ASTR 101: General Astronomy
Sections 0101-0110, Fall 2017

Course Description:

Welcome to Astronomy 101! You are about to embark on an ambitious project - to survey our known Universe in one short semester. We hope that you'll find this course enjoyable and walk away with a better knowledge and understanding of the universe that we live in. With that goal in mind, the course attempts to focus on major concepts in astronomy and where possible tie those concepts into issues relevant to your life. For example, global warming, an important worldwide issue for the 21st century, is also central to understanding the differences between the environments of Venus, Mars, and Earth. At a more philosophical level, understanding how our universe works and how planets, stars, and galaxies are formed gives us a better perspective on our place in the universe and how special planet Earth is to our continued survival. Most of you have chosen this course to fulfill your science requirement (see GENED Requirements below). GENED courses are designed to ensure that you will take a look at several different academic disciplines and the way they create and analyze knowledge about the world. We will introduce you to ideas and issues that are central to a major intellectual discipline and involve you actively in the learning process. Please take advantage of the opportunities this course offers!

Course Expectations:

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 your teaching assistant if you have questions. There will be times during the semester, in both lectures and sections, when we may 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 preview the reading assignment. A more careful reading is recommended after lecture. You should study your class notes some time before the next lecture to make sure that everything is clear. I encourage you to ask questions in class, in discussion, in lab, and during office hours.

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 me or one of the TAs. We are here to help you learn.

Course Materials:

Class Web Page: will have course information, lecture slides and homework assignments, supplementary readings, and interactive programs to make ASTR 101 fun and to help you learn. See cool space pictures and movies!

ELMS: We will also use ELMS in this course. Your grades on assignments and exams, and point total throughout the semester will be available on ELMS.

Class Meetings:

Lectures meet in PHYS 1412 on TuTh from 11:00 am to 12:15 pm. Lectures are led by the professor and will include several demonstrations, slides, videos, etc. There will be in-lecture activites that are graded.

Discussions Sections meet in ATL 2400 or ATL 1113 at times listed below, starting the week of September 5. Discussion sections are led by Teaching Assistants (TAs). The sections provide a smaller and more informal environment for further developing the material taught in class. The TAs will also answer questions about the lectures and reading and will hold review sessions before exams.

Labs meet in room ATL 0254 at times listed below starting the week of September 5. The labs are led by Teaching Assistants (TAs). You are required to attend lab section in order to do the labs; you MAY NOT start writing answers to the lab outside of the lab room. You must go to the lab time associated with your section number each week. If you expect to miss your lab section due to illness or a University approved excuse, you should contact your TA as soon as you know and make arrangements to attend another section in the same week if at all possible.

GENED Requirements

ASTR 101 is intended for non-science majors and requires no more than a modest, high-school level science and math background. This course satisfies the University of Maryland's requirement for a lab natural science course. To satisfy the requirement for a non-lab natural science course, you might wish to consider ASTR 100. Note that you cannot get credit for both ASTR 100 and ASTR 101. Please be sure that you have chosen the correct course.

Discussion Sections and Labs

Your weekly 50-minute discussion section, which begins the week of September 5, is an integral part of this course. The sections are run by the TAs, with just general guidelines from me; they will generally 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 TAs are an excellent resource; get to know them and use that resource! Homeworks, exams, and other work will be returned to you during your discussion section. Please attend all your discussion sections. The general schedule of the discussion sections can be found

Understanding laboratory techniques and reaching conclusions based on careful observations is a hallmark of scientific inquiry. Your weekly 2-hour lab is an important part of this course that provides you with the opportunity to think like a scientist. Our goal is that you leave ASTR 101 at the end of the semester with critical thinking skills that will allow you to better appreciate science in the news and elsewhere that you encounter it. The lab schedule can be found here.

Be sure to attend the discussion section and lab combination for which you registered. The only way to switch sections is through the registrar's office; unofficial changes are not allowed. Memorize your section number and put it on everything that you turn in.

