AS101, AS101D, & AS101L, Introductory Astronomy

Syllabus CRN 32660, 32661, and 32662 (4 credits) Lab  Science

Inside MC

for summer/FALL semester January 28-May 18, 2014
this file is at Astronomy professor

[240]-567-1463 Dr. Williams' office Science North 106.

Class Meetings Times: Tuesday & Thursday 6:30-9:10PM in the Planetarium, Science South 130 at Montgomery College on the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus.

Catalog Description: Elementary descriptive astronomy emphasizing appreciation of the earth's relationship to the universe. Information collection and data analysis techniques utilized in astronomy. Lecture discussions cover the basic laws of physics, the solar system, stars, nebulae, and galaxies; the origin and evolution of the universe; the possibility of life throughout the universe. Laboratory exercises in the use of celestial coordinates; the determination of time and position, studies of stellar photographs and spectra. Field trips to area observatories and occasional evening assignments for observation. 4 semester hours

Course Outcomes:
Upon completion of the course, the student will be able to:
  • Classify the stars using its spectra.
  • Describe the composition, method of energy production, origin, and evolution of the Sun.
  • Describe the origin of the stars, interstellar medium, and the life cycle of the various categories of stars.
  • Describe the various bodies that are found in the solar system.
  • Determine the lifetime of different stars.
  • Explain and apply Hubble's method of classifying different galaxies.
  • Explain how a telescope works and how to use one to observe various objects in the sky.
  • Explain the "Big Bang" theory and calculate the age of the universe.
  • Explain the importance of Kepler's laws of motion and then solve simple problems dealing with planetary motion.
  • Explain the spectroscopy and how it is used in the study of the universe.
  • Explain the structure and composition of the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • My Description: During this course we shall look up at the stars and answer the question, twinkle twinkle little star how I wonder what you are. We will also find out where to look for what in the sky and why some things are more easily seen in certain parts of the sky than others.  We shall assemble a celestial sphere. Since almost everything we know about the cosmos comes from observing electromagnetic radiation (light), we shall spend some time studying and observing the properties of light. Many of these properties are outside everyday experience. We shall see how spectroscopes are used to break light apart by wavelengths and how different gases have unique light signatures (spectra) when excited. We shall use a spectroscope.  We shall use a simple telescope of the same quality as Galileo used in 1610 to revolutionize our understanding of the universe. We will learn how to use an ancient astronomical calculating machine called an astrolabe, the earliest personal computer. With this we can predict the position in the sky of stars and the sun. We will measure the brightness and color of an open star cluster by running a computer program that is a virtual reality. We will measure the period of the orbits of the four bright moons of Jupiter by running a computer program that is a virtual reality. We will measure the orbital period of the planet Mercury by running a computer program that simulates bouncing a radio pulse sent from a radio telescope from Earth to Mercury and back. We shall see how and with what precision distances to planets, stars, galactic star clusters, globular star clusters, galaxies, metagalaxies, and super galactic clusters are determined. We shall see how color, temperature, mass, brightness, chemical composition, and age all affect stars. We shall look through a number of pretty nice college telescopes.  We shall have fun while doing this.

    Clientele: Anyone who wants to understand the bigger universe outside of this planet.

    Prerequisite: Willingness to read, think, and communicate. The catalogue says assessment levels: EN101/101A, MA094.

    Course Materials

    Stuff You Have to Buy at the Bookstore

    1.  The Cosmic Perspective 7th edition by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit as primary astronomy text $167.75. new in bookstore or download  text or one line subscription for 180 days for $62.99 (make sure you get The Cosmic Perspective not the Essential Cosmic Perspectives which is shorter and more expensive.  It is very hard to share text books with a friend while taking the course and pass the course.  If you are not smart and want to rent the book
    Course Goals


