AST 1001 -- Changes

Tue Mar 3 15:17:06 2009

Effective Term: New:  1109 - Fall 2010
Old:  1089 - Fall 2008
Term(s) most
frequently offered:
New:  Fall, Spring, Summer
Old:  Fall, Spring
Proposal Changes: New:  Additions to syllabus
Old:  <no text provided>
Sponsor Name:
New:  Roberta Humphreys
Sponsor E-mail Address:
this course fulfills:
New:  PHYS - PHYS Physical Sciences
Old:  ENVT - ENVT Environment Theme
Other requirement
this course fulfills:
New:  ENV - ENV The Environment
Old:  PHYS SCI/L - PHYS SCI/L Physical Science with Laboratory Core
Criteria for
Core Courses:
Describe how the course meets the specific bullet points for the proposed core requirement. Give concrete and detailed examples for the course syllabus, detailed outline, laboratory material, student projects, or other instructional materials or method.

Core courses must meet the following requirements:

  • They explicitly help students understand what liberal education is, how the content and the substance of this course enhance a liberal education, and what this means for them as students and as citizens
  • They employ teaching and learning strategies that engage students with doing the work of the field, not just reading about it.
  • They include small group experiences (such as discussion sections or labs) and use writing as appropriate to the discipline to help students learn and reflect on their learning.
  • They do not (except in rare and clearly justified cases) have prerequisites beyond the University´┐Żs entrance requirements.
  • They are offered on a regular schedule.
  • They are taught by regular faculty or under exceptional circumstances by instructors on continuing appointments. Departments proposing instructors other than regular faculty must provide documentation of how such instructors will be trained and supervised to ensure consistency and continuity in courses.

Note to the Committee on Liberal Education: In response to our first submission in October 2008, CLE suggested we add a statement to the syllabus about the value of liberal education and the physical sciences to a liberal education. We have done that. Second CLE requested that we enhance the human impact and social, political, and ethical issues in those sections of the course directly related to the environmental theme.  We decided that the best place to do this is in the labs where there is more opportunity for individual participation and discussion than in a 150-person lecture.  Therefore we have prepared several topics for discussion. They are included in our environmental theme supplement. Some are identified with specific labs while others are more general. These discussion topics will be added to the lab manual which we produce and will be included in the lab manual for the 2009-2010 academic year.

Physical Science
Astronomy is the oldest physical science. It therefore provides an excellent framework for learning what science is about, and how modern science investigates, interprets and explains our physical universe. Beginning with early concepts of an Earth-centered universe, the students learn how our modern view of the universe developed through observation, experiment, and theory. A major portion of the course is specifically about Astronomy; the Earth as a planet, the Sun and Solar System, the birth and death cycles of the stars, galaxies, and the origin and fate of our universe.  We concentrate on the physical phenomena and processes that take place in the universe more than rote memorization of facts. The course includes a semester long observational project that requires students to work outside making observations of the position of the Moon in the sky. Using these observations and a mathematical model of the Earth-Moon-Sun system, they then compute the position and predict the phase of the Moon at a later date. At the conclusion of this course the students will not only have a better appreciation of our place in the universe but the role of human discovery, creativity, and even serendipity in science.

Twelve formal lab sessions involve measurement and computation using both hands-on equipment as well as computer based simulations. For example, the students learn about the chemical analysis of stars by using spectrographs to identify elements from the radiation they emit when heated. Another lab allows the students to develop an understanding of orbits and gravity using a computer simulation of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth. The lab portion of the course includes 24 in-lab contact hours. An important component of the course, the Moon observational project, involves considerable outdoor work that is similar to a field or lab experience.

Physical Science.

Astronomy, the oldest physical science, is an excellent subject for satisfying the physical science requirement of the Diversified Core. This course concentrates on physical phenomena and processes that take place in the universe more than rote memorization of facts. The course includes a semester long observational project that requires students to work outside making observations of the position of the Moon in the sky. Using these observations and a mathematical model of the Earth-Moon-Sun system, they will predict the position of the Moon at a later date. A comparison can then be made between their prediction and the actual position of the Moon on that date.


The formal lab sessions will involve measurement and computation using both
hands-on equipment as well as computer based simulations. For example, the
students learn about the chemical analysis of stars by using spectrographs to identify elements by the radiation they give off. Another lab allows the
students to develop an understanding of orbits and gravity using a computer
simulation of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth. The lab portion of the course will involve 22 in-lab contact hours. The observational project involves considerable outside work that is similar to field or lab experience.

