Astro 120, an introductory course in modern astronomy for non-scientists, folliows
the growth of our understanding of our solar system (and the Universe) from ancient
times through modern times. The development
of astronomy over the millenia will serve as an illustration of the history of science
We begin with a study of the sky (night and day): we will learn the
constellations, study the motions of the Sun, moon, and planets, and review
the reasons for the seasons, eclipses, and tides, and the genesis of the modern calendar.
We then begin exploring the
bodies of our solar system -- the sun, the planets and their satellites, and
comets, asteroids, and meteorites. We then address the bigger questions
about the origin and evolution of our solar system, and discuss the hundreds
of recently-discovered other solar systems in our Galaxy. We conclude with a
discussion of the possibility of life beyond the Earth.
Throughout the course, we will be looking at the many exciting results from NASA probes,
as well using the ISU planetarium.
A terrific computer planetarium program, Stellarium is
a free download - it is the same program we use to run the planetarium projector, so you might
find it a useful program to run on your own computer.
The Ames Area Amateur Astronomers holds
monthly meetings at McFarland Park (NE Ames) including observing sessions afterwards - a great group of
enthusiastic lovers of the sky. Consider joining them and having a look through their telescopes.
Items from earlier in the course
Exam 3 (final): Tuesday, December 12, 4:30-6:30PM. Rooms for the exam are the
same as for Exam 2 (see below).
Homework 9, for recitation on November 10 (or 13), is
a bit different than usual. In recitation on those dates, you participated in a debate
on the value of funding basic planetary science at NASA. The homework was to help you
prepare for the debate by guiding you through some reading about the NASA budget request
for FY18 and other background info.
You were to bring the completed assignment to recitation to help you in the debate, and a
second part will be completed following the conclusion of the debate. Since participation
in the debate is vital to the process, no late assignments will be accepted.
Note that this activity counts as 2 homework assignments.
Homework 7 was due in recitation
on Friday, October 20 or Monday, October 23
Midterm grade estimates are available on Blackboard now. This is an
estimate of your course grade if the course were to suddenly end on Wednesday October 11.
The midterm grade computed with Exam 1 counting 75% and your recitation grade percentage (HW1-4, Q1) contributing 25%.
The letter equivalent uses the scheme in the syllabus.
Note that we do require attendance in recitation and that this grade estimate does not
account for lack of attendance.
If you haven't been attending recitation, you need to start coming.
Homework 6 was due in
recitation on Friday, October 13 or Monday, October 16.
An excellent TV show about the Voyager mission - "The Farthest"
was re-broadcast on Iowa Public Television on Sunday, August 27 at 7:00PM. It is also available
for streaming at the above link. Try to watch it.
We'll be talking about the Voyager discoveries at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune quite a bit
later in the course... and the mission itself is a fascinating story.
Recitation sections will not meet on Friday, Sept. 1 or Monday, Sept 4.
Homework 1 was due in your
recitation meeting (either Friday, 8/25 or Monday, 8/28).
If you did go to Missouri or Nebraska to see totality, you might have seen something like
this (what I saw from near Columbia):
The exam dates are as follows. Please note them in your
Exam 1: Tuesday, September 26, 6:45-8:00PM
Exam 2: Tuesday, November 7, 6:45-8:00PM
A word about the textbook for this class:
The text book for this class is, believe it or not, totally free and available online! Here
is a link to
Open Stax: Astronomy
This is a collaborative text expanding on one of the best ``old school'' astronomy textbooks (one that
I used to use) - it has been fully updated by the original authors along with a team of astronomers
from across the globe (including me). It has been made possible through the Open Stax
You may access the entire text online, download it as a PDF for printing, or if you'd rather have someone
else go to that trouble, you can buy a printed copy directly from the publisher. Check out the link above.
The ISU Bookstore has a few printed copies, but at a significantly higher price (>$60!)
Readings will be assigned in this text and in other web-based sources - see the
course outline and announcements on the website.