Lab Time
Lab Room
Discussion Time
Discussion Room
TA Name(s)
TA Email(s)
Tu 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm
ATL 0254
Tu 3:30 pm - 4:20 pm
ATL 2400

Ken Koester/Jacob Shpiece
W 8:30 am - 10:30 am
ATL 0254
Tu 3:30 pm - 4:20 pm
ATL 2400

Jacob Shpiece
W 11:00 am - 1:00 pm
ATL 0254
W 10:00 am - 10:50 am
ATL 2400

Ramsey Karim
Th 3:30 pm - 5:30 pm
ATL 0254
W 10:00 am - 10:50 am
ATL 2400

Ramsey Karim
W 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
ATL 0254
W 11:00 am - 11:50 am
ATL 2400

Julian Marohnic
Th 08:30 am - 10:30 am
ATL 0254
W 11:00 am - 11:50 am
ATL 2400

Julian Marohnic
W 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
ATL 0254
W 12:00 pm - 12:50 pm
ATL 2400

Jacob Shpiece
Th 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
ATL 0254
W 12:00 pm - 12:50 pm
ATL 2400

Ken Koester/Jacob Shpiece
F 9:00 am - 11:00 am
ATL 0254
W 1:00 pm - 1:50 pm
ATL 1113

Sergio Mundo-Santiago
F 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
ATL 0254
W 1:00 pm - 1:50 pm
ATL 1113

Sergio Mundo-Santiago
Grading only

Jack Corbett


Your grade is accumulated on a point scale throughout the semester with assignment totals summarized in the table below: 5 homeworks at 10 points each; 12 discussion activities at 5 points each; 10 questions during the lectures at 4 points each; and 11 lab activities at 15 points each. A description of each of these components is detailed later in this syllabus. You should note that there are a total of 155 points in homework and lecture/discussion activities, and 165 points in lab activities. It is impossible to get a passing grade in this course by just showing up for the exams!

Syllabus Cover
Midterm I
Midterm II

Letter grades will be assigned based upon your curved cumulative score. Grades for some sections may be adjusted slightly so that the average grade given by each TA is similar. Here is how your grade will be determined from your point total in the class.

Letter Grade
Course Total

The use of an absolute point scale makes it possible for everyone in the class to do well; it is up to you to put in the effort. I will use +/- modifiers on letter grades for the course; you will get a "+" if you are in roughly the upper 1/3 of point range in a letter grade and a "-" if you are in the lower 1/3. You can monitor your current percentage estimate of your grade in ELMS as the semester progresses. If you are unsure about why something was marked wrong or you believe that it was incorrectly marked wrong, please contact your TA promptly. Grading can be reconsidered for only a reasonable time after the assignment is returned to you, typically 7-10 days. We make every effort to grade your work correctly and to record your grades correctly into ELMS. We can make mistakes despite our best efforts. The last day for notifying us of suspected errors in previously recorded grades is Thursday November 30.


There are a total of five homeworks in this course. All homeworks are included with this syllabus and can also be obtained from the Assignments link from the class website. They will NOT be posted on ELMS. Your answers must be written neatly or typed on a separate page from the questions; there will be a deduction of 2 points for answers squished into the space between the questions or written on the back. It is perfectly ok for you to copy the questions over to your answer page and then use as much space as needed to write the answer. Solution sets to the homeworks will be handed out by the TAs in the discussion sections.

Homeworks will be collected at the beginning of the lecture in which they are due. Fifteen minutes after the start of the lecture, any homework not turned in will be considered late and two points will be deducted from the total. Homeworks may not be turned in by email. If you experience a valid emergency, you must write me and your TA an email before the assignment is due, telling us why you will be late.

If, for whatever reason, the University is officially closed on the due date, the due date shifts to the next lecture date.

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 websites, or allowing a friend to copy your homework is academic dishonesty (see Academic Integrity below) and will not be tolerated in this class. Moreover, it is remarkably easy to spot this form of cheating, so expect to be caught if you try it. The penalty is quite severe (again, see Academic Integrity). If you consult a reference other than the course text, please acknowledge it in your homework - this includes websites!

Midterm Exams

There will be two in-class one-hour examinations which will be held in PHYS 1412 on the dates noted in the lecture schedule. These exams are closed book with no notes, calculators, cell phones, ipods, or implants allowed. Each exam will consist of multiple choice questions, essay questions, and problem solving questions.

The schedule of lectures included in this syllabus shows what material will be covered on each exam. Please bring a pencil and your ID card to each exam (including the final). If, for whatever reason, the University is officially closed on the exam date, the exam date shifts to the next lecture date. If official closures (e.g., due to snow) before an exam affect the material covered, either the affected material will be omitted, or the exam date may be altered, as deemed appropriate.

