Astronomy 300 Stars Planets & The Milky Way

Instructor: Dr. Chris McCarthy

Lecture: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 1:10 - 2:00 PM, in HH 439

Office: Thornton Hall 520. Telephone: 338.1880
Office Hours: Tuesday 2-4, or by appointment
Email address:
(please include "Astronomy 300" in the subject of emails, and don't forget to sign your name!)

Course Website:
The course website will provide homework assignments, other important course information.


This is a course provides a scientific introduction to astronomy, with a focus on stellar astronomy. The primary emphasis will be on the structure, evolution, and dynamics of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, and its constituent stars, gas, dust and dark matter. The course is designed to be the first upper-level astronomy course taken by astronomy (BA) and astrophysics (BS) majors. It is also suitable for students in other majors who have a strong interest in astronomy and physics and have taken at least one semester of physics.

Prerequisites: Physics 220 or Physics 111 with a grade of C- or higher.

The course will emphasize physical laws and principles that underlie astronomical theory and observation. The discoveries by which we came to our current understanding will be discussed, along with the methods used by the discoverers.

Weekly required reading assignments will be from two required texts and from articles distributed by the instructor. Homework assignments will include calculations and reading and writing assignments. Scientific notation, algebra, trigonometry, and logarithms will be used extensively. Calculus is not required but may be helpful at times.

Course Goals/Learning Outcomes



An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics, 2nd Edition , by Carroll & Ostlie (C&O).
The Alchemy of the Heavens: Searching for Meaning in the Milky Way by K. Croswell (KC)

The Watershed: a Biography of Johannes Kepler (Chapter 6) A. Koestler. Provided by the instructor.

We draw from both texts throughout the course. See the COURSE OUTLINE for required readings each week. Carrol & Ostlie is a comprehensive astrophysics text, and will again be use by students taking Astronomy 400. Passages of this text which employ calculus are not requires, but should be skimmed lightly by students interested in a careers astronomy.

The Alchemy of the Heavens provides a captivating historical narrative of how scientsts came to our modern (ahem, 1995) understanding of the Milky Way Galaxy. It is readable by the general public. One advantage of the book is that his shows the complex and sometimes circuitous paths by which scientific theories emerge and important aspect of science not often found it textbooks.

The same can be said of The Watershed, of which we will read one chapter supplied by the instructor. This well-written biography of Kepler provides rare insight into both the process of discovery, and the origins of modern science, whose fundamental aspects were laid out by Kepler's work.
Class attendance and participation are an important part of your grade. Students are responsible for all information given out, and activities done in class.

GRADES Course grades will be determined using these weightings:

Course & Exams grades will depend on performance of the class as a whole (i.e., graded on a curve).


HOMEWORK: Homework will be assigned nearly every week, for a total of 10 assignments. Late homework will not be graded. The lowest homework assignment will not be included in the student's grade.
EXAMS: There will be 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 the entire course (about 33%).

If exceptional circumstances cause an exam or homework to be missed, these must be explained BEFORE the due date. Any assignment submitted under a student's name which is not in fact the work of that student will receive zero credit. The student's name will be referred to the University's Office of Student Conduct.