the semester but do not
turn in your paper until the last due date, you will not receive extra
credit. This is in part to encourage you to write the paper soon
after the open house while your memory is still fresh.
There will be two in-class midterm exams which are closed book with no
notes, no calculators, and no electronic devices allowed. Each exam
will consist of short answer questions, problems, and three or four
essay questions. These exams are incremental (i.e., non-cumulative)
checkups on how well you have learned the material. The schedule of lectures
included in this syllabus shows what material will be covered on each
exam. If for whatever reason, the University is officially
closed on the exam date, the exam date shifts to the next lecture
According to University rules, the final exam for this course
will be held on Monday, December 16 from 8:00am to 10:00am in CSS
2428. This final exam is cumulative, that is, it will cover
all material discussed in this course. However, the
weight on the last several chapters not covered by the midterm exams
will be higher than on earlier chapters. The final will include
short answer, essay, and problem solving questions with the exact
combination to be determined. The final exam is also closed book with
no notes, no calculators, and no electronic devices allowed.
If you are not able to take an exam due to illness or other legitimate
reasons (as outlined in the Academic Info section of the schedule of
classes) and you wish to take a make-up exam, you must
1) contact me by email before you miss the
regularly-scheduled exam and
2) submit a valid written excuse for
your absence within one week after the
There are several ways to earn extra credit in this class:
There will be no extra credit assignments besides those listed here.
- Attend Class: I will occasionally ask questions worth bonus points
- Post to the Class Blog in first month of the class.
- Do the Challange Questions posted on the Assignments website.
- Turn in your Open House assignment early in the semester (see above).
- Do any Extra Credit assignments for section
ASTR120 is intended for science majors and requires a
solid high-school level science and math background. This course
satisfies the GENED requirement for a
non-lab natural science course. ASTR121 counts
for lab natural science credit.
Academic Integrity The University of Maryland, College Park
has a nationally recognized Code of Academic Integrity, administered
by the Student Honor Council. This Code sets standards for academic
integrity at Maryland for all undergraduate and graduate students. As
a student you are responsible for upholding these standards for this
course. It is very important for you to be aware of the definitions
and consequences of cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and
plagiarism. For more information on the Code of Academic Integrity or
the Student Honor Council, please take a look at
the ASTR120 Homepage