Contemporary Astronomy (PHYS*1600)

Code and section: PHYS*1600*DE

Term: Fall 2016

Instructor: Elisabeth Nicol


Course Information

Calendar Description

This course is designed for non-science students. Emphasis will be on the interdisciplinary and contemporary aspects of astronomy with the object of providing a perspective of our place in the physical universe. Topics will include the solar system, stars and stellar evolution, pulsars, black holes, quasars and cosmology. Students are encouraged to suggest and participate in discussion on items of special interest.

Course Title: PHYS*1600DE – Contemporary Astronomy
Offering: Fall 2016
Restriction(s): Students with standing in any other 1000 level course credit in physics (except PHYS*1020, PHYS*1810) may not use this course for credit. B.Sc. students may not take this course for credit.
Credits: 0.50
Method of Delivery: Distance Education, Fully Online

Department: Department of Physics
College: College of Physical & Engineering Science

Course Description

Contemporary Astronomy, as its title suggests, is designed to present a survey of the vast subject of astronomy with the object of leaving the student with an appreciation of the contemporary view of the constitution of the universe. Astronomy, unique among the physical sciences, does not perform experiments on its object of study, but can only observe. Also, and almost as unique, it relies on the accumulation of observations conducted over long periods of time. A snapshot observation of the universe will yield a lot of information, but a series of them taken over many persons' lifetimes yields so much more.

It is, therefore, difficult to perform meaningful practical exercises in the short span of a one-semester course and so we will not do so. Rather we will merely appreciate the work of astronomers and the body of knowledge that they have provided to us.

The course requires no expertise in college-level mathematics but will require a level of numeracy. The properties of astronomical objects and the state of the universe cannot be comprehended without the use of numbers! There will, however, be many new ideas and concepts requiring close reading of the textbook and the acquisition of an extensive new vocabulary.

We hope that you will find this survey of the universe both enjoyable and informative, providing an appreciation of your surroundings that will continue throughout your life.

One thing we will NOT do!

You may have thought, when you registered for the course, that you would be learning the constellations and the names and positions of stars and other celestial objects. This is not, in fact, astronomy; it is stargazing! This is not to denigrate it – it is a hobby that is pursued by millions of people around the world. There is great satisfaction in being able to look up at night and identify the map of the sky and appreciate how it changes during the year. I urge you to try it and gain some familiarity with the night sky.

Although there are some sky maps at the back of your textbook these static maps are frustrating for beginners. A much more useful device is a PLANISPHERE which is an adjustable sky map that can be set to display the sky for any day and time. This coupled with a good starguide book and a pair of binoculars are all the serious stargazer needs. An excellent guidebook is:

A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets by Donald H. Menzel published by the Houghton Mifflin Co. (Boston). It is one of the famous Peterson Field Guides.
If you would like to make a planisphere, follow these simple instructions and you will have as satisfactory a planisphere as a commercial one.
For those who wish to use more modern technology, such as iPads, there are also excellent apps available such as Star Walk (don’t forget to use the red night vision setting when you are out in the dark).

Course Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, you should:

  • Acquire an appreciation of the construction of the solar system and how its internal motions are the result of simple laws.
  • Understand the similarities and differences in the structure of the planets and their satellites and some of the things this tells us about the origin of the solar system.
  • Understand the constitution of stars, their distances, energy source and evolution.
  • Learn how stars are aggregated into galaxies and how the distribution of galaxies and other entities lead to a cosmological view of the nature and evolution of the universe as a whole.

We further hope that at the end of the course you will know where the current state of astronomical knowledge lies, and be able to follow future developments with insight and interest.

Your Instructor

Name Phone Number Office Email
Elisabeth Nicol (519) 824-4120 Ext. 53771 MACN 329

Learning Resources

Required Textbook(s)

Title: Universe
Author(s): N.F. Comins and W.J. Kaifman III
Edition / Year: 10th edition; 2015.
Publisher: W.H. Freeman and Co., New York
You may purchase the textbook(s) at the University of Guelph Bookstore or the Guelph Campus Co-op Bookstore.

Course Website

CourseLink (powered by D2L’s Brightspace) is the course website and will act as your classroom. A variety of course content, including text, graphics, videos, activities, and other relevant information, is provided within each unit. You will also find the links to required and suggested online resources throughout the course. It is recommended that you log in to your course website every day to check for announcements, access course materials, review weekly schedule and assignment requirements, participate in discussions, and take quizzes.

Course Evaluation

The grade determination for this course is indicated in the following table.

Assignments Value
Online Mini-quizzes 20%
Midterm Exams 1 & 2 30%
Final Exam 50%
Total 100%

Most distance education (DE) courses require you to write a traditional sit-down final exam. Final exams are written on campus at the University of Guelph or at alternative locations for students at a distance. Review the Final Exam Schedule to find out if your course has an exam. Visit the OpenEd website for more information on DE Final Exams.

Technical Support and System Requirements

System Requirements

You are responsible for ensuring that your computer system meets the necessary system requirements. Use the browser check tool to ensure your browser settings are compatible and up to date. (Results will be displayed in a new browser window).

