Hiram College

Phys 202: Astronomy, Spring 3 week 2010

Dr. Laura Van Wormer

108 Gerstacker
email: vanwormerla@hiram.edu

Meeting days are unusual and subject to change from week to week!! Please check the schedule carefully.  Sometimes we will meet in Colton 2 and sometimes in Colton 17.


The texts are available bundled together from the publisher in our bookstore.  If you choose to buy them separately or buy used ones, be sure to get an official copy of Mastering Astronomy from Addison-Wesley as that is where your homework will be submitted and graded.

Astronomy:  A Beginner’s Guide to the Universe, 6th Ed. Chaisson and McMillan

Lecture-Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy, 2nd Ed. Prather, Slater, Adams and Brissenden and the CAPER team

Mastering Astronomy, Addison-Wesley Publishing

Goals and Objectives:

I have several goals for this course, some are academic and some are not. The non-academic goals that are very important to me are showing you how much fun astronomy (and physics!) can be, how fascinating it is and how much of it you can understand!  Our class will be a mixture of lecture, group work, discussions, activities and demonstrations, and its success will depend on your participation. Questions are welcome ANY TIME.

Some of the topics that we will investigate include the celestial sphere and our night and day sky, gravitation, light and optics, the nature and life cycles of stars, galaxies and the origin and evolution of our universe.

In this course, you will carry out experiments including studying light and optics in which quantitative data is directly acquired.  You will acquire and analyze data from a simulated remote telescope exactly as an astronomer would who has requested telescope time.  You will make regular observations and keep an observing log.  If the weather cooperates, we will occasionally observe at our telescope — to be recorded in your observation log.  As a consequence, you will understand how astronomical measurements are uncertain and how that limits our knowledge about such things as the distance to another galaxy or the size of the universe.

I hope that you will understand that the physical world can be described in terms of a small set of fundamental principles which provide a conceptual framework for analyzing any physical situation, no matter how complex.

  • You will model the way in which an astronomer acquires and uses data
  • You will learn some basic principles and methods of astronomy and physics;
  • You will improve your ability to communicate scientific ideas, in both oral and written form.

Following is how your grades will be determined

20% Observation reports–Any time you are observing, record your location, the date and the times that you observe an object.  You should always note what you see, the object’s location in the sky and its description, if appropriate, and whether or how it is moving.  For the two papers that are due, please submit them electronically.

20% Homework Your homework assignments are in Mastering Astronomy and consist of several types of questions.  You will find review and discussion questions and a few calculation problems.  Both these types of problems are also at the end of each chapter in your text book.  However, online you will also find a variety of problems that don’t exist in your text and sometimes come with diagrams, models and often hints.  I would like you to do these and the problems on your own.  For the review and discussion questions ONLY, you may work in groups of up to three people.  If you are working with others, please begin your answer with a list of who is answering.  When I grade them, I will then give credit to each of you.

20% Midterm

20% Final: Wed. 12 May, 9:30 am

20 % Attendance and participation, including labs and lecture-tutorials.

My expectations are that you will keep up with the reading. By that I mean, have the chapter we will be talking about read before you come to class. That will mean that I won’t have to lecture as much, and therefore you won’t be as bored! We can move on to doing other things.  If you want to email me with questions ahead of time, that would be awesome.  They might be about material you didn’t understand in the chapter or for further information than the text provided (no promises, but I’ll do my best.)

Observing activities

1. General night sky (one night) Due Monday 9:00 am April 26– set aside two hours, after dark (!) on a clear night, that you can continuously observe the sky.  Notice the sky, what is there and where it is located. Notice whether there are changes over the two hour time period.  If so, what changes and how?  If not, note that also.  Do things appear or disappear?  What are they and what happens to them?  Use landmarks, directions and a way to indicate height in the sky (be very clear, e.g. “low in the northwest” or “halfway up from the horizon in the SSE”) or the hand and fist method for estimating altitude and azimuth from class. You may identify particular stars or constellations if you wish, but this is not required for this assignment.  Write at least a 1 page paper (but no more than 2 pages) on your observations and what you have learned from them.

2. Moon phases – Due on the last full day of class, 9:00 am Tuesday May 11– During the course of these observations, notice not only the moon’s appearance (how much of the moon’s surface is illuminated), but also its position.  You will need to make these observations over the course of the term, so do at least one observation each week for a total of 5 observations.  Given our weather, it will be very important to observe any time that you have a clear sky and can see the moon!  As usual, finding a place where you can see the horizon is the best practice.  It would help to have a few low objects on the horizon that you can use for landmarks.  For this series of observations, always observe from the same location.  Bring your observing notebook, pen or pencil, flashlight and a ruler.

  • Be sure to note the time at which you are observing.
  • At each observing session, make a scale drawing of the moon.  (Remember that, at arm’s length, the width of your outstretched hand is about 22°, of your fist is 8°, of your 3 middle fingers is about 5° and of your index finger is about 2°.)   A reasonable scale is 5° in the sky is 2 cm on your paper.
  • Also measure the position of the moon, which means making two measurements – using the altitude/azimuth method and measuring from due North on the horizon.  If you are observing at nig ht, record the positions of a few of the bright stars that are nearby the moon (show them in your sketch, with accompanying measurements).

When you have finished all of the moon observations, study your observations and answer the following question:

What is the relationship between the position of the moon, the time it rises (you can find this information online) and its phase?  You are welcome to attach diagrams if they would help you explain your answers.  Also attach your observation sheets, or note the relevant pages in your observation journal.

3. Observation log:  Constellations and general observing Due on the last full day of class, 9:00 am Tuesday May 11–  In addition to the above specified observations, observe the night sky at least once each week throughout the term, for a total of 5 observations.  Again, go to the same location each time (unless we are at the observatory!)  You might try going out at various times during one night.  Start out with one or two objects that you know, and build on that knowledge.  Learn the nearby stars or constellations, look for planets and watch their movements over time.  Here are several web sites that you can help you figure out what should be showing and when.   Record all of your observations in your observing notebook.  Near the end of the term, look back through your observations, think about what you have seen and learned and write a paper at least 1 page but no more than two pages long about your experience.  Also turn in your observation log.

Astronomy Today:   http://www.astronomytoday.com/skyguide.html

Sky and Telescope:  http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/highlights

space.com:   http://www.space.com/nightsky/

My cell phone has an app called google sky map.  I can point my cell phone in whatever direction and it shows me what I’m looking at.  It also has a night mode that I can toggle to save dark-adjusted eyes.