The Environmental Theme.

In this course we concentrate on the relationship between the human being and the universe.  Historically, cultures have demonstrated through their
astronomical models and concepts their mode of perception of the environment. Changes in this perception of the relationship between the individual and the natural world are reflected in, and sometimes driven by, changes in the astronomical paradigm of the society.  For example, the "Copernican Revolution" of renaissance Europe became an intellectual turning point for the civilization, leading from the classical, anthropocentric world view in which the earth was central and fixed, to one in which the earth was but one among many planets circling the sun. The view that the heavens were perfect and unchanging had to be abandoned when astronomers determined comets are not phenomena in the Earth's atmosphere.  

In our own time a similar paradigm-shift has taken place, symbolized by the
Apollo photographs of the Earth rising in the distance above the limb of the Moon. Driven again by astronomical research into conditions on the other planets, we have become aware of our planet as an isolated, fragile system in which every element cycles through various forms, but nothing is gained or lost. A central theme of Astronomy 1001 is showing how our present view of the universe has developed from observational and theoretical developments over the centuries, and to give students a feeling for the kind of thinking and questioning that brings changes in our model for the universe.
Criteria for
Theme Courses:
Describe how the course meets the specific bullet points for the proposed theme requirement. Give concrete and detailed examples for the course syllabus, detailed outline, laboratory material, student projects, or other instructional materials or methods.

Theme courses have the common goal of cultivating in students a number of habits of mind:
  • thinking ethically about important challenges facing our society and world;
  • reflecting on the shared sense of responsibility required to build and maintain community;
  • connecting knowledge and practice;
  • fostering a stronger sense of our roles as historical agents.

New:  The Environmental Theme
In this course we emphasize our relationship to our physical universe. Our immediate environment is the Earth, a planet we study to compare its surface, atmosphere, and evolution with the other planets, especially the Terrestrial planets Venus and Mars.  For example, the “Greenhouse Effect”, an important process in planetary atmospheres, was first proposed to explain the high temperature of the Venusian atmosphere. In this course we investigate this important physical/chemical process and its role on several planets and demonstrate how human activity has altered the balance of CO2 and other gases in the Earth's atmosphere leading to global warming. But our environment extends beyond our planet. Cosmic impacts by large asteroids and comets have altered the surfaces of the planets. This record can be observed on many solar system objects and on our planet impacts have had a major affect on the Earth's environment and biological evolution. The most famous example is the K-T event and the resulting mass extinction including the dinosaurs. We discuss the similarities with the possible environmental impact of a world-wide nuclear war. The environmental theme runs throughout the course and in the labs as illustrated in the attachment to the syllabus. Some other examples are energy sources, the impact of solar activity on our weather and climate, the origin of the elements, the necessary conditions for life as we know it, and life in our Solar System and beyond.   

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Please provide a provisional syllabus for new courses and courses in which changes in content and/or description and/or credits are proposed that include the following information: course goals and description; format/structure of the course (proposed number of instructor contact hours per week, student workload effort per week, etc.); topics to be covered; scope and nature of assigned readings (texts, authors, frequency, amount per week); required course assignments; nature of any student projects; and how students will be evaluated.

The University policy on credits is found under Section 4A of "Standards for Semester Conversion" at . Provisional course syllabus information will be retained in this system until new syllabus information is entered with the next major course modification, This provisional course syllabus information may not correspond to the course as offered in a particular semester.

New:  EXAMPLE Astronomy 1001 SYLLABUS converted from HTML


Astronomy 1001, Exploring the Universe, fulfills the Physical Science Liberal Education requirement. An appreciation of our physical world and the fundamental laws
that govern the immediate environment of our planet and the Universe are increasingly important to a liberal education as we face immediate environmental challenges with respect to energy and global warming. Astronomy will not only increase your awareness and appreciation of our home planet and the greater physical Universe, but your concepts of space and time will be forever altered.  

Sec. 2, Fall Semester 2008

Instructor: Professor Terry Jay Jones, 355 Physics
Office Hours: 8:30-9:30 AM MWF

Please read the entire syllabus carefully; you are responsible for all of the requirements and procedures described here. You are also responsible for all announcements, assignments, changes, etc., whether or not you are in class.

