AY 101: Introductory Astronomy
AY 102: Introductory Astronomy Lab
AY 155: Life in the Universe
AY 203: Observational Astronomy
AY 204: Solar System Astronomy
AY 206: Astronomy Beyond the Solar System
AY 421: Theoretical Astrophysics
AY 433: Astronomical Techniques
AY 450: Stars & Stellar Evolution
PH 482: Special Topics – Astrobiology

AY 101: Introduction to Astronomy

Prerequisites: none
General studies: Natural Science
Credit Hours: 3

Student Profile: If you aren’t seeking to continue to higher level astronomy courses, but want a good
survey of the subject, AY 101 is a good option. AY 101 is taken primarily by students to satisfy part of their N
requirement in the University Core Curriculum. This course is not intended for students planning to major in
physics. (Physics majors on the astrophysics track should instead take AY 203, AY 204, and AY 206)

Course Profile: This course surveys in one semester the history of astronomy, the nature of planetary systems
(particularly our own Solar System), as well as the nature and evolution of stars, galaxies, and the Universe.
Some of the basic questions discussed in AY101 include:

  • Why does the Earth have seasons?
  • Why does the Moon have phases?
  • Why did ancient people believe the Earth is not moving?
  • Why are there different kinds of planets in our Solar System?
  • How do stars shine?
  • How do stars evolve and die?
  • What are black holes?
  • How do we know our Universe is expanding?
  • Why is the sky dark at night?
  • What is the nature of “dark matter” and “dark energy”?
  • Is there life elsewhere in the Universe?

Format: Astronomy 101 meets two or three times a week for 3 hours. A great many astronomical images from
ground- and space-based telescopes are used throughout the course. The course also includes observing
sessions using the telescope on the roof of Gallalee Hall.

Follow-up Course: If you plan to apply Astronomy 101 toward the N requirement of the University Core
Curriculum, Astronomy 102 must also be taken.

Alternative Courses: If you would like a more in-depth survey of planets, stars, galaxies, and the Universe, then
AY 204 (Solar System Astronomy) and/or AY 206 (Astronomy beyond the Solar System) may be better choices
for you. AY 204 and AY 206 take 2 semesters to cover the same topics as AY 101 does in 1 semester. AY 204
and AY 206 also use more math (algebra and trigonometry) to enrich the subject further. AY 204 can also be
combined with AY 203 (Observational Astronomy) to satisfy the N requirement of the University Core Curriculum.

View the AY 101 syllabus or download the PDF.

AY 102: Introduction to Astronomy Laboratory

Prerequisite: AY 101 must be taken before or concurrently with AY 102
General studies: Natural Science
Credit Hours: 1

Student Profile: If you aren’t seeking to continue to higher level astronomy courses, but want a good
survey of the subject, the combination of AY101 and AY 102 is a good option. AY101 and AY 102 are taken
primarily by students to satisfy part of their N requirement in the University Core Curriculum. These courses are
not intended for students planning to major in physics. (Physics majors on the Astrophysics Track should instead
take AY 203, AY 204, and AY 206)

Course Profile: Astronomy 102 is the laboratory associated with Astronomy 101 – Introductory Astronomy.
Laboratory exercises include observations of the sun, moon, and daytime astronomical activity. Indoor exercises
include analyzing stellar spectra, exploring the celestial sphere, and astronomical photographic analysis. More
specifically, the laboratory activities in AY 102 are designed to explore the following subjects:

  • The appearance of the sky and the yearly path of the Sun
  • Properties of lenses and telescopes
  • Measuring distances to stars using parallax
  • Lunar surface features
  • Light spectra; analyzing the Sun’s spectrum
  • The Sun and solar activity
  • The orbital motions of planets in our Solar System
  • Stellar brightness and stellar spectral types
  • The distribution of globular star clusters in our galaxy
  • Observations of our Milky Way galaxy
  • Galaxies and clusters of galaxies
  • Galaxy motions and the expansion of the Universe

Format: Astronomy 102 meets once a week for 3 hours. An instructor spends 10-15 minutes at the beginning of
each lab providing background. Students then work in small groups on laboratory exercises, turning in a report at
the end of each lab. The lab exercises and are contained in a lab manual available from the SupeStore. There
are several quizzes throughout the semester on the lab content.

