Contemporary Astronomy (PHYS*1600)

Code and section: PHYS*1600*01

Term: Fall 2009

Instructor: Ralf Gellert


Course Information


Lecturer Office Extension Email
Ralf Gellert MacN 450 53992


Day Time Location
Wednesday 7:00 – 9:50 p.m. MacN 105


Neil F. Comins & William J. Kaufmann, Discovering the Universe (W.H. Freeman and Co., New York, 8th ed.) Available at the University Bookstore and the Campus Co-op.


To achieve an understanding of our solar system, the nature of objects in our galaxy, and the structure of the universe. To offer a glimpse at the scientific method and foster an appreciation for what we humans have managed to learn.


Assessment Weight Date
Classroom Quizzes 25%  
Midterm exam (2 hrs) 35% October 28, 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Final exam (2 hrs) 40% Friday, December 12, 2:30 -4:30 p.m.

NOTE: Students with standing in any other 1000 level course credit in physics (except PHYS*1020, PHYS*1810) may not use this course for credit.

Classroom Quiz

A brief (10 min.) multiple choice Quiz will be given at the end of the class on weeks 2-6 and 8-12. The quiz will be based on the previous week’s material. Up to 2 quizzes may be missed without penalty. Note that no one will receive a passing grade by means of the Classroom Quiz marks. It is necessary to achieve a 50% average on the midterm and final exam marks combined, otherwise a maximum of 48% will be the reported mark.

If you are unable to meet a requirement

Medical Certificate

Required if the midterm or final exams are missed.


The Physics Department telescopes are available for viewing objects of interest in the night sky. Opportunities for viewing will be arranged during the semester as interest and weather permit.

Tentative Lecture Schedule

This course will be organized around a video-tape series Universe: The Infinite Frontier. In each 3-hour lecture, usually 2 half-hour video tapes will be shown. The remainder of the time will be used as lecture time by the instructor. A 15-minute break will be part of every 3-hour session.

Copies of the video tapes are available for viewing in the library.

Week Date Topic(s)
Week 1 Sept. 16 Distance scales in the universe; celestial motion, Kepler’s Laws
Week 2 Sept. 23 Earth and Moon: Structures and motions, eclipses
Week 3 Sept. 30 Mercury, Venus, Mars: Planetary structures and atmospheres
Week 4 Oct. 7 Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto
Week 5 Oct. 14 Solar System debris: Asteroids, Comets, Meteors
Week 6 Oct. 21 E.M. radiation, Spectra, Doppler Effect
Week 7 Oct. 28 Midterm examination – 7:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Week 8 Nov. 4 Sun; Stars: position and motion
Week 9 Nov. 11 Stars: Spectra, Nuclear Processes, Evolution
Week 10 Nov. 18 White Dwarfs, Pulsars, Black Holes
Week 11 Nov. 25 Our galaxy, the Milky Way, Galaxies
Week 12 Dec. 02 Quasars, Cosmology