PHYSICS 560: Topics in Astrophysics

INSTRUCTOR: Megan K. Pickett
OFFICE: Youngchild 105
OFFICE HOURS: MWF 11:30-12:30; T 10am-11am; & by appointment
PHONE: (920) 993-6269

LECTURE TIMES: MWF 9:50 - 11:00 AM

Welcome to Physics 560, Topics in Astrophysics. This is a course that covers, at a mathematically and physically sophisticated level, a selection of topics in astronomy. No prior knowledge of astronomy is required, but I will have some introductory astronomy texts available if you would like additional background. For this term, I have chosen topics that cover stellar and galactic astrophysics, as well as cosmology. If you have any additional interests, I am more than happy to consider topics not explicitly covered in the attached class schedule.

TEXT: Foundations of Astrophysics, by Ryden & Peterson. This is a first rate text, as far as these things go; there is a dearth of good and affordable intermediate level astronomy texts on the market, and this book represents the best combination of material, problems, and reasonable cost around. I will supplement, in a couple of places, assigned readings with handouts (either handouts I've written myself or xeroxed passages from other texts). This is also a much needed improvement over the last text we used (Harwit's Astrophysical Concepts) if for no other reason than we'll be using fairly consistently SI units rather than a confusing mash of just about every unit system imaginable.

READINGS: I expect you to read through the assigned reading prior to class. Despite the detail of the schedule, it is still tentative; I would like to be fairly flexible depending on class needs or unforseen circumstances. Yes, there are several important concepts that I feel we must cover, but I do not want the course to be a race to see how far and fast we can get through the text. If we fall behind or zip through some chapters, I'll let you know the schedule change in lecture and online as soon as possible.

ASSIGNMENTS: There will be six homework assignments; your averaged homework score will constitute 25% of your total grade. Students are encouraged to work in groups, but you must turn in your own work in your own words. To receive any credit, you must show all your work and reasoning. Unless I specifically prohibit it, you may use MAPLE or IDL to solve an integral or differential equation that you would have to otherwise look up in a table, but you must include a complete code listing. Problem sets are the best possible way for you to learn the class material and prepare for exams. Extensive solutions will be provided in class on the due dates, and so I cannot accept any late homework.

My homework deal for you: If you turn in EVERY assignment AND make an honest attempt to answer EVERY question on each assignment, then I will drop your lowest homework score. This is meant to encourage you to work each and every problem assigned. If you have any difficulty, drop by my office, send me an email, call me, use morse code or sema-fore--however you do it, let me know you have a question, and I will be happy to help.

The homework assignments are posted separately on the website here, with the corresponding due dates. Changes will be announced in class and on the website. Please note that with the change in text, I will need a little more time to put together the complete set of homeworks than otherwise, but the first two problem sets are already available and in your hands.

TESTS AND FINAL: There will be two tests and a final in this course. The final examination will be cumulative, while emphasizing material covered since the third test. The cumulative section of the final will be based on the questions in the first two exams that gave the class the most difficulty. I design the final in such a way in order to reduce the amount you need to study at the end of the year as well as offer the class a chance at showing me that it has mastered problems that caused difficulties earlier.

All exams are closed book and closed notes, although each exam will include a list of useful (and not particularly useful) formulae. You may use a calculator, but whatever device you use must NOT connect to the internet or in any way store data prior to the exam. The equation list means that you will not need to memorize most equations, but you will have to be able to recognize which formula is appropriate and what it means. The equation list for each exam will be made available with each practice exam (see below)

I will supply the class with "practice exams" the week before each exam as a guide to help you study, and to give you and idea of what my exam questions are like. I am willing to schedule a review session to discuss these or any other problems before each exam if we can find a time that most people can make, otherwise we can go over the practice questions during my office hours. In any case, solutions to the practice tests will NOT be provided. Since each exam takes place during a 70 minute class period, I anticipate that the midterms will contain about 4 problems (though, of course, physicists being physicists, you just know that some of those problems will have multiple parts to them).


Assignment Average


Exam 1


Exam 2


Final Exam


Total Grade


Grades will be posted on the website and updated weekly, with a running estimated course grade computed after the first exam. My hope is that a curve won't be needed, and that using the standard scale of 100-90% = A, 89-80% = B and so on will be sufficient. However, I will curve if necessary, in which case the curve will be designed such that the average score sets the position for a B-/C+. I will not raise the curve, however. If you all get 95%'s, you all get A's and I'll go home this summer a very happy professor.

COMMUNICATION: An important asset in any field is the ability to communicate your ideas clearly. With this in mind, I expect all homework and exams to be written legibly and presented neatly. Plots and figures should be labelled accurately and captioned. You will lose points if I cannot read your work. Finally, your answer to any question MUST include the appropriate units, if applicable.

PLEASE NOTE: If you EVER need help, please feel absolutely free to contact me in any way that is convenient. I have plenty of office hours, and I am always willing to set aside separate times if those are inconvenient. NOTHING I DO AT WORK IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN HELPING MY STUDENTS. Do not wait until it is too late. I'm here to help.

ACADEMIC DISHONESTY: Academic dishonesty of any sort will not be tolerated. Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, plagiarism, cheating on exams, falsifying experimental data, and providing unauthorized aid to another student. If you have any questions, please feel free to talk to me or consult the student guide. Any material turned into me must have the honor pledge written and signed, or I will not grade it.

ADA AND ANTIDISCRIMINATION STATEMENTS: In compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), all qualified students enrolled in this course are entitled to reasonable accommodations. It is your responsibility to inform me of any special needs you may need before the end of the second week of classes. I also believe firmly in the right for each student to be respected, both by a student's peers and her or his instructor. I am therefore strongly committed to ensuring that the antidiscrimination policy established at Lawrence will be honored in my class.