Final Exam

As per University rules, the final exam for this course will be held on Wednesday, December 13 from 8:00 am to 10:00 am in PHYS 1412. This final exam is cumulative, that is, it will cover all material discussed in this course. However, since the material which comes after the second midterm will not have been covered by the midterm exams (see Lecture Schedule), the weight on these units will be higher than on earlier units. The final will include multiple choice, essay and problem solving questions, greatly resembling a longer version of the midterms. This exam is also closed book with no notes, no computers, no calculators allowed. Please bring a pencil and your ID card to the final.

Missed Single Lectures, Discussion Sections or Labs

We will follow University policy: we will accept as an excused absence a self-signed note from a student who has missed a single lecture or discussion section that is not an exam day or a day when homework is due, attesting to the date of the illness. The note must also contain an acknowledgement by the student that the information is true and correct and that providing false information is prohibited under the Code of Student Conduct. The student is also obligated to make a reasonable attempt to inform us of his/her illness in advance. Per university policy, students may only provide one self-signed medical excuse per semester. For multiple medically necessitated absences we will require documented evidence in the form of a doctor's note. For the policies on exams and homeworks, see below.

Missed Exams

The first rule of missing exams is:

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 e-mail) before you miss the regularly-scheduled exam and
  2. submit a valid written excuse for your absence within one week after the regularly-scheduled exam.
Make-up exams must be taken promptly. In the case of the final exam, you must arrange for a make-up final within 48 hours after the scheduled exam, and preferably much sooner as final grades must be submitted shortly after the date of the final.

Open House

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. The open house includes a speaker talking about some aspect of astronomy. Following this short talk, there is public viewing of the heavens with the observatory's telescopes (weather permitting). This is your best opportunity to look through a real telescope. It's fun, so I highly encourage you to do it!

Extra Credit

The following are the only ways to earn extra credit in this class: Because there will be points of extra credit available throughout the semester, there will not be any extra assignments / papers if, e.g., you miss a homework.

Electronic Resources

The World Wide Web is a very useful resource that we will make use of in this class. All students should obtain a computer account, which will include email and internet access. If you do not already have one, get a WAM account (this can be done in ATL 1400, one floor down from your section class room). The webpage for this course is

It contains links to course information (including the contents of this syllabus), supplementary readings, and interactive programs to make ASTR 101 fun and to help you learn. 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.

Course Evaluation

It is very important to get your feedback about the course. This allows us to improve the course for future students. Moreover, if you supply evaluations, it grants you access to the evaluations provided by other students - a very useful resource in planning your future schedule. An announcement will be made in class when courses are open for evaluation late in the semester.

Special Circumstances

Students with a documented disability should let me know as soon as possible (preferably on the first day of class) so that appropriate academic accommodations can be made.

Academic Integrity

The academic community at the University abides by a Code of Academic Integrity, and this section uses parts of that code. 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, a book, or websites, 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 typically 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 far worse than an F and 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 and is printed in full in the Undergraduate Catalog; see this site if you have any questions about academic integrity or what is construed as academic dishonesty. We are very serious about this.

The basic principle is simple: everything you submit should be in your own words. Note that changing just a small number of words in a sentence is not sufficient; we want your thoughts, not those of others.

* A surprising number of people do not seem to know what plagiarism is. A common example is cutting & pasting material from the internet into your homework. It is wrong to submit the work of others as if it were your own.

Safe Learning Environment

The campus is meant to be a safe place to learn, free from harassment and intimidation of any kind. If you have experienced any form of harassment as a member of the university community, you should contact the Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct on campus. See the university policies and procedures on for more information. Please be aware that faculty (professors and TAs) are required by university policy to report any instance of misconduct observed or brought to their attention. For confidential assistance with a harassment matter, contact CARE (see

Other University Policies for Undergraduate Students

For more information on course-related university policies, please refer to UMD Policies.


My lectures and course materials, including powerpoint presentations, tests, outlines, and similar materials, are protected by copyright. I am the exclusive owner of copyright in those materials I create. You may take notes and make copies of course materials for your own use. You may not and may not allow others to reproduce or distribute course materials publicly, whether or not a fee is charged, without my express written consent.