    1. That you read the assigned portions of the text before I lecture on it and take notes that will go into your Portfolio.
    2. That you will ask questions on the text and any assignments that you didn't understand to your professors so we can discuss it in class.  If you did not understand it you can be sure that other students did not understand it either.  You will be helping other students as well as yourself by asking questions in class.
    3. That you will complete a number of astronomy labs that may be done as small group activities or solo if you wish to work alone.
    4. That you will keep your Portfolio up to date so you can use it on the astronomy exams.
    5. That you will appreciate our place in the universe and have discovered your own answer to the question of how the universe reveals knowledge and wisdom.
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    Disability Support
    Any student who may need an accommodation due to a disability, please make an appointment to see me in my office. You can make an appointment in class or by call my office, 240-567-1463, which is Science North 106. A letter from Disability Support Services (ST120) authorizing your accommodations will be needed. Any student who may need assistance in the event of an emergency evacuation must identify to the Disability Support Services Office; guidelines for emergency evacuations for individuals with disabilities are found at:  

    College No Smoking Policy
    On August 1, 2008, Montgomery College implemented a Smoke and Tobacco Free Policy which prohibits smoking or the use of other tobacco products on any of its campuses or other property.  Students who smoke or use tobacco products will be considered in violation of the student conduct code and their behavior will be reported to the Dean of Student Development’s office for the appropriate disciplinary action including probation, suspension, or dismissal.  If you have any questions about this new policy, please contact the Vice President and Provost’s Office, the Office of the Dean of Student Development or the Campus Security Office.”

    Grading Policies

    How Your Grade is Determined in Astronomy

    1. Take two test, which will each count 15% of your total grade.  Test 1: "Realm of the Universe: Geometry and the Physical Laws" on March 4,  2014 covering Chapters 1-6 and S1-S4, and modern Physics S2-S4, "Special Relativity: Time-Space," "The General Theory of Relativity: Gravity in Time-Space," "What is the Universe Made of: the Standard Model of Particle Physics.". Test 2 on April 1,   2014 covering Chapters 1-13 and S1-S4, but emphasizing Chapters 7-13"The Planets." These two will count 30% of your final grade.  Test are given in class for the entire class period, but you are not time pressured. In extreme emergency you can take the test in the Assessment and Testing Center in ST323, but you must talk to me and get me to put a test in the center.  You then have to call 240-567-1555 to make an appointment to take the test between Monday-Thursday 8:30AM to 8PM and Friday 8:30-2:30PM.  No Saturday or Sunday hours, sorry.
    2. Final test Chapters 1-24 and Chapters S1-S4 everything I have said or done in class, all of the labs,  and on May 13, 2014 start at 6:30PM but you must finish by midnight (you will not be time pressured; it will not take this long to take the test) will count 30%.
    3. Participation in discussion and asking question in class will count 3%.
    4. Miniquizes (a READING the CHAPTER QUIZ) at the start of every class right after question time will count 7%.  It is very important to read the text before the lecture, you will be tested on this in the miniquizes, they count almost as much as one of the regular test!  Do the math here.
    5. Laboratory exercises will 30%. Obviously these labs are very, very important! You can not pass this course unless you do all of the lab projects!
    Course Journal or Portfolio
    What is your AS101 Electronic Portfolio?

    Montgomery College has a policy of encouraging writing across all curricula.  The AS101 Electronic Portfolio a written record of your AS101 study and learning. Keeping this electronic portfolio will help you learn astronomy and keeping a portfolio in any class will help you understand and remember the course material. It will also help you get a substantially higher grade in the course. It will consist of several parts. Your portfolio will be organized in chapters similar to the chapters in the book and it will have the following subsections in each chapter.  If you are still "old school" or not yet prosperous and do not own a laptop or surface computer you may want to make you AS101 Portfolio on paper in a 3 ring binder.  Many students in past semesters have made an A using 3 ring binders.   Some students have made an A with their AS101 portfolio on a laptop computer or tablet like the iPad or Microsoft Surface or smarter smartphones like iPhones or Android phones or Windows mobile phones.  You may even take the exams midterm and final on your laptop or on paper the way most people still do.  I write the test as a Microsoft Word file. USB keys, diskettes, zip disks, and wireless Internet connections are all possible ways of getting the test on your machine in the planetarium. One student has made an A with his electronic portfolio on a Siemens SX-56 pocket PC phone several years ago.  I think he did the writing on a regular laptop computer and just downloaded the files in Word to his phone.  He did take the midterm and final on paper, though.  I am technologically savvy and opened to creative students figuring out other possibilities, too.  Spiral bound notebooks are not suitable as AS101 portfolio, because you can not rearrange (move) things around!  Organization is very important!

