An Introduction to the Universe

(Astronomy 1105/1107) Summer Term 2008

Course Syllabus




Professor: Julia Kregenow. Office: SSB 621. Email:

Lab Instructor/TA: Marko Krco. Office: SSB 516. Office phone: 607-255-6438. Email:

Class meetings
Lecture (required for all students): Monday - Friday, 11:30 am - 12:45 pm, SSB 105
Discussion Section (required for all students): Wednesday, 1:15 pm - 2:15 pm, SSB 105
Lab: (for students enrolled in 1107 ONLY) Friday 2:00 pm - 4:30 pm, Clark Hall 132


Office Hours. *** Marko: Fri 9:30-11:30am. *** Julia: Mon & Thu 1:15-2:15p, and any day by appointment***

Please use these office hours or make appointments to get help. Consider them tutoring hours you have already paid for!


Course details.


Course web site:

Check it often! Course schedule (tentative) and homework assignments are posted here.


Textbook (Required): The Cosmic Perspective: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology 5th Ed., by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit. We will use both the book and the associated on-line material ("Mastering Astronomy"; free with book purchase) throughout the semester. It is important to get the 5th edition; Astronomy is a field that changes rapidly and the new edition really IS different from previous ones. Reading assignments and references to figures given in class are only valid for the 5th edition. Note: If you intend to take more astronomy courses in the future, or are interested in planets, you should consider getting the full edition of the text, which includes extra chapters on planets. (See our course website main page for links to the proper books.)


PRS unit (Required): You must use a PRS unit (a.k.a. a "clicker") at every lecture. These will be provided at the beginning of each class, and left behind at the end.


Prerequisites: No astronomy or physics background required! However, familiarity with physics will be quite helpful. Note that we will be using some MATH in this course. Proficiency with high-school algebra is expected. Here are some examples of math you should be comfortable doing:
* Scientific notation
* Multiply and Divide powers of 10
* Convert units (e.g. How many inches in a mile? Convert miles to inches.)
* Rearrange an equation to solve for another variable (e.g. y=mx+b. Solve for x)
* Plug numbers in for variables in an equation and calculate the result including the correct physcal units
If you're rusty, don't worry, but DO COME GET HELP in office hours.



Course objectives. My main goals for this course are for you to:


* grasp the big ideas in astronomy, and how they fit together: e.g. light, spectra, lookback time, gravity, we are made of star stuff, big bang, expanding universe

* understand the basic physics concepts behind the origin and physical characteristics of stars, galaxies, and the Universe

* appreciate the nature of science and how it is done

* apply math and quantitative reasoning where appropriate to solve problems

* think in the big picture, pondering your own place in the Universe



Active Engagement, Roles & Responsibilities: Being actively involved in class activities will help you learn better. That is why I'm going to such effort to provide opportunities for you to engage! Your role in this class is to actively participate and take charge of your own learning. This means doing the assigned reading on time, coming to office hours when you need to, using your PRS unit ("clicker") at every class meeting, and answering questions and discussing questions with other students in class when asked. My role as the instructor is to find ways to help you learn, show illustrative examples, ask you questions to find out what is confusing you and focus on that material, be available for and answer your questions, and provide lots of tools, feedback, and ways for you to assess your own learning.


Attendance is required. While attendance is not formally taken for its own sake, there will be reading quizzes and/or PRS questions every day that count toward your grade. You can't get those points if you're not present. Also, class participation is vital for your learning. In-class PRS questions are a major source of feedback for you to assess your own understanding, as well as for me to see how the class is going. If you're not there, neither of us will not get that feedback.


Seating: Please sit in the front half of the room. It is important that you sit near your classmates, as you will frequently be asked to discuss questions during class in groups of two or three. Note that the clickers do not work reliably from the back.



Grading Policy and Philosophy. There is no such thing as a grading policy that 100% of students think is fair and objective, but I try very hard anyway. I do not GIVE grades in this class, you EARN points based on the work you do and I calculate your grade from those points. I will award points and apply grade calculations (described in detail below) consistently to all students. No student will be given preference or extra credit. There will be no "grade curve". You will earn points based on your own work and performance in this class, not compared to your classmates. It is to your advantage to help one another learn.


70% : Exams

15% : In-class work / Participation (including Reading quizzes, clicker questions, and discussion section participation)

15% : Homework (Written and on-line homework problems, online tutorials, and reading questions)

For students enrolled in 1107 lab only: 60% exams + 12.5% in-class participation + 12.5% homework + 15% lab


Exams: The purpose of exams is for you to demonstrate learning and understanding of the material. There will be two regular exams (one halfway through the course, and one at the end covering the second half of the course) and one cumulative final, giving you two chances to demonstrate understanding of material. Demonstrating your understanding once is sufficient for me.

