Physics 110

Topics in Astronomy

Fall Term, 2001


Lecture: 9:00 - 10:50 Tuesday-Thursday, Youngchild Hall 121

Professor: Matthew R. Stoneking

Office: Youngchild Hall 110

Phone: X6724

email: stonekim

Office Hours: Mon. & Thurs. 3:00 - 4:30. Tues. 11:00-11:45


Catalog course description: Astronomy is the oldest of scientific endeavors.  Careful observation of the heavens led to the defining discoveries of the scientific revolution; Newton's laws of motion and the universal law of gravitation.  This course will trace that history, and the subsequent discoveries that have produced our current understanding of the universe and our place in it.  Topics covered include the motions of the planets in the solar system and their composition, the inner workings of the sun and stars, the variety of stellar objects, their life histories and eventual fates, neutron stars, black holes, quasars, galaxies, the expansion of the universe, the big bang and the fate of the universe.


Major Themes of the Course:

·        Guiding Assumption: we do not occupy a unique place in the universe.

·        The laws of physics applied to astronomical observations yield QUANTITATIVE information about the universe.

·        The organization of matter on different spatial scales.

·        The hierarchy of distance measurement techniques.


Text: Astronomy  Today, by Eric Chaisson and Steve McMillan, Fourth Edition, Prentice Hall (2002).


Grading policy: Final grades will be determined, based on the following components weighted as indicated:


Midterm Exam                                  25%

Final Exam                                        30%

Quizzes                                             15%

Homework, Projects, Activities          20%

Attendance and Participation            10%


Exams: There will be one midterm exam and one comprehensive final exam.  The midterm exam is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday 30 October.  The final exam is Friday, 11 December at 1:30 pm.


Quizzes: There will be a 10-15 minute quiz most Thursdays.


Homework, Projects, and Activities: Some of the homework assignments will be end of chapter problems from the text.  You may work with each other on these problems, but each student must participate in solving each problem. Project assignments may involve making measurements or observations in collaboration with some of your classmates.  In addition there will be some in-class activities.


Quantitative Exercises: This course satisfies the Mathematical Reasoning and Quantitative Analysis general education requirement.  Therefore, at least 50% of the graded work (homework, project, quizzes and exams) will be quantitative to some degree.  Some time will be devoted in class to introducing and/or reviewing mathematical skills necessary to complete the quantitative exercises (algebra, geometry, trigonometry).  In addition, there will be a weekly evening help session at a time to be announced.


Popular science books relating to astronomy and cosmology (NOT required reading):

          Cosmos, by Carl Sagan

          Coming of Age in the Milky Way, by Timothy Ferris

          The Whole Shebang, by Timothy Ferris

          A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking

          The First Three Minutes, by Steven Weinberg

          Stars and Planets, by Jay Pasachoff (Peterson Field Guide series)


Magazines with astronomy and cosmology articles:

          Sky and Telescope

          Scientific American








Outline of the Course:

·        The Celestial Sphere

·        Gravitation

·        The Solar System

·        The Sun

·        The Stars

·        Stellar Evolution

·        The Fate of Stars

·        The Milky Way

·        Galaxies

·        Cosmology


Tentative Schedule for the Course:


Thurs 9/27: The Celestial Sphere

·        A Whirlwind Tour of the Universe

·        Sky Chart software package

·        The Celestial Sphere – Apparent motion of the stars, sun, moon, and planets; celestial coordinates; the ecliptic; constellations; the Geocentric Model of the Universe.


Tues 10/2: Gravitation

READ Chapters 1 & 2

·        The Heliocentric Model of the Universe (Aristarchus, Copernicus & Galileo) – retrograde motion of planets, phases of Venus, moons of Jupiter

·        Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion - elliptical orbits

·        The Laws of Motion and the Law of Gravitation (Galileo & Newton)


Thurs 10/4: Solar System I: Overview and the Terrestrial Planets

READ Chapters 6, SKIM Chapters 7-10

·        Inventory and Clues to Formation Process – differentiation of materials, organized circulation

·        The inner planets, similarities and differences

·        QUIZ #1


Tues 10/9: Solar System II: The Gas Giants, Satellites, Asteroids, Comets, and Formation of Planetary Systems

READ Chapter 15, SKIM Chapters 11-14


Thurs 10/11: Light: Thermal Radiation, Spectroscopy, Optics and Telescopes

READ Chapters 3 & 4, SKIM Chapter 5

·        QUIZ #2


Tues 10/16: The Sun

READ Chapter 16


Thurs 10/18: Measuring the Stars

READ Chapter 17

·        Measuring Stars – distance by parallax, luminosity, surface temperature, radius

·        The Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram - The Main Sequence

·        QUIZ #3


Tues 10/23: Field trip to Barlow Planetarium?


Thurs 10/25: Stellar Lifecycles I

READ Chapter 19

·        The interstellar medium and star formation

·        Thermonuclear Fusion

·        QUIZ #4


Tues 10/30: MIDTERM EXAM


Thurs 11/1: Stellar Lifecycles II

READ Chapter 20


Tues 11/6: Stellar Lifecycles III

READ Chapters 21 & 22

·        The Fate of Stars - white dwarfs, supernovae, neutron stars, black holes


Tues 11/13: The Milky Way

READ Chapter 23


Thurs 11/15: Galaxies and Hubble’s Law

READ Chapter 24

·        QUIZ #5


Tues 11/20: Active Galaxies and Quasars

READ Chapter 25


Tues 11/27: Cosmology I

READ Chapter 26

Thurs 11/29: Cosmology II

READ Chapter 27

·        QUIZ #6


Tues 12/4: Recent Results in Astronomy I

READING ASSIGNMENT: to be announced

·        Extra-solar planets?

·        Life on Mars?


Thurs 12/6: Recent Results in Astronomy II

READING ASSIGNMENT: to be announced

·        Accelerating expansion?

·        Gamma-ray bursts?

·        Super-massive black holes?

·        QUIZ #7