Alternative Courses: If you would like a more in-depth survey of planets, stars, galaxies, and the Universe, then
AY 204 (Solar System Astronomy) and/or AY 206 (Astronomy beyond the Solar System) may be better choices
for you. AY 204 and AY 206 take 2 semesters to cover the same topics as AY 101 does in 1 semester. AY 204
and AY 206 also use more math (algebra and trigonometry) to enrich the subject further. AY 204 can also be
combined with AY 203 (Observational Astronomy) to satisfy the N requirement of the University Core Curriculum.

View the AY 102 syllabus or download the PDF.

AY 155: Life in the Universe

Prerequisite: none
General Studies: Natural Science
Credit Hours: 3

Course Profile: “Life in the Universe” is a survey of the new and rapidly developing interdisciplinary science of Astrobiology for the non-science major. This science brings the tools of astronomy and biology, as well as geology and chemistry, to attempt to answer questions like: How did life start on the Earth? Did life start elsewhere in our Galaxy? If there is life on other planets, how would we recognize it?

Students taking this course will be introduced to the science of Astrobiology, the process of science, scientific thinking, and the fundamentals of astronomical and physical principals used throughout this course. Then students will explore our current state of knowledge and the nature of life on the earth, the geology of the earth as it makes our planet inhabitable, the origin of life on the earth, and the process of evolution. We will then apply this knowledge to the question of whether life currently exists, or could have existed in the past, on other bodies in our solar system including the planets Venus and Mars, the large moons of the planets Jupiter, Saturn, and Neptune. We will then probe the effect of the history of our solar system on the habitability of various planets and moons. The final section of the course focuses on the possibilities of life on planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy (and beyond) by summarizing what is known and expected from surveys of planets orbiting other stars, the Search Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, and the prospects for future interstellar travel.

This course will expose you to the excitement of the new field of astrobiology with a goal of leaving you with a lifelong interest in astronomy, biology, geology, and chemistry (especially as it applies to the central questions of this course) and an appreciation for all science. No knowledge of these sciences is needed as a prerequisite. As scientists are just beginning many studies in astrobiology, new discoveries are constantly being made. This course will describe how our view of life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe has changed over time and cover new discoveries as they occur.

Format: Students are expected to devote approximately 2 to 3 hours per credit hour PER WEEK of preparation time OUTSIDE OF THE CLASS MEETINGS. For this course, the required time is 6 to 9 hours per week. You will spend this time with the assigned and outside reading, homework, discussion of the course material with others (whether they are enrolled in this class or not), studying, and thinking about your reading and experience with topics discussed in class. This so-called “reflection time” is an essential component of this course. A helpful essay on highly recommend suggestions of how to spend this time titled “How To Succeed in Physics By Really Trying” will be available on the BlackBoard page for this course.

View the AY 155 syllabus

AY 203: Observational Astronomy

Prerequisites: Students should normally have completed AY101 or a more advanced astronomy course; people now enrolled in AY101 or AY204 can be admitted with consent of instructor.
General Studies: Natural Science
Credit Hours: 3

Course Profile: This course is designed to give motivated students direct experience in astronomical observations and their analysis, including visual and electronic techniques. We will use portable telescopes on campus, the 16-inch telescope of the campus observatory, telescopes located in the darker skies at Moundville, and observatory telescopes in Arizona and Chile by internet control.The course carries 2 credit hours (one lecture, one lab).