    1. Notes in outline form of the chapter. You should also include questions in here about things that you didn't understand when you read the text. These questions you will ask me in our threaded discussions.  I like to answer questions. Make me happy. Everything, definitions and all, should be expressed in your own words. You need to make astronomy real to yourself. Writing about it will help you do this. You have to organize your thoughts to write about them. Write as you read, please. Do not read an entire chapter in the text before summarizing it. Summarize subsections before going on to the next subsection.  If you have never studied this way before, please start doing it this way.  You will lean more, remember more, and understand more.  You will even work less for the same letter grade!

    2. Vocabulary words defined in your own words. Most of the vocabulary words will be in bold face type the first time they are used in the text.  Do not copy the definition out of the glossary. I will consider that plagiarism.  You may want to look in the glossary to see if you have captured the essence of the word. For you to really understand the meaning of astronomy's words and terms you must express it in your own words--have faith in your own expression.  Your expression of a definition will be better for you when done right than Doctors Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit (the textbook authors) definition in the glossary, which is after all best for him not you; but it can be used as a  check to see if you have got it approximately right.

    3. Laboratory exercises that you do. Always make a copy of your labs before you email me a copy.

    4. A recapitulation or synthesis of all of the important ideas summarized  in the chapter. You do this only after items 1--3 are finished. You should use this to study for test taking.

    Besides items 1--4, which are done on each chapter in the text, the journal will contain laboratory exercises labs like the CLEA, Contemporary Exercises in Astronomy, that you will install and run on your computer.   But you don't own a computer, don't worry, all of the CLEA labs that we will do are installed on computers in the Science Learning Center in Science North 100. The Science Learning Center is opened 6 days a week: Monday-Thursday 8:30AM-7PM, Friday 9AM-3PM, and Saturday 10AM-4PM!  Some of the most interesting things we will do all semester will be in these laboratory exercises done on a computer. The computer Lab ST304, Student Technology Center also has the CLEA labs installed; and it is opened 7 days a week: Monday-Thursday 7:30AM-10PM, Friday 8AM-9PM, and Saturday and Sunday 9AM-5PM. 

    Remember this is ultimately a portfolio for you. You can use your AS101 portfolio on the tests! You should not use your text book on the exams.  If you are reading the material for the first time on the exam you will fail the test or make a miserable grade.  This means that my test do not require you to memorize crap that you will forget at the end of the class. This does mean that I can ask you really hard questions on the final exam like: "Compare and contrast the atmospheres of  Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars."  To answer this question you have to know the composition (what is in the atmosphere, they are not all the same) and the pressure and temperature of each of these four planet's atmospheres.  Who remembers details like that?  I don't, (and I have spent more than half a lifetime studying this stuff) but I know how to use it when it is in a clear table that I wrote or you wrote in an AS101 portfolio.  This is real science, not just memorizing temporarily a few cute facts that will soon be forgotten.  It should be clear and neat enough so that not only another student can understand what you are doing, but that you can understand what you did when you look at it ten years from now.  A follow up question based upon the previous question is: What three properties of a planet and what two physical laws make a planets atmosphere possible?
    Portfolio Resources:
    763 web pages from the Horizons by Michael Seeds
    HTML and PPT files from Horizons by Michael Seeds
    PowerPoint Lectures from a former text 9th edition Horizons: Exploring the Universe by Michael Seeds modified by your  instructor
    Even though we have changed text these previous resources from the old text are fine.
    PowerPoint Lectures from several semester ago modified by your instructor
    PowerPoint Lectures from the current semester modified by  your  instructor 
    Chris Impey's fairly new site, actually a Wiki.
    Pictures of AS101 students after the first meeting except for those who opt out, because they are shy or in the witness protection program, hey it happens.

