AST 101: General Information

Spring 2013

MWF 11:00 - 11:53
Simons Center Auditorium (room 103)

Instructor: Prof. Frederick M. Walter (ESS 459; 632-8232; at
Office Hours: M 9-10, W 4-5, F 12-1, or by appointment.

Teaching Assistant: Donald Villcox; donald.willcox at
Office Hours: Tu 2-3:30, W 1-2:30
Office: Physics A-107

Astronomy 101 is an introduction to astronomy for non-science majors. We will cover the major aspects of modern astronomy and astrophysics, with an emphasis on how the astronomer deduces the physical nature of the universe from observations.

Prerequisites: None. This course is designed for the student with little or no training in science. We will use some mathematical reasoning, using algebra and trigonometry, and will introduce physical principles as they are needed.

Expectations: This is a rigorous science course at the college level. Students are expected to do all assigned readings prior to lecture, and to participate in class. Students should expect to spend 6-9 hours per week outside of class reading the material and doing the homework (see pages xxiv-xxv of your textbook). Astronomy is a quantitative science; students in this course will be expected to be able to solve problems and answer quantitative questions. But astronomy lies astride both the humanities and the sciences. We will delve into the humanistic side of science when we answer the big questions, such as "who are we" and "where did the universe come from".

Learning Objectives: Mastery of this course does not mean remembering all the facts. It means knowing how to think scientifically. A student who masters Astronomy will be able to think criticaly about data (observations), and synthesize disparate facts to reach a conclusion in almost any area where the data can be quantified.

Course Description : This is a lecture course. New material will generally be introduced on Mondays and Wednesdays. Most Fridays will be used for class discussions, as well as to answer questions, reenforce concepts, and work problems, and for quizzes. Although we will use the text, we will not follow it rigorously. Students are strongly urged to attend the lectures. Astronomy is advancing far more rapidly than any printed text can keep up with, and we will use the latest results from the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes and other observatories in this class. Students are responsible for all the material presented in lecture and in the assigned readings.

Other sources of information Students are encouraged to use the world-wide-web to explore topics covered in this course, but the web must be explored with caution. I've compiled a list of some reputable astronomical web sites here.

Textbook: The Cosmic Perspective, Sixth Edition, by J. Bennett, M. Donahue, N. Schneider, and M. Voit, published by Addison Wesley Pearson. This book is required. You may also use the truncated version, The Cosmic Perspective: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology, which lacks a few chapters on planets and solar system formation. The two may be used interchangeably. Earlier editions of the book can also be used. Note: older editions of the text have different chapter enumeration, and may have different questions numbers too. You are responsible for the material as assigned in the current edition.
Copies of the text should be on reserve in the Math-Physics-Astronomy library (room C-130 in the Physics building).
Other textbooks are also on reserve for those who might benefit from a slightly different perspective. These include

Grading : Grades will be based on:

The test and quiz scores (60% of your grade) will be curved such that the top grade is 100% and the median is the greater of 70% or the actual grade. The 40% of your grade that comes from the observational activities, class participation, and role of Astronomy in Culture essay is not curved. The raw and curved grades will be available on the web.

Lecture Decorum:
Students attending lectures are asked to exhibit common courtesy.

Please do not eat or drink in the Simons Center Auditorium. This is a new room, and the management of the Simons Center requests that we keep it clean.

Students are encouraged to ask questions at any time during the lectures. Lecture notes will not be available, although lecture synopses may be posted to the course website. You are responsible for taking notes.

Attendance Policy :

Students who know in advance that they will miss a class or a test because of university-related activities (including athletics) or civic obligations (e.g., jury duty) should contact the instructor as soon as possible in advance of the date of absence. Students so-engaged, who inform the instructor in advance, will not be penalized, and will be allowed to make up any work missed.

If you choose to miss a test for personal reasons you will not be allowed to make it up.

Testing Policy :
Testing is an important way of assessing whether or not you are learning anything from this class. There will be three in-class midterm examinations (only the 2 best will be scored) and a final examination. The exams are cumulative. All exams are closed-book. However, each student is allowed to bring one sheet of paper, no larger than 8 1/2 x 11 inches in size, containing whatever information the student deems useful, to the exams.

During an examination:

No electronic devices of any kind are allowed during examinations. Cell phones and pagers must be turned off. Students who who disrupt the examination because of an audible phone or pager, or by answering a call, will be asked to leave and will have their exam confiscated. Students who may have a legitimate need to be on-call during an examination should discuss this with the instructor in advance.

Students who leave the exam for whatever reason will not be allowed to return.

Students are responsible for coming to the tests prepared. The instructor does not supply pens, pencils or answers. Tests should be completed in pen (any color except red).

Attendance policy for midterms and final: Students will not be permitted to leave for the first 30 minutes (midterms) or the first hour (final). No students will be admitted after anyone leaves.
Students should have a picture ID to present upon handing in their exams.

Makeup Policy : Midterm and final examinations may be made up only with a valid medical excuse and a doctor's note attesting that the student could not take the exam (a note merely showing a visit to the doctor's is not acceptable). Students seeking a makeup must contact the instructor as soon as possible.

There will be no makeups on quizzes.

Make-up policy for quizzes: In general quizzes cannot be made up, because the lowest two quizzes are dropped. Students who must miss quizzes because of documented university-related activities or civic obligations will be allowed to compensate by obtaining extra class participation credit (up to 2 points per quiz missed). The limit of 4 discussion position papers will not apply in this case.

Requests for extra credit assignments will not be entertained.

Homework: Homework problems will be assigned weekly, but will not graded. Students will be responsible for the assigned homework on quizzes and tests.

Academic Integrity :

Each student must pursue his or her academic goals honestly and be personally accountable for all submitted work. Representing another person's work as your own is always wrong. Any suspected instance of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Academic Judiciary. For more comprehensive information on academic integrity, including categories of academic dishonesty, please refer to the academic judiciary website at

Students suspected of cheating in exams, of plagiarizing their writing assignments, or of any other form of academic dishonesty, will be assigned an F grade for the course and will be reported to the academic judiciary.

Students who suspect others of cheating are encouraged to report them. Reports will be kept confidential. Dishonest students make things that much harder for the majority of students, who are honest.

Electronic Communication

Email to your University email account is an important way of communicating with you for this course. For most students the email address is "", and the account can be accessed here.
*It is your responsibility to read your email received at this account.*

For instructions about how to verify your University email address go to You can set up email forwarding using instructions at If you choose to forward your University email to another account, we are not responsible for any undeliverable messages.

Religious Observances

The policy statement regarding religious holidays is at Students are expected to notify the course professors by email of any intention to take time out for religious observance. This should be done as soon as possible but definitely before the end of the 'add/drop' period. At that time they can discuss with the instructor how they will be able to make up the work covered.


If you have a physical, psychiatric/emotional, medical or learning disability that may impact on your ability to carry out assigned course work, you should contact the staff in the Disability Support Services office [DSS], 632-6748/9. DSS will review your concerns and determine, with you, what accommodations are necessary and appropriate. All information and documentation of disability is confidential.

Students who require assistance during emergency evacuation are encouraged to discuss their needs with their professors and Disability Support Services. For procedures and information go to the website

Ctitical Incident Management

Stony Brook University expects students to respect the rights, privileges, and property of other people. Faculty are required to report to the University Police and the Office of University Community Standards any serious disruptive behavior that interrupts teaching, compromises the safety of the learning environment, and/or inhibits students’ ability to learn. See more here at

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