ASTR380: Life in the Universe
Instructor: Prof. Andrew Harris
Phone: (301) 405-7531
Email: harris @ astro.umd.edu (do not include spaces when you
Office: CSS 1229
Office Hours: TuTh 11:00 am - 12:00 pm and by appointment
TA: Ron Ballouz
Email: rballouz @ astro.umd.edu (do not include spaces when you
Office Hours: W 3:00 - 4:00 pm
Textbook: Life in the Universe, 3nd
by Jeffrey Bennett & Seth Shostak, 2012
Welcome to Astronomy 380! This is a 3-credit course designed primarily
for non-science majors with pre-requisites: ASTR100 or ASTR101 and
completion of CORE Distributive Studies requirement in Mathematics and
Sciences or permission of Department. Given the prerequisites (or their
equivalent) we will assume a basic
knowledge of introductory astronomy. This course will address some of
life's most fundamental questions: How did life get started on the
Earth? Could it happen elsewhere? What does the evolution of our
species and development of civilization imply about the likelihood of
intelligent species reaching similar levels elsewhere in our galaxy?
What would be the most efficient means of communicating with
intelligent aliens? This course will allow you to enter the debate on
life in ihe universe from the astronomical perspective.
meet in CSS 2400 on TuTh from 9:30am to 10:45am. Prof. Harris
will lead the
lectures but you will be expected to participate in discussions and
slides presented in class will be made available on the class website.
In order to do best in this course, you will need to attend ALL
lectures. This is very important! The material on the homeworks and
exams are based upon the material covered in the lectures and the
textbook. If you have to miss a lecture, be sure to look at another
student's notes and make sure that you understand what was
covered. Please ask Prof. Harris or the TA if you have questions.
In-class activities: In-class activities
will be a part of the class scoring, and you must be present in class
to receive credit. No one activity will be a large part of the
grade, but you should not plan on missing several of them. See
the policy on attendance and
absences if you need to miss class for an excused absence.
Remember that you will need to notify (call or send an email) Prof.
Harris before you miss class
for an excused absence.
Preparation: You should read over the material
before lecture and be prepared to discuss it.
A more careful reading is recommended after lecture. You
should study the slides of the previous lectures and your class notes
sometime before the next lecture to make sure that everything is
clear. You are encouraged to ask questions in class -- any
question you have is certain to be one others have -- during office
hours, or over email.
Study Habits: Study wisely and ask for help if
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. If you have questions, please see Prof.
or your TA. We are here to help you
Grading is on a point scale with different assignments weighted as
in the table. A description of each of these components is contained
in this syllabus.
The Midterm and Final Exams are Major Scheduled Grading events
defined in the University's policy on attendance (http://www.president.umd.edu/policies/v100g.html).
grades are adjusted upward, if need be, so the median score is at
least 72%. Letter grades will be assigned based upon your
score. Here is how your grade will be determined from your point total
in the class.
Plus/minus grades will be given within each letter grade for scores
near the top and bottom of the percentage ranges.
This point scale makes it possible for everyone in the class to do
well. For example, if everyone scores above 75% in the course, you
would all receive either an A or a B letter grade. Any adjustments to
the scores will make it easier to get a given
grade, never more difficult.
There will be approximately weekly homework problem sets in this
course. All homeworks
will be available from the Assignments link on the class ELMS
All homeworks must be turned in on
8.5x11 inch paper in class on the
assignment due date. If for whatever reason, the
University is officially
on the due date, the due date shifts to the next lecture date. Homework is due in hard copy, and
except by prior special arrangment with Prof.
Harris, electronically mailed versions of your homework will not be
accepted. Homeworks turned in after the lecture ends will be
considered late and will receive 50% credit at most; no credit will be
given for homework handed in more than one lecture late. If you
have an excused absence that prevents you from handing your homework in
on time, you must document it in
writing (see Attendance and Absences,
and arrange to have the
homework turned in as soon as possible, but no later than during the
Text in homework must be typed,
figures and any math may be drawn by hand if you wish.
Unless you have made prior special arrangement with Prof. Harris,
handwritten homework will receive at most 50% credit.
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 (see Academic
Integrity below) 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!
There will be an in-class 75-minute examination which will be
in CSS 2400 on Thursday, October 20. This
exam is closed book with no notes and no calculators allowed. The
schedule of lectures included in this syllabus shows
what material will be covered on the mid-term exam.