    What this course is not:
    This course is not Introductory Astrophysics, that is a three hundred level course that you could take at the University of Maryland at College Park as a Junior.   This course is Introductory Astronomy a one hundred level course designed for nonphysical science majors.  Physics majors and engineers may take the course, but it may not count in their curriculum at a transfer school for your B.S. degree.  It does count at Montgomery College as a transferable lab science in the Natural Sciences Distribution for you AA degree, Associates of Arts.  In fact, it will count at the University of Maryland and all other in state public universities to satisfy your general studies distribution lab science and at many private colleges even out of state.  If you are transferring to Harvard in physics, you probably should talk to a Harvard councilor, as this course may not transfer or if it does it will not transfer as Introductory Astrophysics, because that is not what this course is.   But what you learn in this course, if you transfer to Harvard as physics major, will help you understand that junior level course at Harvard that is Introductory Astrophysics, or the same course at the University of Maryland at College Park.  In fact, you will be able to do better than all of those other Harvard juniors who have not had Introductory Astronomy, really!

     Mathematics requirements in AS101 are modest, the student must be able to add, subtract, multiple, and divide and substitute numbers into a simple formula.  No algebra is required to make an A in the course, students do not have to know how to solve for an unknown variable in a simple linear equation like Ax+B=C. If students are given the formula x=(C-B)/A in some astrophysical context and are given A=2, C=9, and B=5, they should be able to calculate that x=2Get out a calculator right now and see if  you can do this.  Hey, I bet you can do this even without a calculator.  Looks like you have the ability to make and A in this course if you do the work!  AS101 students will have to use a scientific calculator on some CLEA, Contemporary Laboratory Exercises in Astronomy,  lab projects to add, subtract, multiple, and divide.  There is a  TI scientific calculator chained down in the Science Learning Center in Science North Room 100 in case you forgot to bring your calculator when you need it.  I know, I put it there several years ago, and I occasionally change the batteries so it continues to work.  On tests AS101 students will not have to do arithmetic more complicated than to multiple an integer time itself four time, like 3^4=3•3•3•3=81 (for Wien’s law, how much brighter is one star than another star if it is three times hotter in absolute temperature and the same physical size?), or to calculate a simple reciprocal like 1/(1/3)=3 (for understanding how to calculate parallax distances from arc seconds into distance in parsecs, what is the distance in parsecs if the parallax of a star is observed to be 1/3 of an arc second?).  Any physical principles (physics) that they need to understand the material in AS101 are taught in the course.  Physics is  not a prerequisite, so knowing some physics before you take the course is not  required to make an A.  Of course, if  you know some  physics or mathematics it will not  hurt you either.  

    What this course is:
    You will actually learn a little physics in a fun non threatening way in AS101.   AS101 students need to be able to read a text book with some understanding, and to be bold enough to ask questions in class about anything they did not understand in the text; or to have a friend in the class who is bold enough to ask the question for them.  Students are not required to memorize crap, portfolios with notes the student have written, with diagrams and graphs from the text that the student deems important, vocabulary words defined by the student, and completed labs may be used on the tests.  The portfolio may be in a bound form like a three ring binder and written by hand or typed; or it may be on a computer organized by chapter in the text organized by the student.  Portfolios are part of the writing across the curriculum taken seriously in AS101.  Students with all types of the afor mentioned portfolios have gotten As in the class, since they have answered the questions on the exam correctly.  The questions on the exam are not always simple identifications of crap easily memorized and forgotten the next term.  "Education is a permanent alteration in behavior" and this course alters behavior of successful students, which is the majority of the class.  Not reading the text always leads to failure as the instructor does not read the text to students, but expects them to read the assigned portions before coming to class; and to have understood it before the exams, which does take some time.   Some exam questions require a few sentences to answer or a labeled diagram to be sketched.  No great artistry in diagrams is required and spelling and grammar are not graded as long as the instructor can understand the sentence or phrase.  This course can be great fun for anyone who wants to understand something about where and when and how they fit into the larger universe.  Artist, accounting majors, business majors, computer science and computer application majors, history majors, future teachers (AAT=Associate Arts in Teaching), and practically any other type of person can do well in this course if they study some and try and figure things out with the help of their fellow students and the professor some things about the way the universe works.  Studying in groups is encouraged, but not mandated.  The CLEA lab projects may be done in groups as large as three persons using a computer in the Science Learning Center, SN101, or the student technology center ST304, but don't let your partner do all of the work, or they will understand everything about the lab, and you will not, and you will make a low grade, and your partner will make a high grade.  

