ASTR380: Life in the
Prof: Sylvain Veilleux
Phone: (301) 405-0282
Email: veilleux @ astro.umd.edu (mention "ASTR 380" in the subject line)
Office: PSC 1109
Office Hours: TuTh 11:00 am - 12:00 pm or by Appointment
TA: Harry Arnold
Phone: (301) 405-1561
Email: harryarnold @ gmail.com (mention "ASTR 380" in the subject line)
Office: CSS 1250
Office Hours: MoFr 1:00 - 2:00 pm or by Appointment
Textbook: Life in the Universe, 3rd Edition
by Jeffrey Bennett & Seth Shostak, 2012
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
the weight on these chapters will be higher than on earlier
chapters. This exam is also closed book with no notes and no calculators
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Finally, the University would appreciate it if you filled out
evaluation forms when they are up (between December 2 and December 14)
http://www.courseevalum.umd.edu/ . Thanks!