SYLLABUS - Astronomy 1: Astronomical Universe

Section 3, MWF, 12:20-1:10, 102 Forum

Instructor: Professor Niel Brandt

Instructor's office hours: MW, 2:00-3:30

Instructor's office: 507 Davey Lab

Instructor's phone: (814) 865-3509


This course is designed to open a window for you to the Universe, to provoke your imagination, and to address some fundamental and tantalizing questions. What makes the Sun and the stars shine? Why do some stars explode as supernovae? Do black holes really exist? Is there a giant black hole at the center of our Galaxy? How did galaxies form? Is there `dark matter' in galaxies? Why is the sky dark at night? When did the Universe begin? Is there an `edge' to the Universe? How was our Solar System formed? Are there other solar systems? Could there be life elsewhere in the Universe and could we find it? These are a few examples of questions that will be discussed. Astronomers do not have definitive answers to all these questions, but they have made remarkable progress toward answering many of them.

The observable Universe is a time machine - the only one we have. When we look outward in space we also look back in time. In this course we will travel from the Solar System to the edge of the observable Universe. In so doing, we will venture back to the beginning of time. We will calibrate our place in the Universe.


OUTLINE: The course is divided into five parts: (1) Introduction to Astronomy, (2) Stars, (3) Galaxies, (4) Telescopes and Cosmology, and (5) The Solar System and Life.

LECTURES: The lectures are designed to explain difficult concepts, to stimulate interest in the reading material, to expand on the reading material, and to introduce topics not covered in the textbook. You are responsible for the material presented in the lectures, including topics not covered in the textbook. At the ends of most lectures I will give one or two multiple-choice questions and ask you to answer them. Some of these questions may be on the exams.

You are encouraged to ask questions during the lectures. This is your opportunity, so take it! Also, if I am lecturing too fast or something is not clear please feel free to tell me, and I'll be happy to go over the material again.

REQUIRED READING: The required textbook for this course is Horizons: Exploring the Universe (7th Edition) by Michael A. Seeds. You will read the majority of the textbook over the course of the semester. The reading schedule is given below. Note that we do not read through the book in a perfectly sequential manner. Do not worry about this since I have designed the reading and lectures so that each reading assignment will make sense on its own.

Your best strategy will be to do the assigned reading prior to the day the material is discussed in class. This will allow you to ask questions on material you do not understand. You are responsible for the material in the assigned reading, and you should pay particular attention to the figures and figure captions. Although you are not required to work the questions and problems in the book, if you do these on your own this will help you prepare for exams. The book is good, and it is well organized to help you study.

There is a CD-ROM that is included with the textbook. You are not responsible for the material on this CD-ROM (unless the same material is also covered in class or in the assigned reading). However, you may find the CD-ROM interesting and helpful for parts of the course.

WORLD WIDE WEB PAGE: A World Wide Web page has been created for this course, and its address is the following: *****. I will provide more information about the World Wide Web page as the course progresses.

EXAMS AND GRADING: Four (4) quizzes and one (1) final exam will be given. All will consist of multiple-choice questions based on material covered in the lectures and required reading.

The dates for the quizzes are given below in the lecture list. Your lowest quiz will be dropped, and the remaining three (3) will each constitute 23 per cent of your grade. Since one quiz may be dropped, no makeup quizzes are given except in cases of (1) medical emergencies documented by an official physician's note and (2) documented absences on official university business. In these cases you must contact me as soon as possible regarding the makeup quiz, and the format of the quiz will be at the discretion of the instructor.

The tentative date, time, and location for the final exam are the following: Wednesday, Dec 18 from 2:30-4:20 p.m. in 102 Forum. The University has only assigned this information tentatively at present, so please be certain to check it closer to the time of the final exam. The final exam will cover material for the entire semester, as well as serve as the quiz for the last portion of the course. The final exam will count for 31 per cent of your grade. The final cannot be dropped, so do not skip the final!

Calculators cannot be used for the quizzes or the final exam. I have carefully designed the questions so that calculators are not necessary.

The multiple-choice questions on the quizzes and final exam will be graded by an advanced computer run by the University Testing Service. Experience has shown the University Testing Service to be highly reliable, and to date I have not found a case where a form was misgraded. However, if you feel there has been a problem of some sort I will be happy to check on this and correct any problem. Please contact me within 3 weeks of receiving your grade if you feel there is something wrong. Please contact me directly rather than talking to a secretary or teaching assistant. Please do not wait until the end of the term to bring any possible problem to my attention, since it may be difficult to correct if it is left too long.