    How to succeed at College from the Provost of the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, Dr. Brad Stewart.

    SOS, Services Offered to Students, by Paul Ottinger of the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus
    Computer Access on the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus by Paula Ottinger

    Schedule of Textbook Reading Assignments, extra reading assignments, laboratory assignments, and tests

    Class Schedule time line

    Reading Assignment
    in Text before your instuctor lectures on it.
    Lecture Resource
    PowerPoint Presentations and/or Streaming Videos

    Week 1
    January 28 & 30
    Ch.1  Our Place in the Universe
    Chapter 1 PowerPoint and Interactive Learning Tools
    "Do the stars really move?" (Ask an Astronomer)
    Where Is the Center of the Universe? (Ask an Astronomer)
    "Celestial Sphere" - Dr. Harold Williams, Montgomery College newer 3D with the Milky Way Galaxy in the background now that our Green Screen working, see this in 3D you must either use a 3D monitor, expensive, or turn 3D off in Google and cross your eyes, or use either of several different 3D sets of glasses like Red/Green or Green/Magenta or Blue/Yellow or Interleaved or and have the options in 3D setting on Google YouTube set correctly to match your head.  It is complicated, but so is this course, hey its astronomy! Made by Rupert Chappelle of the MC^3 video group.
    "Building a Celestial Sphere" from the College Astronomy kit at Montgomery College.

    Assemble Celestial Sphere with Equatorial, Horizon, and Ecliptic Coordinate Systems: First Lab Project!

    • Scale of the Cosmos 
    Week 2
    February 4 & 6

    Ch. 2 Discovering the Universe for Yourself  
    Ch. 3 The Science of Astronomy &
    Ch. S1 Celestial Timekeeping and Navigation
    Astronomical Coordinate Systems
    Latitude and Longitude on the Earth
    The Celestial Sphere Lab Exercise Celestial Sphere: Lab Quiz activity done on Blackboard.
     Astronomical Coordinate Systems,  Second Lab Project Four Different Astronomical Coordinate Systems
    • What Sign of the Zodiac are you really?
    • Eclipses 
    • Other Occultations 
    • Origins of Astronomy 
    Week 3
    February 11 & 13 Snow college closed
    Ch. 4 Making Sense of the Universe, Understanding Motion, Energy, and Gravity &
    Ch. 5 Light and Matter Reading Messages from the Cosmos
    Third Lab Project: 
    CLEA Lab "Moons of Jupiter" done on a computer the executable to really understand Kepler's third law in Newtonian form!

    7PM Saturday February 15, 2014 "African Skies" in the Planetarium and extra credit opportunity.
    • Newtonian Gravity 
    Week 4
    February 18 & 20
    Ch. 6 Telescopes Portals of Discovery
    Some useful hand outs:  Chapter 6 PowerPoint and Interactive Learning Tools
    Astronomy 101 Refractive Telescope with Dr, Williams made by Rupert Chappelle of the MC^3 video group!

    Week 5
    February 25 & 27
    Ch. S2 Space and Time & Ch.  S3 Spacetime and Gravity
    Ch. S4 Building Blocks of the Universe
    Observing with your Telescope a trivial Lab

    Week 6
    March 4 & 6
    Ch. 9 Planetary Geology: Earth and the  Other Terrestrial Worlds & Ch. 10 Planetary Atmospheres: Earth and the Other Terrestrial Worlds

    Take Test1: "Realm of the Universe: Geometry and the Physical Laws" on March 4 covering Ch. 1-6 & S1-S4

    Week 7
     Midterm week
    March 11 & 13
    Ch. 11 Jovian Planet Systems & Ch. 12  Remnants of Rock and Ice: Asteroids, Comets, and the Kuiper Belt &

    Week 8
      Spring Break March 17-21

    On March 20, 2014 the first day of Spring so now it really is the SPRING semester!
    7PM Saturday March 20, 2014 "The Vernal Equinox, the First Day of Spring" in the Planetarium and extra credit opportunity.
    Week 9
    March 25 & 27
    Ch. 7 Our Planetary System & Ch. 8 Formation of the Solar System

