ASTR 210 — Introduction to Astrophysics
Syllabus for Spring 2017
103 Transportation Bldg — MWF 1:00-1:50

Teaching Staff

Instructor Teaching Assistants
Name Prof. Tony Wong Adrienne Ertel Jesse Miller
Office 227 Astronomy 132 Astronomy 132 Astronomy
Office Hours Wed 3-4, Thu 2-3 Mon, Wed 12-1 Mon 3:30-4:30, Thu 11-12

Class Schedule (subject to change)

Piazza Discussion Forum

Course Information

Credit: 3 credit hours. This course satisfies the General Education Criteria for a Physical Sciences (Natural Sciences and Technology) course.

Prerequisites: Credit in PHYS 211 (University Physics: Mechanics).

Course Web Page: Located on (College of LAS Moodle)

Course Goals

Astronomy 210 is a one-semester introduction to astronomy and astrophysics. We will learn about the development of astronomy, the quest for understanding the universe in terms of physical laws, and where the limits of our knowledge currently are. We will begin by studying the basic components of our galaxy—planets, stars, and interstellar gas—then move on to talk about the galaxies themselves, and then the Universe as a whole. We will learn about such diverse phenomena as neutron stars, black holes, and dark energy, and try to develop some intuitive understanding of them.

Unlike “Astronomy 101,” this is a class which emphasizes quantitative calculation. We will frequently use mathematics to describe what we're seeing. This enables us to make detailed predictions, essential for the practice of science. Our goal is not just to observe and learn about what scientists do; it is place ourselves squarely in their shoes. Much of the required physics will be reviewed, but students are expected to have completed the first semester of university physics (Mechanics). We also recommend that you be taking or have completed the second semester of physics (Electricity & Magnetism). If you plan to take higher level (400 series) astronomy courses, this should be your first course in astronomy. Regardless of whether or not you pursue a career in science, you should come away with an appreciation of how science, though never immune to the human failings of its practitioners, can be a self-correcting enterprise.

Textbook (required)

Foundations of Astrophysics by Barbara Ryden & Bradley M. Peterson (2010). Publisher: Addison-Wesley. ISBN: 0-321-59558-0.

The textbook, and a selection of similar textbooks, are available on reserve at Grainger Library.

iClicker (required)

Each student should bring their own iClicker personal response device to lecture. This can be purchased from campus bookstores (either the original iclicker or the 2nd generation version are fine). You will use the iClicker to answer multiple-choice questions posed by the instructor. Some questions will test familiarity with the reading or understanding of concepts, and full credit will be given for correct answers, with half credit for incorrect answers. Other questions will be of a survey nature, and full credit will be given for any answer. If you occasionally forget to bring your iClicker, don't worry; only the top 33 daily scores (starting at Lecture 3), as determined by percentage score, are averaged into the course grade.


Component Points
Online quizzes (best 10 of 12) 100 (10 pts each)
Homeworks (best 10 of 12) 300 (30 pts each)
Computational Project 50
Sun Observing Project 50
i>clicker Points 50
In-class Exams (2) 200 (100 pts each)
Final Exam 250
Total Points 1000

The point total will be converted to a percentage, with A's corresponding to 90-100%, B's corresponding to 80-89%, C's corresponding to 70-79%, and D's corresponding to 60-69%. Pluses and minuses will be used.


Regular assignments are an important part of the course, helping to reinforce concepts covered in the lectures and textbook.
  1. Online quizzes (accessed through the course web page). These consist of multiple-choice questions and must be taken on a computer with web access. You may take the quiz up to 2 times BEFORE its due date (usually Wednesdays at 1 P.M.), and you will be credited with your higher score. We recommend taking quizzes by yourself, without referring to the textbook or lecture notes (it's a good way to prepare for exams). Quizzes will be available online (on Moodle) a week before the due date.

  2. Homework assignments (accessed through the course web page). These will consist of problems and short-answer questions, and must be submitted online before class on Friday. Handwritten solutions are acceptable, but should written in dark ink and be scanned into PDF format. If you don't have easy access to a scanner, consider a smartphone app like CamScanner. Credit will only be given to well-explained answers, and all important steps in a calculation must be shown. Homework submitted before 11:55 P.M. on the due date but after the start of class will attract a 20% penalty. Any later homework will NOT be accepted.

  3. Computational Project. Computers are essential tools for modern astrophysics, and you will undertake a project that requires data analysis on a computer. The project will explore class topics in greater depth and make use of the same data that astronomers typically obtain. The exercise can be completed using Microsoft Excel (available from the campus webstore) or OpenOffice.

  4. Sun Observing Project. The observing project involves recording the Sun's position near the western horizon on two different days, spaced about two weeks apart, and completing a short exercise on comparing your observations with predictions. Because the observations must be made at different dates, some advanced planning is required.

  5. Keep a copy of your work. You are expected to keep a copy of any file you submit electronically. This is to protect you in case a situation arises in which there is disagreement about whether or not an assignment has been submitted.

Rules of Etiquette

For the benefit of your fellow students and your instructor, you are expected to follow these basic rules of decorum.

Class Policies

This page last updated 14 Mar 2017