ASTR100: Introduction to Astronomy
Sections 0101-0107, Fall 2011

Prof: Cole Miller
Office: CSS 1239
Phone: (301) 405-1037
e-mail: astro100-all
(personal e-mail miller)
Office Hours: TuTh 11am-noon
Textbook: Cosmic Perspective Fundamentals
by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, & Voit.
ISBN 978-0-321566955

Course Description

Welcome to Astronomy 100! 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 form and evolve gives us a better perspective on our place in the universe and how special planet Earth is to our continued survival.

Class Meetings

Lectures meet in PHYS 1412 on TuTh from 9:30am to 10:45am.
Lectures are led by the professor and will include demonstrations, slides, videos etc.

Discussion Sections meet in CSS 2400 at the times listed below. Section meetings start the SECOND week of classes. This semester, the first day on which sections will meet is Monday, Sep. 5. Section meetings will NOT occur during the first week of classes. 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 and answering questions that arise. Activities in section account for over 20% of your course grade, so attendance and participation are important.

Core Requirements

You may have chosen this course as part of your CORE Liberal Arts and Sciences Studies Program, the general education portion of your degree program. CORE Distributive Studies 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. A faculty and student committee approved this CORE Distributive Studies course because it will introduce you to ideas and issues that are central to a major intellectual discipline and because it promises to involve you actively in the learning process. Please take advantage of the opportunities this course offers you.

This course counts for non-lab science CORE credit. ASTR101 (General Astronomy) satisfies the CORE requirement for a lab physical science course. Note that you cannot get credit for both ASTR100 and ASTR101. Please be sure that you have chosen the correct course.

Course Expectations

Attendance In order to succeed in this course, I expect you to attend the 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 the discussion sections. We find that when grading exams, it is very obvious which lectures you missed. People who attend class inevitably earn better grades; in fact, experience shows that students who attend regularly average a full letter grade better than students who do not. If you have to miss a lecture or section, be sure to check what you missed (ask a friend!) and make sure that you understand what was covered. 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 sometime before the next lecture to make sure that everything is clear. I encourage you to ask questions.

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.


Grades are based on a point scale with different assignments weighted as shown in the table. The points are distributed across a variety of exercises so that no single component will dominate your grade. However, this also means that it is imperative that you complete all assignments. Zeros on multiple homeworks will set you back in a big way!

Exam I
Exam II

Letter grades will be assigned based upon your cumulative score; there will be no letter grades for individual exams or assignments. Here is how your grade will be determined from your point total in the class:

Letter Grade
Course Total

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 either an A or a B letter grade. 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. Only letter grades will be issued; there will be no +/-'s awarded except possibly for some A+ grades for exceptional achievement.

Midterm Exams

There will be two in-class 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 Friday, December 16 from 8:00 am to 10:00 am in PHYS 1412. This final exam is cumulative; 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 chapters will be higher than on earlier chapters. The final will include multiple choice, essay, and problem solving questions, greatly resembling a longer version of the midterms.

Missed single lectures or discussion sections

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. 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 voice or e-mail) before you miss the regularly-scheduled exam and
  2. document a valid excuse for your absence.
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.

Discussion Sections

Your weekly 50-minute discussion sections are an integral part of this course. The sections are run by the TAs, with general guidelines from the professor. They will review lecture material, present problems and material not covered in lecture, and may have their own exercises and quizzes. These sections serve as a forum to enhance your understanding of the course material. Your TAs are an excellent resource - get to know them. Homeworks, exams, and other work will be returned to you during your discussion section. Please attend all your discussion sections. If for some reason you have to miss a section meeting, you may go to one of the other section meetings offered by your TA that week if you get permission from him or her to do so.

Be sure to attend the discussion section for which you registered. The only way to switch sections is through the registrar's office; unofficial changes are not allowed.

Discussion Time
TA Name
Office Hours
W 1-1:50pm
CSS 2400
Ken Melville
CSS 1250


Tuesday, 11-12; Wednesday, 12-1
W 2-2:50pm
CSS 2400
Ken Melville
CSS 1250


Tuesday, 11-12; Wednesday, 12-1
F 10-10:50am
CSS 2400
Kim Nguyen
CSS 0224A


Monday, 4:30-5:30; Wednesday, 12:30-1:30
F 11-11:50am
CSS 2400
Kim Nguyen
CSS 0224A


Monday, 4:30-5:30; Wednesday, 12:30-1:30
F 12-12:50pm
CSS 2400
Philip Cowperthwaite
CSS 1250


Wednesday, 3:30-4:30
W 3-3:50pm
CSS 2400
Lauren Bittle
CSS 1250


Thursday, 2-3
F 1-1:50pm
CSS 2400
Mark Avara
CSS 0228


Friday, 12-1


There are a total of six homeworks in this course. All homeworks are included with this syllabus and can also be obtained from the Assignments link from the class website. You are required to submit your homeworks in PDF format to your TA, at the e-mail address astro100-010?, where the ? means your section number (e.g., if you are in section 105, you would e-mail your PDF solutions to the homework to These need to be typed in, not scanned handwriting; scans can be very difficult to read.

All homeworks are due at 9:30 am of the due date (i.e., at the beginning of class). Homeworks turned in after class begins will be considered late and penalized 20%. After the end of class on the due date, no more homework will be accepted. Note that electronic submission means that you can turn in your assignment electronically before you leave home, or even if you are sick. If you experience a valid emergency, you must write me an email or leave me a voice mail message before the due date telling me why you will be late. In this case, you must secure a valid written excuse and arrange with me to have the homework turned in 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. 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!

Extra Credit

There will be no extra credit papers. The following are the only ways to earn extra credit in this class: Because there will be 50-60 points of extra credit available throughout the semester, there will not be any extra assignments if, e.g., you miss a homework.

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 encourage you to do it!

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 CSS 1400, one floor down from your section class room.) The webpage for this course is

It will contain links to course information (including the contents of this syllabus), supplementary readings, and interactive programs to make ASTR100 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 so that appropriate 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 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 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 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.

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.

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