ASTRONOMY 115 - Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Chris McCarthy

Class Meeting Time & Place: NONE. Class will be taught online, asynchronously.

Office Hours

All students are welcome to attend any of three office hour sessions: No appointment is necessary to join office hours. We can work on homework problems,discuss topics discussed in lectures (or other topics) or discuss the course in general. To attend, click on this Zoom link:

If details of the office hours change, the changes will be displayed here, at:

Email address: {which is the same as}

When writing, the subject of your message should include "ASTR115" and your section. For example, either ASTR115-1 or ASTR115-2 or ASTR115-3 or ASTR115-4 Your section number can be found in iLearn under "My Courses" I will usually respond within 24 hours. Students are expected to check their official SFSU email address frequently. It will be used for important course announcements.

Webpage: All aspects of the course will be available via There is also a duplicate "backup" webpage with course material:

which is available even if you can't access iLearn. {It is not necessary to view both pages}

COURSE DESCRIPTION - Introduction to Astronomy

This is an introductory astronomy class for non-science majors. Topics covered include: motions of Sun, Moon & stars, models of the solar system, tools of astronomy, the life and death of stars, galaxies, cosmology and the search for extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life. We will discuss the exciting astronomical discoveries that frequently make news headlines.

Preparation: It is not assumed that students have any previous knowledge of astronomy, so questions of all kinds are strongly encouraged. The course will make use of algebra (but not advanced mathematics) as a tool to help us understand the size and scope of the universe. Calculators may be used at any time. One goal of the course is to enable students to become more comfortable applying their own abilities to solve problems using math and critical thinking.

Teaching Methods

When taught in person, ASTR 115 typically has 2 lectures per week, each lasting 75 minutes. This semester, this course will be taught asynchronously, meaning that lectures will be recorded by the instructor and can be viewed by students videos at any time of day. Lectures are typically about 50 minutes long, and be uploaded to by Monday of each week. The Schedule for the course lists the content of these lectures, the texbook Chapters covered, as well as homework due dates. The dates linked to each numbered lecture correspond to a Monday/Wednesday schedule. However you are free to view these lectures on any day of the week, and any time of day. Each week will begin with a short "What's Up This Week" video, to introduce the topics and let you know about due dates and current events.

Important note: while this course is asynchronous, it is NOT "self-paced". You are required to view the "What's Up" video and the two lectures each week, and submit assignments on time.

You may go back and view lectures weekly, but may do so at any time they wish. The lectures will also be made available in .pdf format.

Sections: I am teaching over 400 students! You are enrolled in one of these sections:

  • ASTR115-01, ASTR115-02, ASTR115-03, or ASTR115-04

    When communicating with me, please let me know which section you are in. (If you do not, then my response to you may delayed somewhat.) All sections cover the same material and have the same schedule, and the same access to office hours. (The times listed for "bichronous" sections are the office hour times.) Office hours are optional.


    The textbook for the course is What's Up With Astronomy? by C. McCarthy
    It is new, as of Fall 2021. All students are required to have a copy of the textbook. Books are available for at this link:

    And at the SFSU Bookstore


    We will read approximately one chapter per week. You can see which chapter we are reading by viewing the Schedule

    GRADES Final grades will be determined according to these weightings:

    Course & Exams grades will depend on performance of the class as a whole (i.e., graded on a curve). Minimum grades given for completion of work will follow these guidelines:
    HOMEWORK: Homework will be assigned weekly, for a total of 6 assignments in the semester. Due to the large number of students enrolled Late homework will not be graded. All work submitted for this (or any) class must be your own. Any assignment which is copied (from any source) will receive zero credit. The offending student's name will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct.

    EXAMS: Examinations will be based on lectures and the textbook. There will one midterm exam and one final exam. The final exam will focus on concepts and topics after the midterm (about 66%), but also include topics from from the entire course (about 33%).

    Difficult Situations: If circumstances beyond your control will cause you to be unable to submit an assignment, you must let me know before the assignment is due, so alternate arrangements can be made. In light of the tragic ongoing COVID pandemic, I feel a responsibilty to treat student situations with compassion. I also expect students to communicate their situations in a clear and timely way.


    Learning Objectives

    Students successfully completing this class will be able to:

    OTHER NOTES pertaining to all SFSU Courses:

    Disability Access: Students with disabilities are encouraged to contact the instructor for accommodations. The Disability Programs and Resource Center (DPRC, in the Student Service Building) is available to facilitate this process. Contact DPRC at: or 415-338-2472 (voice/TTY).

    SF State fosters a campus free of sexual violence including sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, and/or any form of sex or gender discrimination. If you disclose a personal experience of such violence, the instructor is required to notify the the Title IX Coordinator by completing the report form available at, emailing or calling 338-2032. To disclose confidentially, contact The SAFE Place - (415) 338-2208; OR Counseling and Psychological Services Center - (415) 338-2208; For more information on your rights and available resources:

    COVID-specific Health & Safety Commitments: Your health and safety are our paramount concern at SF State. We ask every member of our campus community to join a pledge to make and follow plans to keep fellow students, faculty, and staff safe and well.Feeling confident, safe and well will help you focus on your academic success. To participate in this class,all students are expected to:

    For more information about SF State's response to COVID-19 and how you can keep yourself and otherssafe and well, visit the Campus Comeback Website. To plan for how you will maintain your academic success when unexpected events disrupt regular teaching and learning activities, follow the informationon the course syllabus and consult the Keep Learning guide.
    This course qualifies for GE Science credit