ASTR380: Life in the Universe
Fall 2011

Course Description:

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.

Course Expectations:

Lecture attendance: Lectures 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 activities. The 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 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. If you have questions, please see Prof. Harris or your TA. We are here to help you learn.


Grading is on a point scale with different assignments weighted as shown in the table. A description of each of these components is contained in this syllabus.

Midterm Exam

The Midterm and Final Exams are Major Scheduled Grading events defined in the University's policy on attendance (  Exam grades are adjusted upward, if need be, so the median score is at least 72%.  Letter grades will be assigned based upon your cumulative score. Here is how your grade will be determined from your point total in the class.

Letter Grade
< 50.0%

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 page. 

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 closed 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, above)  and arrange to have the homework turned in as soon as possible, but no later than during the next lecture.

Text in homework must be typed, although 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!

Midterm Exam

There will be an in-class 75-minute examination which will be held 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. 

Final Exam

According to University rules, the final exam for this course will 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 - 13 will not be covered by the midterm exam (see Lecture Schedule), the weight on these chapters will be higher than on earlier chapters. This exam is closed book with no notes and no calculators allowed.Participation

Extra Credit

There will be no extra credit assignments in this class.

Attendance and Absences

Please review the University's Attendance and Assessment Policy at and the University policy on  medically-necessitated absences at    Some basic points for this class:

Academic Integrity

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 web at Please refer to this Code if you have further questions about what is construed as academic dishonesty. We are very serious about this.

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 course

will contain links to course information, supplementary readings, and 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 links, including sites with up-to-date astronomical images that are made available to the public from telescopes in space and on the ground.

Laptop Policy

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: 
  1. You must sit in the far back row or on the sides with no one behind you to minimize distractions to other students.
  2. You must turn the sound off and not use headphones.
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.

Special Circumstances

Students with a documented disability should inform Prof. Harris as soon 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.