Optional Final Exam. Since I am testing you on everything twice, in calculating your grade I will use your final exam score OR the average of your first two exams, whichever is larger. This means that, if you are happy with your first two exam scores, you don't have to take the final.


This means that taking the final cannot hurt your overall exam grade, and if you've already got an A after the second exam, it won't help you. It also means that if you have to miss one of the first two exams for any reason whatsoever (including illness or family emergency), you can effectively make it up by taking the final.


Exam dates. Make plans now to be here on the following dates!


Exam 1                     July 11 (Friday), 11:30-12:45 pm in SSB 105

Exam 2                     Aug 1 (Friday), 11:30-12:45 pm in SSB 105

Final Exam              August 4 (Monday) 10:30-12:30 pm in SSB 105


Keep these dates in mind as you make travel and other plans during the summer. Illness, travel, or other emergencies are not grounds for taking a makeup exam. In fact, I do not give makeup exams. The final exam is the makeup exam. If you have to miss the final, your exam grade will be your average of the other two exams. There will be no exceptions.

Participation Grade. Class participation is essential, both in the required weekly discussion section and in the daily lectures. In addition to in-class activities, the participation grade will include clicker questions and reading quizzes.

Clicker questions are UNGRADED in-class interactive questions that I design to get timely feedback on your grasp of concepts during lecture. You will use your PRS clicker to vote on multiple choice questions, get real-time feedback, and discuss your answers with your classmates and with me. "UNGRADED" means I will base your grade on participation in these questions, but NOT on your performance. That is, you get credit for trying even if you answer incorrectly. The purpose is simply for me to find out when the class is confused so I can help.

Reading quizzes are short (1 to 3 questions) GRADED (corectness counts) multiple choice quizzes intended to test your progress in completing the textbook reading assignments. Reading quizzes will be almost every day, always at the very beginning of class, and will be done with your PRS unit. Reading quizzes cannot be made up. But if you miss one, it's OK: the lowest three will be dropped in calculating your final grade.

Homework Grade: Homework refers to work done outside of class. It is crucial to keep up with the course material in a fast-moving summer class, so there will be some homework every day. The daily assignments will be small and manageable, with the purpose of ensuring that you keep up. Longer, weekly assignments will be due on Mondays to give you more time to work on them.

Reading assignments: Reading the text ahead of class is required. Lecture will focus on what you find difficult or confusing, and also emphasizing the biggest and most important points. Since this will not allow me to cover ALL the material during class, you must read to get the whole picture. All reading is fair game for exam questions, even if I never mentioned it in class! Specific reading assignments for each class (including reading quizzes) will be announced in the previous class.


Reading questions are online multiple choice questions intended to test your progress in completing the textbook reading assignments ahead of class. Reading questions will be due for every reading assignment, always one hour before class begins. The questions are intended to be easy -- you should get 100% on the reading questions if you are doing the reading. If you are doing the assigned reading but still find the questions too difficult, please see me right away so we can make any necessary adjustments.


Homework Assignments: Homework will be assigned at least once every week. It will consist of either an on-line component (tutorials and problems, due before class begins), or a written component (due at the start of class), or both. Assignments will be posted on the course website at least one week ahead of their due date.


I will use the following scale in calculating final grades:

A+ (97-100%), A (93-96%), A- (90-92%), B+ (87-89%), B (83-86%), B- (80-82%), C+ (77-79%), C (73-76%), C- (70-72%), D+ (67-69%), D (63-66%), D- (60-62%), F (<60%)



Academic Honesty and Ethics. I am sad to have to include this section. The vast majority of our students are honest and we assume that you will not cheat. Unfortunately, however, people are caught cheating every semester so I can't ignore it. Cheating includes plagiarism,* using forbidden reference materials or talking to other students during exams, or attempting to gain advantage by obtaining and/or using unauthorized homework or exam questions/solutions or information about those assignments prior to the exam or homework due date.


* Plagiarism includes handing in any material as your own work for credit in this class that is actually the work of another person without reference to the source. COPYING another person's work IS PLAGIARISM, even if you have the other person's permission. Even looking at another person's work when writing down your own is still cheating. If you are unsure of the source of information you use in an assignment, it is almost certainly not your work and you are in danger of cheating. When in doubt, ask your instructor. "Innocent" cheating is still cheating, no exceptions.


Cornell University policy calls for strict sanctions on the FIRST offense to any student caught cheating AND to all other students involved. If the incident involves students not currently enrolled in Astro 1105/1107, those students are also subject to academic disciplinary action under Cornell University policy. I WILL REFER SUSPECTED CASES OF ACADEMIC MISCONDUCT TO THE PROPER CU AUTHORITIES AND FOLLOW UNIVERSITY POLICY TO THE LETTER. Please don't make me go there.