ASTR101: Introduction to Astronomy

Course Syllabus for "ASTR101: Introduction to Astronomy"

In ASTR101, you will be introduced to our current understanding of the universe and how we have come to this understanding.  We will start with the ancient Greeks and their belief that the universe was an orderly place capable of being understood.  We will continue through history, as we acquired more information on the nature of the universe and our models of the universe changed to reflect this.  This will take us through several different worldviews. As noted above, we will begin with the Greek worldview, which was characterized by the belief that the earth was the immovable center of the universe; this was known as the “geocentric” model.  Although this worldview is wrong in many of its details, it was a very important first step.  It explained the universe well enough that it lasted almost two thousand years.  By 1600, this belief was beginning to be challenged by such people as Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo; finally, it was completely done away with by the physics of Newton.  By 1700, the heliocentric model, with the sun at the center and the earth and other planets in orbit around it, had replaced the geocentric one.  The model of the universe based on the physics of Newton lasted into the twentieth century.  It has since been replaced by our contemporary model. The most essential feature of our contemporary model is that the universe is evolving.  It had a beginning in time, some 13.7 billion years ago, in an unimaginably hot and dense state, and evolved, as a result of the expansion of space, to develop structures: first hydrogen and helium atoms, then stars and galaxies.  The stars evolved to produce the heavier elements, casting them out into space through their explosive deaths.  From leftover hydrogen and helium, together with the new heavier elements, later generations of stars formed, some, such as our own sun, with planets around them.  On our earth, geological processes transformed the environment to allow for the development of life and eventually us.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • List the most significant advances in astronomy from the time of the ancient Greeks up to the Scientific Revolution.
  • Compare and contrast the ancient worldview with the worldview that resulted from the Scientific Revolution.
  • Compare and contrast the nineteenth-century worldview with that of the twenty-first century.
  • List the advances in our knowledge of the atom from the time of Democritus to the present.
  • Describe the evidence for wave-particle duality.
  • List the crucial sequence of events that led from the big bang to the rise of life on earth.
  • Describe the main features of the big bang model of the universe and list the evidence in its favor.  Compare and contrast the big bang model with the steady state theory of the universe.
  • Outline the role that the cosmic background radiation has played in our understanding of the universe.
  • Compare and contrast the roles of observation and theoretical interpretation in the field of astronomy.
  • List the sequence of interior and surface changes that occur in the evolution of a star.
  • Describe the formation of the earth and the geological changes that transformed the early earth into an environment where life could prosper.
  • Produce a timeline for the evolution of life from its earliest existence to our species, Homo sapiens.
  • Define the astronomy-specific words and phrases used in the course.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

Course Information

Welcome to ASTR101.  General information on this course and its requirements can be found below.

Course Designer:Thomas M. Corwin, the University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Primary Resources:The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has two excellent courses, Astronomy 161 and 162.  A large number of readings will come from those courses.  YouTube is also a good resource and there are many links to their videos, most less than 10 minutes in length.  I have written chapter-length readings for 12 of the 14 units that parallel the content of the unit.

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its readings and lectures.  You will also need to complete all of the unit assignments as well as the final exam.

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the unit assignments.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: The complete course should take you a total of 135 hours.  Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on it and each of its subunits.  For example, Unit 1 should take you 9 hours, with 3 hours spent on subunit 1.1, 2 hours on 1.2, 1 hour on 1.3, 1 hour on 1.4, and 2 hours on your assignment.  You should use this to lay out a plan for working through the unit.  The 14 individual units will require times ranging from a maximum of 14 hours to a minimum of 4 hours.