ASTR 111: General Astronomy I
Credit Hours: (4) Three hours lecture; two hours laboratory
Survey of astronomy from ancient cultures to present day, nature of light and gravity, telescopes and astronomical observations, evolution and dynamics of Earth and our solar system.
Note(s): This course has been approved for Core Curriculum credit in Natural Sciences.
Detailed Description of Content of Course
The major topics covered in this course range across the spectrum of topics in modern astronomy. The course deals with the foundations of astronomy, including the phenomena of eclipses and observations of planetary motions made by ancient astronomers; Kepler's laws of planetary motion and Newton's law of universal gravitation; the nature of light, spectroscopy, and the fundamentals of optics and telescopes; planetary astronomy that begins with a general view of our solar system and its formation, and then moves outward from earth to the moon, Mercury, Venus, and so on, covering each of the planets and their moons in some detail; and an introduction to the sun in its role as the center of our solar system and as a typical star.
Detailed Description of Conduct of the Course
Astronomy 111 is a course in descriptive astronomy.
Although this course is primarily lecture-centered, time is spent in problem solving and in conducting simple astronomical observations. Students are expected to be able to use elementary mathematics in the solution of a variety of problems encountered in class and in the laboratory. Considerable time is spent making astronomical observations in the planetarium. This may be done either during class or during lab time depending upon the topic under consideration. Several evening observing sessions for viewing planets, the moon, or special celestial events are planned at various times throughout the course. The observations are made both with naked eye and with the telescope. Students are expected to learn new vocabulary and ways of reasoning with ideas that will be quite new to most of them. Laboratory exercises are assigned each week and completed during the lab time or as homework. Some lab exercises are done in the planetarium. Students are given the option of doing independent, naked-eye observational activities with some guidance from the instructor. Problems, review questions, and observing projects appearing at the end of the text chapters may be assigned. These are frequently discussed in class.
Goals and Objectives of the Course
By the end of General Astronomy I, students should be able to:
- Describe the motions of the planets, as seen from earth, with special attention to their retrograde motion.
- Describe the astronomical conditions that produce solar and lunar eclipses.
- Describe the phases of the moon in relation to the moon's position relative to the sun and earth.
- Describe the seasonal motion of the sun relative to the horizon.
- State Kepler's laws of planetary motion and apply them to the solution of astronomical problems.
- Describe Newton's law of gravitation in simple physical terms.
- Describe Galileo's important telescopic discoveries and evaluate their impact on the controversy between the Copernican and Ptolemaic theories.
- Use simple diagrams to explain how atoms absorb and emit radiation.
- Describe the types of spectra and explain how an understanding of spectra makes it possible to determine the compositions and physical properties of celestial bodies.
- Compare and contrast reflecting and refracting telescopes.
- Sketch the interior structure of Earth and understand that this structure implies a once molten planet.
- State the estimated age of the earth (and the solar system) and explain the methods by which this age is inferred.
- Compare and contrast the surface environments and evolution of the moon and Mercury to each other and to the earth.
- Compare and contrast the surface environments and evolution of Venus and Mars to each other and to the earth.
- Compare and contrast the Jovian planets to each other and to the terrestrial planets.
Broad General Education Goals: Upon successful completion of this course students should be able to
- Think clearly and creatively about ideas, issues and physical problems across the physical and natural scientific academic disciplines incorporated into this course.
- Construct logical and persuasive arguments using elements of the scientific disciplines.
- Employ a variety of research methods and styles of inquiry to support the above-mentioned arguments.
- Use appropriate computer technologies, as well as other scientific technologies, to gather, organize, and present information concerning relevant issues.
- Work with others in inquiry groups to answer relevant questions and solve problems.
Goals for Area 7: Physical and Natural Sciences: Upon successful completion of this course students should be able to
- Comprehend the empirical nature of science by manipulating data acquired by both the student and by established researchers in the field.
- Identify scientific problems and apply the scientific method to the understanding and solution of those problems.
- Extend scientific problem-solving skills and logical analysis to a variety of situations encountered on and beyond our Earth.
- Relate the basic principles of science to the larger universe, understanding that the principles applicable on Earth extend to the rest of the universe as well.
- Understand the relations between science, technology, and society, especially in the context of continued astronomical discoveries far beyond our own planet.
Student assessment will determine the students’ ability to incorporate the physical and natural sciences into the study of astronomical phenomena. Numerous assessment measures will be employed, including some or all of the following:
- Graded and ungraded homework problems designed to measure students’ ability to employ the scientific method—and the branches of the physical and natural sciences—to the solution of various physical problems.
- Graded and ungraded laboratory exercises designed to illustrate the empirical nature of science through the acquisition and the analysis of data.
- Graded and ungraded computer assignments designed to illustrate the use of technology in the solution of astronomical problems.
- In-class exams including both problems and essay questions designed to measure students’ ability to solve relevant astronomical problems.
- Possible individual and group presentations of an astronomical problem or discovery requiring the use of communication skills as well as demonstrating the students’ ability to discern and organize relevant data.
- Research projects requiring the student to probe specific problems in greater detail than they may have encountered in class. These might focus on any of the General Education or the Physical and Natural Science goals discussed in Section D above.
Other Course Information
Review and Approval
September 2001 Review Walter S. Jaronski, Chair