Due Dates -

Mid-Quarter 1: Monday, October 6        
Mid-Quarter 2: Monday, November 10
Final: Saturday, December 13th, 10:30AM-12:30 PM
Observational Project Part I: At least 3 observations ONLINE Sept. 9, 5PM
Observational Project Part II: At leas 9 total observations online Oct. 24.
Final Report: A total of 15 observations online and Final Report, Nov. 26.

Required Texts -

Text: The Essential Cosmic Perspective
Lab Manual: Astronomy 1001/1011 Laboratory Manual 2008-2009


Ast1001 and Ast1011H satisfy the Environmental Theme. The course introduces the students to a wide range of topics, from the Solar System and the cosmos, to the physical principles that underlie the workings of the Universe. The integrated study of the physical principles and the systems they apply to allows the students to see Earth in a broader context, and provides them with a unique perspective on our home planet and its environment. A key component of the course is an understanding of how science approaches the physical word around us. Environmental theme topics are addressed in several parts  of the course, in both lectures and labs The social, economic and human impact of various environmental issues, specifically global warming and energy sources are included as discussion items in the labs. (SEE BELOW FOR LINK DETAILS)


Special Needs - Any students with special learning needs must contact their professor during the first two weeks of class.

Academic Standards - The CLA and IT scholastic conduct and classroom procedures will be followed. You are responsible for being familiar with these. Students are welcome to work together, exchange ideas, etc. However, EACH STUDENT MUST MAKE HIS/HER OWN MEASUREMENTS AND OWN CALCULATIONS. Copying of someone else's measurements or calculations is equivalent to cheating and will be handled accordingly.

Examinations - Room assignments for the exams will be announced in class and posted on the course website. Bring two pencils and a photo-ID to all exams!  Exams will consist of 1/3 multiple choice, 1/3 short answer, and 1/3 long answer questions. If you cannot make it to an exam, see the professor well in advance. If you miss an exam, see the professor immediately about scheduling a makeup exam. Makeup exams can be scheduled for anytime, but ALL MAKEUP EXAMS ARE ESSAY. Your midterm exams will be returned to you in your lab. If you feel there is a mistake on the multiple choice portion of your exam, please see the secretary in Physics 356. You are allowed to bring in one 8 1/2 x 11" page of notes covered on both sides to each exam. You will not need a calculator for the exams, so calculators are prohibited.

Observational Project Information - START MAKING OBSERVATIONS RIGHT AWAY! and don't miss a clear night/day! Every term there are a few students who put this off. DO NOT BE ONE!! You will need your three preliminary observations by the end of the third week. Always save the original copy of your observation log, and turn in a photocopy.


Week                Topic                                Chapter        Labs and Due Dates

Sep. 2-5        A Perspective on Astronomy         1, 2        No Labs

Sep. 8 - 12        History of Astronomy,                 3, 4        D
                The Human’s View of the Environment,
                Matter and Energy, Universal Motion       

Sep. 15-19        Light and Telescopes                 5        A, Obs. Project
                                                        Part I due by Friday,
                                                        September 19, 5pm in Rm.256A

Sep. 22-26        Terrestrial Planets,            7        B
                Comparative Planetology

Sep. 29-Oct. 3        Jovian Planets                        8        L

Oct. 6                MID-TERM EXAM 1
                See Study Guide

Oct. 6-10        Asteroids, Comets,                 9        E
                Earth's Environment

Oct. 13-17        The Sun                                10        M/N

Oct. 20-24        The Stars and their Properties        11        I, Obs. Project
                                                        Part II due by Friday,
                                                        Oct. 24, 5pm in Rm.256A

Oct. 27-31        Star Formation and                 12        F
                Stellar Evolution

Nov. 3-7        Exotic Stars                        13        H

Nov. 10                MID-TERM EXAM 2
                See Study Guide

Nov. 10-14        Our Milky Way Galaxy                14        K

Nov. 17-21        Galaxies and the                 15        J
                Expansion of the Universe

Nov. 24-26        Dark Matter, Dark Energy,         16        No Labs, Final Obs.
                                                        Project due by Wednesday,
                                                        Nov. 26,  5pm in Rm. 256A

Dec. 1 - 5        Cosmology: The Big Bang Model        17        G
                and Inflation

Dec. 8-10        Life outside the Solar System         6, 18        No Labs
                and Extra-Solar Planets

Saturday, December 13, 10:30 AM - 12:30 PM FINAL EXAM


Material          Points for Each        Total Points          % of Grade
12 Labs                 20         240                 24% See Note Below!
Observational Project         -         140                 14% See Note Below!
Mid-Quarter 1                 -         180                 18%
Mid-Quarter 2                 -         180                 18%
Final Exam                 -         260                 26%
Total for the Course         -         1000                 100%

Grading will be assigned approximately as follows based on past experience: A: 900 - 1000; B: 800 - 899; C: 650 - 799; D: 500 - 649; F: 0 - 499 (You must receive a 'C-' or better to receive a grade of 'S'.)