If for whatever reason, the University is officially
closed on the
exam date, the exam date shifts to the next lecture date.
According to University rules, the final exam for this course
be held on Friday, December 16, from 8:00 am to 10:00 am in CSS
2400. This final exam is cumulative, that is, it will cover
all material discussed in this course. However, since Chapters 7 -
will not be covered by the midterm exam (see Lecture
the weight on these chapters will be higher than on earlier
chapters. This exam is closed book with no notes and no
There will be no extra credit assignments in this class.
Attendance and Absences
Please review the University's Attendance and Assessment Policy at http://www.umd.edu/catalog/index.cfm/show/content.section/c/27/ss/1584/s/1540
and the University policy on medically-necessitated absences at http://www.president.umd.edu/policies/v100g.html.
basic points for this class:
The academic community at the University abides by a
Code of Academic
Integrity. Acts of academic dishonesty include cheating, fabrication,
facilitating academic dishonesty, and plagiarism. Activities such as
cheating on exams or quizzes, copying homework from a friend or book,
allowing your homework or paper to be copied, and submitting forged
excuses for absences from exams are violations of this code. If we
suspect that an incident of academic dishonesty has occurred, we will
turn the case over to the Student Honor Council to investigate and
resolve. If the suspected party is judged `responsible' for the act(s)
of academic dishonesty, the normal sanction is a course grade of `XF'
which denotes failure due to academic dishonesty. This grade is
recorded onto the student's academic transcript. The Code of Academic
Integrity can be found in the Academic Info section of the Schedule of
Classes. It is printed in full in the Undergraduate catalog and on the
this Code if you have further questions about
what is construed as academic dishonesty. We are very serious
- If you wish to claim an excused absence, you must do so in
writing and furnish supporting documentation.
- You must notify Prof. Harris of the reason for an excused absence
as soon as possible. This will include sending Prof. Harris email
or leaving a voicemail message as
long as possible before absences from exams or homework
deadlines. For absences known far in advance (for instance,
religious observance or participation in activities at the request of
University authorities), you must notify Prof. Harris by the end of the
schedule adjustment period.
- Attendance will not be taken in this class, but a occasional
unannounced in-class work will count toward 15% of
- The Midterm and Final exams are the Major Scheduled Grading
Events for this class.
- A prolonged absence in the sense of the University's policies on
attendance and absence is two or more consecutive lectures.
- If you will be absent on a day homework is due you may hand in
homework assignments early, either to Prof. Harris or in his mailbox in
the Department office. A classmate may turn in your homework for
you if you are able to attend the class in which it is due (but please
understand the University's policies on Academic Integrity and its
potential implications before you do this).
- If you have a medical or other excused absence for a single
lecture that coincides with a homework deadline, and wish to turn in
the homework up to one class meeting later, the policy in Sec. II.A. of
- Requesting to have three or more late homeworks, assignments, or
in-class exercises accepted is possible only with written documentation
justifying the request, and the consent of the instructor (see Sec.
- Exams on alternative dates or for make-up are possible only in
cases of excused absences. When possible, exams will be given before the regularly-scheduled
exams. For unexpected absences from the Midterm or Final Exams,
it is your responsibility to contact Prof. Harris to discuss make-up
work within 48 hours of the missed exam.
Class Web Page
The World Wide Web is a very useful resource that we will make use of
in this class (e.g., students will be asked to use the internet for
some of the questions on the problem sets). The webpage for this
will contain links to course information, supplementary readings,
interactive programs to make ASTR380 fun and to help you learn. If you
have difficulty accessing the internet, please discuss this with Prof.
Harris before the end of the schedule adjustment period. In
addition, the class site is also a gateway to many other astronomy
including sites with up-to-date astronomical images that are made
available to the public from telescopes in space and on the ground.
In principle, laptops can allow you to take notes faster and access
the class website. In practice, they are frequently be used for
non-class purposes. Laptop displays can be very distracting for
other students who have a view of your screen. In this
class, if you
use a laptop:
If, despite these approaches, the use of laptops turns out to be
too distracting for the class as a whole, Prof. Harris may need
to ban them
entirely. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
- You must sit in the far back row or on the sides with no one
behind you to minimize distractions to other students.
- You must turn the sound off
and not use headphones.
Students with a documented disability should inform Prof. Harris as
possible (preferably on the first day of class, and certainly by the
end of the schedule adjustment period) so that appropriate
academic accommodations can be made.