Van Gogh's Starry Night Spring 2018 ASTR 1200-001 Homepage

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 target Spring 2018 ASTR 1200-001 General Astronomy: Stars & Galaxies: Syllabus


This is a lower division course intended to introduce non-science students to Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe. For more details, see the Timetable.

This course is approved as a non-sequence course in the Natural Sciences Core Curriculum. There are no prerequisites.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that this course will be an easy A. It will take hard work on your part to obtain an A.

The text “Cosmic Perspective” has a brief prefatory section (page xxiv) entitled “How to Succeed in Your Astronomy Course”, which advises you that you should expect to study 2 to 3 hours per week outside of class for each credit hour. For this class, that means 6 to 9 hours per week studying outside of class.

Although the emphasis of the course is on concepts, the course will involve algebra at a high-school level, especially in the homeworks. Even if you do not like math, you should respect mathematical reasoning, and the remarkable power of mathematics to describe the laws of the Universe.


The overarching goal of any science course should be for you to learn how to think, reason, and argue scientifically — using logic, observation, and evidence. The homework assignments and group projects are intended to give you an opportunity to practice those scientific skills. You can find a discussion of the nature of science in Section 3.4 of “Cosmic Perspective”, page 69 and following.

The second major goal of this course is to give you an understanding of the Universe at large.


There will be one 50-minute midterm exam, which will take place in class on Fri Mar 2, and one 2.5 hour final exam on Sat May 5, as scheduled on the Timetable.

The exams will cover material discussed in class and in the assigned reading, and will consist largely of multiple choice and short-answer questions. The Mar 2 midterm will cover all material covered during the semester so far. The final will cover all material covered cumulatively during the semester, with an emphasis on material covered since the Mar 2 midterm.

I will drop either your midterm score, or half your final score, or your clicker score (see below), whichever is worst.

In class group Projects

There will be 4 in class group Projects, as scheduled on the Timetable.

The principal goal of the projects is to get you to think and argue logically with your peers. The projects are not intended to be chug-and-plug exercises.

Each project will fill the entire class period. For the project, you will assemble into groups of 3 or 4. You should immediately assign one of your group to be the “Scribe”. The group should discuss and solve the project together.

It is the Scribe's responsibility to write up the results obtained by the group, and to submit them at the end of class. I will accept only one submission from each group. The write-up must include the name of the Scribe, and the names of all the other members of the group.

To simplify the logistics, the groups will be informal, probably consisting of your nearest neighbors. You do not have to stay in the same group, and indeed I encourage you to rotate into other groups. You may not work alone, since the whole point of the project is to engage with your peers.

If possible, you should rotate the role of Scribe. Make a goal that you personally should be Scribe for at least one group project during the semester.

Only the 2 best of your 4 group projects will count for grade. Thus you may omit 2 group projects without penalty. This includes cases where you cannot be in class for a project for reasons beyond your control. If you miss a project, you cannot make it up, since the purpose of the project is to engage with your peers.


There will be 6 homework sets, which will be handed out in class, and which will also be downloadable from Homework. The homeworks are due in class as scheduled on the Timetable.

Only the 4 best of your 6 homeworks will count for grade. Thus you may omit 2 homeworks without penalty.

There will be a tendency for Homework problems to be more mathematical than group projects or exams.

The evening before each Homework is due, there will be a Help Session in one of the large lecture halls. The idea of the Help Sessions is to allow you to get help not only from me, but more importantly from each other.


We will be using clickers, and clicker points will contribute to your grade. You can purchase an i>clicker at the CU Bookstore, and then register your clicker online so that answers from your clicker can be credited to you.

Clicker questions will generally be of two kinds:

You win clicker points as follows:

In some cases there will be more than one correct answer to a question. However, clickers allow you to give only one answer to a question.

Every person gets 4 free clicker days, meaning that we will omit the worst scoring 4 days from your clicker score. These free clicker days include all eventualities, including days when your clicker fails to work, days when you forgot your clicker, days when you have a personal or family emergency, days when you have to be elsewhere to represent your team or club or University, and days when you go skiing.

As stated above under Exams, I will drop either your midterm score, or half your final score, or your clicker score, whichever is worst.

It is strictly forbidden to operate someone else's clicker for them. If you are discovered doing this, then both you and the person whose clicker you operated will receive an F. If you see a classmate operating two or more clickers, please bring it immediately to my attention.

TA Daniel Everding will be looking after the clicker system, and any questions regarding clickers should be addressed to him.

Observing Nights

The Sommers Bausch Observatory (SBO) has been reserved for the exclusive use of the 1200 level classes at the dates and times in the table below.

To get your 4% grade, you should turn up, sign in, and follow the TA's instructions on at least one observing night. You are welcome to turn up more than once. The TA will ask you to write a one paragraph description of one of the objects you have seen through the telescope.

Before turning up, look at the sky. SBO will be open only if the sky is clear or at least partially clear. Remember that Colorado is famous for skiing, not for astronomical observing. Do not procrastinate, for the heavens may not smile upon you.


Grading will be based on homework, in class group projects, clicker points, observing, the midterm, and the final.

If you add that up, it comes to 116%. To bring it to 100%, I will drop either your clicker points, or your midterm, or half your final, whichever is worst. For most people, your worst score will be the midterm or the final, so it may not be a good strategy to goof off on clickers.

The grading system is designed to allow you to miss some work without penalty. Late homework will not be accepted, and there will be no make-up exams. If you need to take the midterm or final early for good reason, please let me know in advance.

Here is the relation between numerical and letter grade.

On line grades at D2L

Grades will be available on line through the D2L system. TA Daniel Everding will be taking care of D2L grades, and any questions about the system should be addressed to him.

Participation Points (added 2018 Mar 14)

You will receive participation points for asking questions, answering questions, or participating in discussion, in a substantive way. I will hand you a card, you will write your name on it, and you will give it to TA Daniel Everding at the end of class. Each card is worth 1 participation point. Each point counts for 0.1% extra credit. You may earn up to 2% extra credit over the semester.

Fiske Planetarium

CU's Fiske Planetarium has been reserved at the usual class time on the days listed in the Timetable. You should go directly to Fiske (Campus map) on the listed days.


The required text is either the full edition: or the Stars and Galaxies chapters of the full edition:

The text comes with a bunch of on-line tools, accessible at Mastering Astronomy. You will need to have purchased the text in order to access the site.

Common Courtesy

I expect you: Please note that University policy forbids bringing food or drink into lecture halls.

You may expect me:

Academic Honesty

You are encouraged to form study groups and to discuss the course material with your classmates, but anything that you submit for grade must be your own work. We remind you that a Student Honor Code system is implemented throughout CU.

I have a very simple rule regarding the quoting or use of material obtained through the web or elsewhere:

and should preferably be accompanied by an appropriate citation of the source. Violation of the quotes rule will earn you an F.

Students with Disabilities

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to me a letter from Disability Services in a timely manner so that your needs may be addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities. Please consider the syllabus statement from CU Disability Services as part of this syllabus.

 Van Gogh's Starry Night Spring 2018 ASTR 1200-001 Homepage

syllabus | timetable | projects | homework | clicker questions | weekly summaries | review | images | text

Updated 2018 Mar 14