Format: Both indoor exercises and observing projects are included. The lab scheduled for a particular period depends on the weather, phase of the moon, etc. There will be 12 sessions for the lab. Each student will do an independent observing project during the semester; get an early start to avoid being clouded out! The lab reports should be self-contained and complete descriptions of each exercise when forms are not provided in the exercise.

View the AY 203 syllabus.

AY 204: Solar System Astronomy

Prerequisites: MATH 113 (undergrad) with a minimum grade of C- or MATH 115 (undergrad) with a minimum grade of C- or MATH 125 (undergrad) with a minimum grade of C- or MATH 145 (undergrad) with a minimum grade of C-
General Studies: Natural Sciences
Credit Hours: 3

Course Profile: This course provides (1) a discussion of the orbital mechanics and of the interior structure, surface features, atmosphere, and origin of the sun, planets, and solar system; (2) an understanding of the detection techniques and current census of extrasolar planets, and (3) a discourse on the possibility of life on other planets. Throughout this course, students will analyze, synthesize, and evaluate astronomical data and concepts.

NOTE: AY 204 may be used with AY 203 to satisfy part of the N requirement of the University Core Curriculum.

Format: 2 closed-book exams during the semester plus a closed book final exam; 8-10 homework assignments with problems taken from the book as well as problems assigned by the instructor; 2 short quizzes will also be administered throughout the semester.

View the AY 204 syllabus.

AY 206: Astronomy Beyond the Solar System

Prerequisites: MATH 113 (undergrad) with a minimum grade of C- or MATH 115 (undergrad) with a minimum grade of C- or MATH 125 (undergrad) with a minimum grade of C- or MATH 145 (undergrad) with a minimum grade of C-
General Studies: Natural Science
Credit Hours: 3

Course Profile: This course provides (1) an introduction to the physical processes in stars and the evolution of stars that leads to the observed properties of stars; (2) a study of the final endpoints of stellar evolution including the nature and production of white dwarf stars, neutron stars, and black holes; (3) an introduction to the properties of galaxies, galactic dynamics, and star formation in galaxies, and (4) the cosmological model that accounts for the presently observed chemical composition of galaxies and stars, and for the presently observed dynamical structures of the Universe. Throughout this course, students will analyze, synthesize, and evaluate astronomical data and concepts.

Format: 3 short quizzes; 2 closed-book exams during the semester plus a closed-book final exam; 6-8 homework assignments with problems taken from the book as well as problems assigned by the instructor.

View the AY 206 syllabus.

AY 421: Theoretical Astrophysics

Prerequisites: none
General Studies: Natural Science
Credit Hours: 3

Course Profile: This course forms a broad introduction to astrophysical phenomena, with an emphasis on the underlying physical principles, outlining how fundamental phenomenology arises from physical laws. Several broad domains of astrophysics are covered, including spacetime structure, interstellar medium and star and planetary system formation, star structure and evolution, basic galaxy structure, and the nature and history of the universe.

Format: Homework will be assigned at the end of each topic and will be collected twice for each of the 3 parts of the course. Assignments will count about 50% of the final grade. Discussion with other students is encouraged to improve understanding, but each student must write up their work individually. There will be 3 exams, two during the semester and one during the final exam period. Exams will consist of an in-class part and a 24-hour take-home part. The exams will count about 50% of the final grade.

View the AY 421 syllabus.

AY 433: Astronomical Techniques

Prerequisites: none
General Studies: Natural Science
Credit Hours: 3

Course Profile: Theoretical and practical aspects of modern astronomical observational techniques. Photometry, spectroscopy, interferometry, and optical and radio data reduction and image processing.

Format: There will be regular homework assignments, both paper and digital. In addition,there will be several observing projects for students enrolled in AY533 (these will be extra credit for 433 students). The final exam will be a mock observing proposal in take-home format, adhering to formats used by national observatories or space facilities (typically 4 pages, single spaced). There will be hands-on observing sessions using our campus observatory and the remote SARA observatories. Scheduling of these always depends on the weather, but SARA telescopes have been scheduled for the nights of February 13 and 20, and March 6.

