Spring 2010 Astronomy 110 MWF 9:30 — 10:20



Motivation is a basic part of human personality. In books, plays, and movies, a character's motivations are often explained by their goals and desires, as well as the actions of others: for example, Macbeth was motivated to murder King Duncan because he wanted to become king, but when he got cold feet, Lady Macbeth shamed him into striking the fatal blow. In real life, too, some motivations come from within, and some come from our relationships with others.

Now, what are your motivations for taking this class? Maybe that you are curious about astronomy and want to learn something about it. If so, you are motivated from within. I hope so — curiosity and a desire to learn are among the strongest motivations you can have.

Or perhaps you are not so interested in astronomy, but need the science credit to go on with your studies or graduate. In that case, you may be motivated because you want to be accepted as an educated persion, honor a family tradition of education, or gain status and authority as a college graduate. These are perfectly good motives, but they come in part from your relationships with other people. As you study astronomy, you will need to remember your original goals and recognize that doing well in this class will help you reach them.

Whatever the source of your motivation, I will do my best to help you out, answer your questions, and encourage you to succeed. But — and this is important — I can't create your motivation. Your motivations are part of your personality. I can no more motivate you to study astronomy than I can tell you what foods you like, what music you enjoy, or who you want for a friend. That's definitely not my job, and I'm very happy that it's not!

If you understand that motivation is your responsibility, I welcome you to this class and to the study of astronomy.


There is no getting around the fact that mathematical reasoning is an important part of astronomy. Students sometimes suggest that astronomy would be easier to understand if it was taught without mathematics. But without math, astronomy is little more than a random set of facts and a collection of pretty pictures. Math is the ''glue'' which holds the subject together.

Likewise, some understanding of physics is essential to the study of astronomy. Planets, stars, and galaxies are all physical objects, and they obey the laws of physics. Astronomers use these laws to understand the observations they have made. Without physics, we would have no way of knowing what kind of universe we inhabit.

This course has no prerequisites; any student at the University of Hawaii may take Astronomy 110. But as a University student you are expected to have some basic knowledge. Elementary arithmetic, fractions, percentages, and scientific notation (''powers of 10'') will be used throughout the course. Simple algebraic equations and geometric diagrams are used as required; I'll explain things as I go along, but you must make the effort to understand, and to ask questions if you are confused. Keep in mind that the purpose of equations and diagrams is to express relationships between different quantities; an equation is not just a ''formula'' for calculating answers! Finally, physical ideas will come up in almost every lecture. Concepts like energy, force, momentum, velocity, and acceleration are basic to astronomy; simple facts about atoms, light, electricity, and magnetism are crucial in understanding this subject.

Albert Einstein once said ''Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.'' This is a good rule, first because it says that simple explanations are better than complicated ones, and second because it recognizes that some complexity is unavoidable. As a teacher I have no wish to confuse you, and every possible motivation to explain this subject as clearly as I can. But I can't make astronomy perfectly simple — I would be cheating you if I tried! Many college-level textbooks on astronomy have been written, but all use some math and physics. I'll make every effort to explain the material in clear and basic terms. Your part of the bargain is to make a real effort to understand, and to ask questions, instead of assuming that science is just too tough. It's not!


The main reading assignments are summarized in the Course Outline, and listed in more detail on the web page for each topic. We're using The Essential Cosmic Perspective by Jeffrey Bennett, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit as the textbook. Do not make the mistake of using the book as a substitute for the lectures! While we will follow the outline in the book, the examinable material in this course is contained in the lectures, assignments, and homework exercises. We will skip some parts of the book, and cover a few sections out of sequence.

The reading assignments will average about 40 pages per week, and you may benefit by looking at them more than once. For example, it's a good idea to quickly read the assigned sections for each week before Monday's lecture; don't worry about the details, just try to get a general sense of the ideas. Then, after Friday's lecture, go back over the reading more carefully. It may help to highlight key ideas, but don't highlight long blocks of text; try to pick out the sentence or phrase which really explains the point. And don't feel you have to memorize names and numbers — I can't remember most of that stuff anyway, and I'm not going to test you on your ability to memorize trivia!


