Astronomy 1040

Introductory Astronomy

Spring 2016

Monday, Wednesday, & Friday 11:00-11:50 LSci 175

Instructor: Alec Habig

Office: MWAH 358

Office Hours: 11:00-12:00Th, 12:00-13:00MW, 13:00-14:00F

(or by appointment)

Telephone: 726-7214


Prerequisites: None. This course is in the Liberal Education “Natural Sciences” category (without a Lab).

Text: Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, & Voit

The Essential Cosmic Perspective (7th ed.)

w/ “Mastering Astronomy” website

The standard “clicker” used in many UMD classes

Note that the bookstore's entry for this course is the ebook version plus the Mastering subscription, in an effort to make things cheaper for you. If you like paper books, that version is also available.

Additional readings or assignments from other texts or the web might be assigned over the course of the semester, but arrangements will be made so you do not have to buy more books. This stuff is already expensive enough.

Course Objectives: Liberal Education Objectives - Successful completion of this course will develop and exercise abilities in critical and creative thinking. It will also provide a conceptual understanding of physical phenomena that is important for substantive participation in public policy debates in an increasingly technological world.

This course presents an introduction to the field of Astronomy. There is an emphasis on how the scientific method is employed to find out how things are working in places which are so very far away and long ago.

The topics to be covered include the following:

Grading: Course grades will be determined based on the following five areas, with their respective weights:

Additionally, students must attend one "lab" session at the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium, preferably one associated with this astronomy class (dates and times TBA). In event of scheduling problems, a regularly scheduled planetarium show plus a report will suffice (check with the instructor first).

Letter grades will be assigned based upon the weighted average on a non-competitive curve. In order to keep the students informed as to their progress, a letter grade will be assigned after the mid-term exam or guesstimated upon request. The class grades will be kept on UMD's eGradebook online system so you can have up to the minute access to your scores, although letter grades will only be set periodically as mentioned above.

Homework: Online homework will be assigned in conjunction with the reading assignments, due before the class where we talk about the new section. Reading and thinking about something, talking about it in class, then doing the relevant written homework parts really cements the stuff in your head, allowing you to do well on the tests. More in-depth homework will be assigned roughly once per week, with a goal of getting you practice in thinking about things in the style of the tests. The goal: if you keep on top the homework (and actually think through the questions rather than just trying to google things up!) you'll do well on the tests.

Tests: There will be three tests during the semester, given during the normal class period. The final exam is 14:00-15:55 on Monday, May 2nd. Make-up tests will be available only for documented medical or family reasons or mandatory university-sponsored events necessitating absence from class.

Class Participation: While it is hard to have class participation in the traditional sense in a large lecture, the act of engaging your brains periodically rather than simply taking notes has been shown to improve learning. Thus, this class will make use of the “clicker” system to give you the means to actively answer questions in class, and a class participation grade will be assigned to encourage you to do so. If you do not already have a clicker from previous classes, the bookstore carries them. Please register your clicker following the instructions on the class website. Points for missed questions can not be made up, but the lowest three scores will be dropped when calculating your grade to cover unforeseen circumstances.

Note on disabilities: Individuals who have any disability, either permanent or temporary, which might affect their ability to perform in this class are encouraged to inform the instructor at the start of the semester. Adaptation of methods, materials, or testing may be made as possible to provide for equitable participation.

Standard UMD academic policies: are in force and described online at

Important Dates:

Final Exam, Monday May 2, 14:00-15:55

Note: the final exam will not be available earlier



Week 1 (1/13-1/15)

Ch.1 A Modern View of the Universe

Ch.2 Discovering the Universe for Yourself

Week 2 (1/18-1/22)

MLK Day 1/18

Ch.3 The Science of Astronomy

Week 3 (1/25-1/29)

Ch.4 Making Sense of the Universe: Understanding Motion, Energy, and Gravity

Week 4 (2/1-2/5)

Ch.5 Light: The Cosmic Messenger

*Test #1 (2/5th-ish)

Week 5 (2/8-2/12)

Ch.6 Formation of the Solar System

Ch.7 Earth and the Terrestrial Worlds

Week 6 (2/15-2/19)

Ch.8 Jovian Planet Systems

Week 7 (2/22-2/26)

Ch.9 Asteroids, Comets, and Dwarf Planets: Their Nature, Orbits, and Impacts

Ch.10 Other Planetary Systems: The New Science of Distant Worlds

*Test #2 (2/26th-ish)

Week 8 (2/29-3/4)

Ch.11 Our Star

Week 9 (3/7-3/11)

Spring Break

Week 10 (3/14-3/18)

Ch.12 Surveying the Stars

Week 11 (3/21-3/25)

Ch.13 Star Stuff

Week 12 (3/28-4/1)

Ch.14 The Bizzarre Stellar Graveyard

*Test #3 (4/1st-ish)

Week 13 (4/4-4/8)

Ch.15 Our Galaxy

Week 14 (4/11-4/15)

Ch.16 A Universe of Galaxies

Week 15 (4/18-4/22)

Ch.17 The Birth of the Universe

Week 16 (4/25-4/29)

Ch.18 Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Fate of the Universe

Ch.19 Life in the Universe

Week 17

*Final exam:

Monday, 5/2, 14:00 - 15:55

Course outline subject to change to meet the needs of the class, especially the test dates might wiggle around to better match what's been covered or not