Writing Assignments: This course carries a W designation. As such, writing proficiency is required for a passing grade in this course; a major essay assignment (detailing the application of a selected astronomical technique to a current problem; 5 pages double-spaced) early in the term, and the final proposal, will be graded both on technical content and the quality of the writing.

View the AY 433 syllabus.

AY 450: Stars & Stellar Evolution

Prerequisite: none
General Studies: Natural Science
Credit Hours: 3

Course Profile: This course is intended to facilitate a fairly complete understanding of stars, including their structure, evolution (formation, stages of burning, end states), synthesis of elements, and the physical processes involved in each of these, as well as introduce the modern computational modeling techniques used to apply stellar physics to stars. For astronomy students, this course will provide the background necessary to understand the underlying principles of stellar processes and modeling as they are used both in ongoing research into stellar physics and phenomena and in support of other areas of astronomical research where stellar populations, products and processes are important. In a broader context, relevant for any physics student, this course will discuss how understanding the physical principles in fluids dynamics, high-density materials, heat transfer, plasma physics, nuclear structure, and nuclear processes are assembled into our modern understanding of how stellar objects behave, and how the study of stars pushes the frontier of understanding in these areas of physics.

While there is currently no formally listed undergraduate prerequisite, preparation at the equivalent of MATH 238, Applied Differential Equations 1, is expected for undergraduates. It would also help undergraduates to have taken at least AY 101, Introductory Astronomy for non-science majors, or, preferably, AY 204 and 206, Introductory Astronomy for science majors. For graduate students, no prior astronomy courses are expected.

Format: Semi-weekly (approximately every other week) homework will be assigned. Each student is expected to complete the homework individually, though discussion among students is fine. Each homework will consist of some problems for undergraduates (AY 450), some shared problems for both undergraduate and graduate students, and some problems for graduate students only (AY 550).

Each student will perform a semester project on a topic of their choosing using the MESA stellar evolution code. Results will be presented in an in-class presentation of about 10 minutes and written up briefly in about 5 pages. The topic will be chosen by the date indicated in the class schedule, in consultation with the instructor. Graduate student (AY 550) projects are expected to be broader in scope, for example exploring multiple parameters or more subtle questions, than undergraduate (AY 450) projects.

The final exam will be an individually administered oral exam with the instructor approximately 30 minutes in length. Undergraduates enrolled in AY 450 will have a lower expectation of performance than graduate students enrolled in AY 550.

View the AY 450 syllabus.

PH 482: Special Topics – Astrobiology

Prerequisite:
General Studies: Natural Science
Credit Hours: 3

Course Profile: Don’t let the Physics course listing confuse you. This class is aimed at all science majors, especially biology, chemistry, geology, physics, and astronomy students.

What is astrobiology? Astrobiology is an exciting, new, interdisciplinary field studying life in the Universe, covering the broad topics of origin, distribution, and evolution (both past and future) of life throughout our universe. Astrobiology seeks to answer the questions:

  • How does life begin and evolve?
  • How would we look for evidence of life?
  • Does life exist elsewhere in the Universe?
  • What is the future of life on the Earth and beyond?

New planets are being discovered every week. Some of these planets are Earth-like! We are discovering life on the Earth everywhere we look, even in shockingly extreme environments. Scientists are currently planning missions to look for life on other planets and moons in our solar system.

If you are interested in any of these topics, this class if for you! We will cover the fundamentals of physics, chemistry, geology, and biology to equip you with the background to consider these and other “big questions” as we examine where life may be lurking in our solar system, consider the latest discoveries in astrobiology as they occur, and look out into our galaxy and beyond to ask the question, are we alone in the Universe?

Required Text: Astrobiology: A Multidisciplinary Approach by Jonathan Lunine