ASTR380: Life in the Universe
Fall 2014

Course Description:

Welcome to Astronomy 380! 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:

Attendance: Lectures meet in CSS 2400 on TuTh from 9:30am to 10:45am. I will lead the lectures but you will be expected to participate in discussions. The slides presented in class will be made available on the class website. In order to succeed in this course, I expect you 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. See me or your TA if you have questions.

Participation: During the lectures, I will be asking questions and your participation to the discussion 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 the slides of the previous lectures and your class notes sometime before the next lecture to make sure that everything is clear. I encourage you to ask questions in class, 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 me or your TA. We are here to help you learn.


I grade 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

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.


This point scale makes it possible for everyone in the class to do well. 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.

Midterm Exam

There will be an in-class 75-minute examination which will be held in CSS 2400 on Thursday, October 9. 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 Tuesday, 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 also closed book with no notes and no calculators allowed.

Missed Exams

If you are not able to take an exam due to illness or other legitimate reasons, documented in writing (as outlined in the Academic Info section of the schedule of classes), and you wish to take a make-up exam, you must contact me by email before you miss the regularly-scheduled exam. Make-up midterm exams will be given preferably before or, if not possible, within a few days of the regularly-scheduled exam. If you miss the final exam and have a valid excuse, documented in writing, you must arrange for a make-up final within 48 hours before/after the scheduled exam.


There are a total of five homeworks in this course. All homeworks will be available from the Assignments link on the class website.

All homeworks are due in class at 9:30 am (i.e., at the beginning of class). Homeworks turned in after 9:45 am will be considered late and docked at least 20%. After the end of class on the due date, no more homework will be accepted. If for some reason you cannot turn the homework in person, you should ask a friend to turn it in for you. If you experience a valid emergency, documented in writing, you must write your TA an email or leave her a voice mail message before the due date telling her why you will be late. In this case, you must arrange with your TA to have the homework turned in to her as soon as possible and, in any event, absolutely no later than the beginning of the next lecture.

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 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!


As mentioned above (Course Expectations), attendance to the lectures is considered very important. I will be asking questions during the lectures and your participation to the discussion will count for 5% of your score in this class.

Extra Credit

There will be no extra credit in this class.

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. 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.

Laptop Policy

In principle, laptops can allow you to take notes faster and access the class website. In practice, they are more likely to be used for non-class purposes. Therefore, what I will require is that if you use a laptop (1) you sit in the far back row, so that there are no students behind you to be distracted, and (2) you turn the sound off and do not use headphones. This will minimize the potentially negative impact. If despite these approaches the use of laptops turns out to be too distracting for the class as a whole, I may need to ban them entirely, but let's hope that doesn't happen.

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. 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. Particulars regarding the University policy on academic integrity, including the Honor Pledge, are provided at Please refer to this Code if you have further questions about what is construed as academic dishonesty. We are very serious about this.

Teacher's Evaluation

Finally, the University would appreciate it if you filled out evaluation forms when they are up (between December 2 and December 14) at . Thanks!