Keep copies of all materials upon which you are graded (laboratory reports, observational project assignments, and examinations) until the end of the semester.  After the first two or three weeks of the semester, grade summaries will be posted weekly at  Students are expected to review their grade summaries for accuracy periodically during the semester and after the final examination.   Discrepancies should be reported to Terry Thibeault in the Office of the Department of Astronomy (Room 356 Physics; Phone: 612-624-4811; FAX: 612-626-2029; e-mail:

NOTE!  In order to receive a passing grade in the class you must get at least 50% of the total available lab points (120/240) AND at least 50% of the total available Observational Moon Project points (70/140). In addition, you must take all three exams.


Environmental Theme Topics

Week 1:

Introduction - our place in the Universe; the scientific method. Seasons, and the precession of the tilt of Earth's axis - long-term variations in Earth's climate.

Week 2:

Energy conservation - we cannot ``make'' new energy, only use what already exists by converting it---using power plants---into more useful types of energy. Note that this applies to future technologies as well: Hydrogen fuel cells, Hydrogen powered cars, ethanol85, etc.

Physics behind various types of energy-generating power plants: coal and gas (energy sources: chemical); hydroelectric (energy source: gravitation potential); nuclear (energy sources: nuclear, specifically, fission). Discuss energy inter-conversions take place in each type.

Lab D "The Moon"  

Discussion Question (in lab):  Without the Moon, the tilt of the Earth's axis would wonder over a range from nearly perpendicular to the plane of the Earth's orbit (no seasons) to nearly parallel to this plane (extreme seasons like Uranus) on time scales of a millions years. How would life have evolved on the Earth if there were no Moon? Would humans be here today?

Week 3:

Thermal radiation (opaque objects) vs. spectral line radiation.

Week 4:

Venus, Earth, Mars - compare their atmospheres: pressure, average temperature, amount of greenhouse gases. Neither Venus nor Mars are hospitable to life as we know it.

The atmospheric history of our planet - Earth has gone through 3 types of atmospheres during its 4.5 billion year history. The 2 earlier atmospheres were not hospitable to oxygen-consuming life. Discuss how the current atmospheric composition came about, and how it is maintained; how has human activity impacted the levels of O2 and CO2 (deforestation, industry, farming).

Radioactivity - half-life, radioactive by-products of nuclear reactors; discuss why these are harmful, and how long they remain harmful.

Lab B "Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion"

Discussion Question (in lab): Venus and Mars offer two climate alternative histories to that of Earth.  What is the scientific benefit of studying alternative systems, if our goal is to understand Earth's behavior better? Are there limitations to science in dealing with "single" systems?

Week 5:

The Greenhouse Effect - Compare Earth to Venus and Mars: run-away greenhouse on Venus, too little of it on Mars. Data: Co2 levels and rising average temperatures on Earth: correlation or causation? To answer, need to understand the physics of greenhouse effect. Propose solutions?

The Ozone layer - necessary (but not sufficient) condition for life as we know it. Discuss how ozone molecules are created and destroyed; role of CFCs; the measured level of ozone in the recent decades.

The Carbon Cycle - planet-wide mechanism that involves the atmosphere and the oceans, and governs the amount of carbon, and hence greenhouse gas CO2 in the atmosphere.

Plate tectonics - In the Solar System, Earth is the only planet that has plate tectonics. Some argue that this is a necessary condition for diverse life. History of discovery of continental drift.

Cosmic Impacts - Comet and asteroid impacts throughout the history of our planet have had a profound effect on the Earth's environment. Even though the chances of a major impact are small, the consequences of such an event would be far-reaching. Discuss similarities with nuclear winter.

Discussion Question (in lab): The reality of global warming/climate change is now accepted in the scientific community and by world political leaders.  The best global climate models however suggest that even if we significantly slow the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases we can only slow the rate of climate change. Reversal of the current warming trend will not be achieved in our lifetimes. Can we as a society make such a long term commitment?    

