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ASTR 103 – Course Syllabus
First Summer Session 2008

This is the first of two astronomy courses with lab offered at the University of Mississippi, mainly for non-science majors. ASTR 103 is also offered in the Fall semester. The companion course, offered in the Spring semester and the second Summer session (July), is ASTR 104; ASTR 103 is not a prerequisite for ASTR 104.

Course Description - Goals - Policies - Evaluation - Study Tips




Dr Luca Bombelli

E-mail: bombelli"at"
Office: Lewis Hall 105
Office hours: Any day we have class, 1-2 pm
Phone: (662) 915-5319; Fax: (662) 915-5045


Lewis Hall 101, MTuWTh 8:00-9:50

Required Text:

J. Bennett et al., The Cosmic Perspective
4th ed, Addison Wesley 2005 (with SkyGazer
software CD-ROM); publisher's website.


Lecture: In the lecture part of the course, we cover roughly the first half of the textbook: We start with a quick overview of some of the main observational facts on the sky, and the most important stages in the history of astronomy, and discuss a few physics concepts that are often used in astronomy, like the force of gravity, light and radiation, and how telescopes work. We then study in more detail the Sun and the Solar System, including the Earth, the Moon, the other solar planets and their satellites, smaller objects such as asteroids and comets, and the formation of the Solar System. The course concludes with an overview of current knowledge on extrasolar planetary systems. Current astronomy news will also be discussed on a regular basis, as well as highlights of the summer sky.

Lab: The course includes a lab component, and lab attendance is required of all registered students. Lab activities consist of outdoor observations through optical telescopes and indoor experiments on relevant physics concepts and computer simulations. (For more information on the lab, see the lab information page.)

A number of astronomical facts will be discussed in the course, and students will be expected to learn the main ones, as well as get a feeling for the length and time scales involved in astronomical phenomena. However, this is not a memorization course, and it will try to present science as an activity in which one figures things out, a way of looking at the universe rather than a set of facts to memorize. In the long run, understanding the connections between facts is more important than knowing the facts themselves, and students may be tested on their understanding of those connections and their thinking skills with questions that require short explanations or some amount of reasoning. In addition, although no specific math skills will be assumed, students will be expected to become somewhat familiar with the way numbers are used in science, by doing simple calculations in the lab; teaching assistants will be there to help.


Grading Scheme

Quizzes ...... 50 pts
Test 1 ....... 50 pts
Test 2 ....... 50 pts
Final Exam ... 50 pts
Labs ........ 100 pts

Total ....... 300 pts

Quizzes: Short quizzes will be given on most days. The questions will mostly be multiple-choice, but some short-answer questions will be included. Quizzes submitted on paper with torn edges will not be graded. Each missed quiz (except for justified absences) is equivalent to a score of 0, and there will be no make-up quizzes. The lowest daily score or one unjustified absence will be dropped for each student.

Midterm Tests: There will be three midterms, consisting mostly of multiple-choice questions, but some short-answer questions will also be included. Students will not be allowed to leave the room during the first 20 minutes of the test, or start the test after that time. A student who misses the test will be able to make it up if the absence is excused.

Final Exam: The format of the final will be similar to that of the midterms, but it will be cumulative and the questions on it will be about general topics in the course, and topics that require an overall knowledge of the material. Students will not be allowed to leave the room during the first 30 minutes, or start the test after that time.

Class attendance: Attendance to lectures is not mandatory, but students who miss a lecture will receive a score of 0 on any quiz for that day. To receive credit for a quiz, students need to remain in class until the end of that day's lecture period. In class, I expect students not to do things that distract other students and/or the instructor, such as talking with their neighbors, text messaging, or reading a newspaper during the lecture.

Justified absences: All justifications must be turned in on paper (not just shown to me).


For lab policies
see the separate
lab page


Honesty: Students who are caught cheating in any way will have their overall average score for the course lowered, by an amount dependent on how serious the cheating was. This includes not just cheating during tests, but also having another person submit quizzes in one's name, and of course copying someone else's lab report, beyond a reasonable amount of collaboration among members of a group.

Note: If a change in the class policies became necessary during the semester, it would be posted on this website and discussed in class before being implemented.

Tips on
for Tests

In preparation for a test or final exam, I recommend studying:
(1) Assigned sections in the book (see the lecture schedule and the individual lecture pages); you don't need to know the proper names (people, places, stars, and the like) and numbers that I didn't mention in class, but you do need to be familiar with all the concepts in those sections; (2) The lecture notes posted online; they are a good summary, from which you can see which parts of the material I emphasize most, but they are not detailed enough for you to only study those.

Once you are familiar with the material, you can test yourself with posted tests from previous years (a few of the questions will probably appear again this year, and the other ones are good practice anyway), and with the practice questions that are posted for each topic; to access these questions, go to the "resources" page of this website, and click on the links below the various topics. However, do not rely just on practice questions and past tests! Memorizing the material is a bad way to study; if you want to do well, make sure you know what each of the concepts we talked about means, and that you are comfortable with all the explanations, so that you can answer questions about them that you might not have seen before.

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Page by Luca Bombelli <bombelli"at">, Modified 21 jun 2008