Weekly homework assignments are an important part of this course. It's impossible to really learn astronomy by just going to the lectures and reading the text — you must also actively work with the concepts, and the assignments are designed to help you do that. Each assignment is directly connected to the topics covered that week. This insures that you do the assignment while the relevant class material is still fresh.

The assignments are interactive web pages which you will find on our MasteringAstronomy web site. You complete these assignments by entering your answers directly on the web; there's no need to print out your answers, bring them to class, and turn them in. (This saves time and paper, and may also deny a few dogs a tasty treat!) It should be clear that you will need to register at the MasteringAstronomy web site to do the homework. The homework for each week will be due the following Monday at 9:00 AM; the exact due date and time for each assignment are listed on the web, and the software will not let you enter answers for credit after the deadline. To repeat: late homework is not accepted. The software will allow you to run through assignments you've already completed in ''practice mode''; this can be useful for review.

Homework counts for one-third of your course grade.


Instead of quizzes or midterms, you will be given a series of short in-class exercises, taken from the Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy by Edward Prather, Timothy Slater, Jeffrey Adams, and Gina Brissenden. These exercises are designed to be done with a partner or a group. Participating in these exercises is a key component of this course, and students who miss them will not be allowed to make them up later. In a good-sized and somewhat crowded class-room like ours, it's probably best to work in pairs. Needless to say, talking is expected during these exercises — if I don't hear a buzz of conversation, I'll remind you to talk!

The in-class exercises count for one-third of your course grade.


The final exam will take place in Watanabe 112 on Monday, May 10 from 9:45 to 11:45. Nobody can be admitted to the exam once anyone has left, so please be on time. You will need a Number 2 pencil to fill out machine-readable forms. You must also bring photo-identification (student ID card or driver's license).

This is a closed-book exam covering the entire course. It will include written questions requiring short answers, simple calculations, and multiple choice questions. You are allowed to bring a calculator and one page of notes.

You must take the final to pass the course. Absolutely no athletics-related absences will be permitted for the final exam. Students absent because of serious illness or family emergencies will be given an ''incomplete'' grade, but only if they contact me before 5 pm on Sunday, May 9.

The final counts for one-third of your course grade.


As a university student, you may be going through a time of rapid change. Perhaps you are living away from home for the first time. You have new freedoms — the freedom to decide your own hours, chose new friends, set your own goals. With those freedoms come important responsibilities.

As a university professor, I assume that you are ready to accept both freedom and responsibility. You are free, for example, to decide to skip the lectures; I can't make you come to class if you don't want to, and I have better things to do than take attendance! But freedom implies responsibility. If you don't attend class, you will miss exercises and assignments as well as your chance to learn the material. If you fail astronomy because you don't show up for lectures, you can only blame yourself — nobody else will take responsibility for your failure.

Your responsibilities do not end when you come to class. I expect you to pay attention, and if your attention wanders then you must make an effort to refocus it. Needless to say, things like talking, reading newspapers, or surfing the web in class show that you are not even trying to pay attention. I can and will summarize the lectures, review the key points, and in general give everyone a good chance to learn the material, but I can't direct the focus of your mindonly you can do that!

Likewise, it is your responsibility to know and follow the rules for the homework, quizzes, and final exam. These rules are designed to make sure that everyone gets proper credit for their work. Someone who tries to gain credit without doing the work, or tries to prevent other people from getting credit for the work they have done, is cheating. Cheating is not limited to violations of the rules spelled out above — any action which gives someone an unfair advantage cheats everyone else. Treat other students as you'd like them to treat you. For more specific guidelines, see the University of Hawaii's Student Conduct Code.

Joshua E. Barnes      (barnes at ifa.hawaii.edu)
Updated: 10 January 2010
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