    Week 10
    April 1 & 3

    Ch. 13 Other Planetary Systems, the Science of Distant Words. Exoplanets, the Kepler Space Mission will most likely discover earth size planets in the habitabilty zone this semester.
    Splendors of the Universe

    Week 11
    April 8 & 10
    Ch. 14 Our Star &
    Ch. 15 Surveying the Stars 
    CLEA Lab, fourth lab project "Photometry of the Pleiades" done on a computer the executable.  This CLEA Lab "Photometry of the Pleiades" need to be turned in before the final exam. VIREO, the VIRtual Education Observatory.  New way to do the "Photometry of the Pleiades" 

    Week 12
    April 15 & 17
    Ch. 16 Star Birth & Ch. 17  Star Stuff 
    Chapter 16 PowerPoint and Interactive LearningTools
    What's Between the Stars? (Ask an Astronomer)
    Chapter 17 PowerPoint and Interactive LearningTools
    Red and Blue Colors on Astrophotographs
    Take Test 2:  on the Planets April 15,  covering Chapters 1-13 and S1-S4
    7PM Saturday April 19, 2014 "Quantum Gravity: or how c, G, & h Create the Fabric of Reality" in the Planetarium and extra credit opportunity.

    Week 13
    April 22 & 24
    Ch.  18  The Bizarre Stellar Graveyard 

    Week 14
    April 29 & May 1

    Ch. 19 Our Galaxy & Ch. 20 Galaxies and the Foundation of Modern Cosmology & Ch. 21 Galaxy Evolution
    7PM Saturday May 3, 2014 "Star Stories" in the Planetarium and extra credit opportunity.

    Week 15
    May 6 & 8
    Ch. 22 Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Fate of the  Universe & Ch. 23 The Beginning of Time
     Finish up any lab not already done,  because you will be tested over it on the final exam!

    Week 16
    Final Exam Week
      May 13 & 15
    Special review session May 13

    Take Astronomy Final exam: May 15

    Extra Credit Opportunities
    The Washington Metro area is currently the naval of the planet earth (the capital of the only remaining superpower) and is culturally and scientifically one of the richest places. Write at least one page (around 250 words) about what you learned during an astronomy lecture or a clear night viewing through a telescope at an observatory. Please draw a sketch of anything that you saw though a telescope. Send me a copy, but keep one for yourself as it belongs in your journal.  Turn in a newspaper article or a news item on current new astronomy article from the internet with your name written on it to me. 

    Power Point Presentations done by the four AS101HM students in the winter/Spring 2005 class!

    Science Learning Center at Takoma Park/Silver Spring, SN101

    As you may need some assistance in understanding some labs and as three labs are done on the computer the Science Learning Center, SLC, in Science North Room 101 has the computer astronomy labs already installed on at least 20 computers.  There is also a "Learning Technologies" assembled celestial sphere, assembled telescope, and assembled spectroscope and other helpful aids in the SLC to help you study for the exams and to do the labs.  For MSLC hours see  The SLC hours will most likely be Monday through Thursday: 8:30am-7:00 pm, Friday: 8:30 am - 3:00 pm, Saturday: 10:00 am-4:00 pm, and Sunday: closed.  Check the web for possible changes in hours of operation.  Nice computers and nice people, but do not expect them to know enough astronomy particularly the details of the CLEA labs to help you do more than find the icon to click on the computer.  Be courteous and be finished before they close and have to tell you to leave.  They have a life to just like you.

    Student Technology Center, ST304
    Another computer lab that has computers for you to do the CLEA labs on.  They are even open on Sundays on the third floor of the Student Services building, ST, the Charlene Nunley building at 7625 Fenton Street, where security is located. Monday through Thursday 7:30am-10pm, Friday 8am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm.  Nice computers and nice people, but do not expect them to know enough astronomy particularly the details of the CLEA labs to help you do more than find the icon to click on the computer.  Be courteous and be finished before they close and have to tell you to leave.  They have a life to just like you.

    Student Technology Center Fall Semester 2014  

    Effective 1/26/2014

    Hours of Operation




    Changed last on 10:02AM Tuesday, May 13, 2014 by Dr. Harold Alden Williams.