This course is supposed to teach you about the main important aspects of astronomy rather than lots of small details. The quizzes and final will be designed to probe your understanding of the main important aspects. I try to avoid asking `trick questions' and questions about small details. The main important aspects will be clearly emphasized in class and in the book.

A class period prior to the exams is devoted to review and questions you may have on the material. This review class is designed to help you prepare for the exam.

INTEGRITY STATEMENT: This course follows the Astronomy & Astrophysics Department and College integrity policies. Descriptions of these policies are given as links off the course World Wide Web page. You are responsible for abiding by these policies, so please review them.

OFFICE HOURS AND QUESTIONS: You are encouraged to come to my office hours for help with the course material or to ask any questions you may have about astronomy. If you cannot make the appointed times, please phone to make an appointment (my office hours and phone number are given at the top of the first page). Also feel free to phone me to ask any questions you have about astronomy or the course in general. If you are unhappy about something in the course please let me know, and I'll try to fix it. I prefer phone calls to email, but if you are uncomfortable with phoning (or are having trouble reaching me by phone) then feel free to send email (wnbrandt @

OPTIONAL READING: There are many excellent books that explain various astronomy topics at an introductory level. One book that may be of particular interest is The Stars: A New Way to See Them by H.A. Rey. This book clearly explains the constellations, the motions of celestial objects, and other `practical astronomy' topics. If you have a burning desire to learn the constellations, then this is a great book for you.

There are many other good introductory astronomy books on topics such as the Hubble Space Telescope, star formation, supernovae, black holes, the Galaxy, and cosmology. I will not list books here, but if you are interested in a particular topic please feel free to contact me and I'll do my best to suggest a good book.

For absolute clarity, let me state that optional reading is not required to do well in this course, and you should not feel compelled to buy optional books. Optional reading is only mentioned to help those who have special interest in a particular area and want to go beyond what is covered in class.

Lectures and Reading Assignments

# Date Lecture Reading in Text
1 Aug 28 Introduction and tour of the cosmos None
2 Aug 30 How big is the Universe? How small are we? 1-8, 132-134, 441-443
3 Sep 04 Darkness and light, Winter and Summer 21-40
4 Sep 06 Look up at night, what do you see? 9-19
5 Sep 09 Why does the Earth orbit the Sun? 41-63
6 Sep 11 Explaining the rainbow and what lies beyond 66-69
7 Sep 13 Chemistry from afar 90-99
8 Sep 16 Review for quiz 1 Review earlier reading
9 Sep 18 Quiz 1 Review earlier reading
10 Sep 20 How do the Sun and stars shine? 121-127
11 Sep 23 The Sun - our star 109-120
12 Sep 25 Red stars and blue stars 100-106, 134-136
13 Sep 27 Red and blue, old and new 136-151
14 Sep 30 The death of a star 163-194
15 Oct 02 Supernovae - the deaths of massive stars 195-201
16 Oct 04 Neutron stars and black holes 205-222
17 Oct 07 Review for quiz 2 Review earlier reading
18 Oct 09 Quiz 2 Review earlier reading
19 Oct 11 People discover the Galaxy 225-235
20 Oct 16 The Milky Way Galaxy 235-248
21 Oct 18 Galaxies of different sizes and shapes 252-263
22 Oct 21 Galaxies come in groups and clusters 263-269
23 Oct 23 The mysterious dark matter 262-263
24 Oct 25 The expanding Universe and the Great Wall 259-260
25 Oct 28 Active galaxies and quasars 273-287
26 Oct 30 Review for quiz 3 Review earlier reading
27 Nov 01 Quiz 3 Review earlier reading
28 Nov 04 Penn State is building a giant optical telescope! 69-81
29 Nov 06 More than meets the eye 81-87
30 Nov 08 The Big Bang I 290-294
31 Nov 11 The Big Bang II 294-298
32 Nov 13 A remnant from the past 298-302
33 Nov 15 Will the Universe end with ice or fire? 302-305
34 Nov 18 The history of the Universe 305-310
35 Nov 20 Review for quiz 4 Review earlier reading
36 Nov 22 Quiz 4 Review earlier reading
37 Nov 25 A tour of the Solar System 314-326
38 Nov 27 The terrestrial planets 337-342, 348-364
39 Dec 02 The Jovian planets and Pluto 368-385
40 Dec 04 The Jovian planets and Pluto (continued) 385-395
41 Dec 06 Moons of the Solar System 343-348, 364-366
42 Dec 09 Meteorites, asteroids and comets 399-414
43 Dec 11 The formation of the Sun and planets 326-333
44 Dec 13 Other stars, other planets, and ET 418-436