Week 6:

Theory of relativity - equivalence of mass and energy; how much energy can be extracted from mass. Potentially useful way to extract energy?

Lab L "Impacts from Space" Discuss conservation of energy: conversion of potential to kinetic, with some energy dissipated as heat, sound. Same basic principle as the one used by hydroelectric plants to generate energy.

Discussion Question (in lab): Although very rare, large impacts can have a serious effect on our climate, world civilization, and the extinction of many species of plants and animals. How serious is this threat? How much of our nation's resources should be invested in methods of prevention?

Week 7:

The Sun as the main source of energy on Earth - fossil fuels, solar energy, wind energy, even ocean waves, in part, owe their energy to the Sun. Discuss in detail. Sun's energy source: nuclear fusion.

Nuclear Fission vs. Fusion - Stars' source of energy, fusion, vs. what we do on Earth, fission. Discuss by-products of both; why fusion on Earth is difficult to achieve (magnetic confinement), and why it is desirable as an energy source for us. Nearest nuclear power plant: Prairie Island facility near Red Wing, MN.

Efficiencies of various energy sources - Power plants are never 100% efficient, some fraction of energy dissipated as heat. Chemical energy power plants are least efficient; hydroelectric and nuclear are better. Discuss availability, and other economic issues: Limited supply of hydrocarbon fuels; Sun's enormous volume and long lifetime - virtually unlimited supply of solar energy.

The Sun and space weather - flares and prominences affect the upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and cause disruptions in communications. The Solar cycle could be affecting the weather. Long-term variation in solar flux has affected climate on Earth.

Lab F "Atomic Spectroscopy" Examples of energy conservation: emission, absorption lines. Incandescent bulbs radiate mostly in the Infra-Red, compared to fluorescent light bulbs which radiate mostly in the visible, and through emission lines. Energy efficiency: more than 90 percent of the energy produced by incandescent lights is heat, not light, i.e. incandescent bulbs are very inefficient. Modern compact fluorescents are up to 4 times more efficient than incandescents.

Week 8:

Lab I "Energy Flows" Energy conservation; inter-conversion of energy from one form to another. Water heated continuously eventually attains equilibrium, but the equilibrium water temperature depends on the amount of incident heat: relevance to the oceans and the greenhouse effect. Discuss the role of oceans in storing Sun's heat. Efficiency of chemical combustion to produce energy; compare to the efficiency of nuclear fuel.

Discussion Question (in lab): Even though coal is plentiful in the US, it is a limited resource; solar energy, on the other hand, will last for billions of years. What are the relative environmental advantages and disadvantages and the relative cost of coal and solar power?  

Week 9:

Chemical Elements - Where do these come from, synthesis in various astronomical settings. Why are some elements common (Carbon, Oxygen), while others are rare (Uranium, Plutonium). Can we convert one element into another? For example, can the excess carbon of the greenhouse gas CO2 be converted into oxygen?

Lab H "H-R diagram" Why do stars spend different periods of time on the Main Sequence vs. the Red Giant Branch? Not all nuclear fuels are equally efficient: Hydrogen is the most efficient nuclear fuel; we would like to be able to use Hydrogen fusion to generate energy on Earth.

Discussion Question (in lab): As we study stellar evolution, we find that dramatic changes take place on very long timescales, often billions of years.  How sensitive are we as humans to long term changes in the planet and the Sun, and what time-scale changes should we be paying attention to?

Week 10:

Lab M/N "Life in the Solar System and the Universe" Conditions that exist on other planets; possibility of colonizing other star systems in the Galaxy.

Discussion Question (in lab): Suppose that we discover life on another planet, where the civilization is just entering the technological phase.  What lessons from our experience would you share with them?

Week 11:

The color of the daytime sky, and the atmospheric pollution - Why do the Moon and Sun look redder at sunset?

Lab K "History of Matter" Where do chemical elements come from; relative abundances.

Week 13:

Lab J "Expansion of the Universe"

Discussion Question (in lab): What role should scientists play in distinguishing non-scientific claims, such as the influence of the moon and planets on people's lives, from scientific knowledge? How do we distinguish between claims based on scientific research and claims based on politics, economics, and other human disciplines?

Week 15:

Life Elsewhere in the Universe - To truly appreciate Earth's unique environment one needs to compare it to that of other planetary bodies. Discuss properties of planets outside of the Solar System (none appear to be even remotely comparable to Earth). The importance of water; some planets and satellites in the Solar System may harbor primitive life.

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