Astro 346  - Spring 2007


Introduction to Astrophysics



Lecturer:  Curt Struck  (Office:  A525 Physics;  294-3666,


Text:  Zeilik, Gregory and Smith,  Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics  4th edition.

Secondary References: Fraknoi, Morrison and Wolff,  Exploration of the Universe (also Abell, Morrison and Wolff)

Kutner, Astronomy: A Physical Perspective,

Carroll and Ostlie, An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics


            This course is designed for those who have had little or no previous experience in astronomy and astrophysics,  but who do have a good foundation in basic physics and mathematics, and who are already accustomed to scientific thinking and problem solving.  The course can appropriately serve as the beginning of a professional program in astronomy, or as valuable supplementary experience for those in related scientific fields, or simply as an excursion into astronomy for those equipped to explore it more deeply than can be done in the 100-level courses.  Hopefully, it will be an adventure of discovery for everyone,  since developments in astronomy are literally revolutionizing our picture of the universe.


Class Structure


            First of all, I want to encourage discussion and participation in this class.  Some material, especially background physics, is most efficiently reviewed in traditional lecture style.  However, as we advance out into the universe we will find as many unknowns as knowns. Hopefully, this will generate many vigorous discussions.


            Of course, the lectures will make more sense, and the discussions will be more informed and interesting, if you can keep up with the recommended readings.  I realize life is intermittent chaos and that you won't always be able to come to class with the relevant text thoroughly read and digested!  Nonetheless, even if sometimes you don't have time to do more than skim section headings and figure captions, you will find that helpful.





            Regular homework sets will be assigned at intervals of about every 2-3 weeks.  Late homework will not be accepted for credit without permission.  Assignments may include problems from the textbook or exercises which I have written (or taken from other sources).  I will try to emphasize the genuinely important things and make the problems as instructive as possible. They will not be intended as trivial busywork, or as tricky problems designed merely to see how clever you are.  They should not prove to be unreasonably time consuming, but some may take considerable time to complete.  Don't put off working on an assignment until the last night!


            Note: because most people learn by doing, I regard the homework as a very important part of this class, and it will be an important part of your grade.  I encourage you to work together, or in study groups, to figure out homework problems.  However, the work you turn in must be your own.  This means that after discussing it with others, I expect you to rework it, and write it up on your own.  Although it may seem to be a time-consuming process, this is actually a very efficient way to learn complex, new material.


            We will also do a project that will involve individuals or groups doing a modest amount of research on a topic and presenting their findings to the class. I will provide a topics list and more info later in the term.


The Text


            Material presented in class makes up the primary core of the course, but we also have a very good text. Thus, the assigned readings from text will be an essential tool in preparing for class, and for homework and tests. The order in which we study various topics will sometimes differ from that of the text, but actually, not much with the current text.  You will also find the secondary references useful.




            I will make copies of my lecture notes available.




            Course grades will be determined on the basis of class participation, on your performance on quizzes, and the homework.  There will be three in-class hour exams, with the last given during finals week.  The bulk of each exam will be devoted to the material covered since the previous exam, but a portion will be "cumulative".  Each quiz will be worth 10% of your grade.



In summary, grades will be determined as follows:


            Class participation:                              15%

            Homework: Regular prob. Sets:          40%

            Project:                                                15%

            Quizzes, 10% each =                           30%


Approximate Letter grades in terms of percentage of possible points


            85 - 100%       A- - A

            70 - 84%         B- - B+

            55 - 69%         C- - C+

            40 - 54%             D

            < 40%      F


            These levels are partly based on absolute standards, e.g. you ought to be able to earn at least a few of the quiz or participation points even if you already have nearly all the homework points in order to pass.  They are based more on my several years experience with what are reasonable expectations for students in this course. The levels may seem generous.  However, since this is the first astronomy course for most students, and since we move through the material quickly, I find that even hard-working students rarely achieve perfection on the problems and quizzes. I reserve the right to change them by a couple of percentage points.