Technical Support

If you need any assistance with the software tools or the CourseLink website, contact CourseLink Technical Support.

CourseLink Technical Support
University of Guelph
Day Hall, Room 211

Tel: 519-824-4120 ext. 56939
Toll-Free (CAN/USA): 1-866-275-1478

Walk-In Hours (Eastern Time):
Mon–Fri: 8:30 am–4:30 pm

Phone/E-mail Hours (Eastern Time):
Mon–Fri: 8:30 am–8:30 pm
Sat: 10:00 am–4:00 pm
Sun: 12:00 pm–6:00 pm

Academic Policies

University of Guelph: Undergraduate Policies

As a student of the University of Guelph, it is important for you to understand your rights and responsibilities and the academic rules and regulations that you must abide by.

If you are a registered University of Guelph Degree Student, consult the Undergraduate Calendar for the rules, regulations, curricula, programs and fees for current and previous academic years.

If you are an Open Learning Program Student, consult the Open Learning Program Calendar for information about University of Guelph administrative policies, procedures and services.

Email Communication

University of Guelph Degree Students

As per university regulations, all students are required to check their e-mail account regularly: e-mail is the official route of communication between the University and its students.

Open Learning Program Students

Check your email account (the account you provided upon registration) regularly for important communications, as this is the primary conduit by which the Open Learning and Educational Support will notify you of events, deadlines, announcements or any other official information.

When You Cannot Meet Course Requirements

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement due to illness or compassionate reasons, please advise your course instructor in writing, with your name, ID number and email contact.

University of Guelph Degree Students

Consult the Undergraduate Calendar for information on regulations and procedures for Academic Consideration.

Open Learning Program Students

Please refer to the Open Learning Program Calendar for information on regulations and procedures for requesting Academic Consideration.

Drop Date

University of Guelph Degree Students

The last date to drop one-semester courses, without academic penalty, is indicated in the Schedule section of this course website. See the Undergraduate Calendar for regulations and procedures for Dropping Courses.

Open Learning Program Students

Please refer to the Open Learning Program Calendar.

Copies of Assignments

Keep paper and/or other reliable back-up copies of all assignments: you may be asked to resubmit work at any time.


The University of Guelph is committed to creating a barrier-free environment. Providing services for students is a shared responsibility among students, faculty and administrators. This relationship is based on respect of individual rights, the dignity of the individual and the University community's shared commitment to an open and supportive learning environment.

University of Guelph Degree Students

Students requiring service or accommodation, whether due to an identified, ongoing disability or a short-term disability should contact the Student Accessibility Services as soon as possible.

For more information, contact SAS at 519-824-4120 ext. 56208 or email SAS or visit the SAS website.

Open Learning Program Students

If you are an Open Learning program student who requires academic accommodation, please contact the Academic Assistant to the Director. Please ensure that you contact us before the end of the first week of your course (every semester) in order to avoid any delays in support. Documentation from a health professional is required for all academic accommodations. Please note that all information provided will be held in confidence.

If you require textbooks produced in an alternate format (e.g., DAISY, Braille, large print or eText), please contact the Academic Assistant to the Director at least two months prior to the course start date. If contact is not made within the suggested time frame, support may be delayed. It is recommended that you refer to the course outline before beginning your course in order to determine the required readings.

The provision of academic accommodation is a shared responsibility between OpenEd and the student requesting accommodation. It is recognized that academic accommodations are intended to “level the playing field” for students with disabilities.

Academic Misconduct

The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community – faculty, staff, and students – to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring. University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University's policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that discourages misconduct. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection.

Please note: Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

The Academic Misconduct Policy is detailed in the Undergraduate Calendar.

Acceptable Use

The University of Guelph has an Acceptable Use Policy, which you are expected to adhere to.

Copyright Notice

All content within this course is copyright protected. Third party copyrighted materials (such as book chapters and articles) have either been licensed for use in this course, or have been copied under an exception or limitation in Canadian Copyright law.

The fair dealing exemption in Canada's Copyright Act permits students to reproduce short excerpts from copyright-protected materials for purposes such as research, education, private study, criticism and review, with proper attribution. Any other copying, communicating, or distribution of any content provided in this course, except as permitted by law, may be an infringement of copyright if done without proper license or the consent of the copyright owner. Examples of infringing uses of copyrighted works would include uploading materials to a commercial third party web site, or making paper or electronic reproductions of all, or a substantial part, of works such as textbooks for commercial purposes.

Students who upload to CourseLink copyrighted materials such as book chapters, journal articles, or materials taken from the Internet, must ensure that they comply with Canadian Copyright law or with the terms of the University’s electronic resource licenses.

For more information about students’ rights and obligations with respect to copyrighted works, see Fair Dealing Guidance for Students.


The assignment of grades at the University of Guelph is based on clearly defined standards, which are published in the Undergraduate Calendar for the benefit of faculty and students.

Grading System

In courses, which comprise a part of the student's program, standings will be reported according to the following schedule of grades:

Letter Grade Percentage
A+ 90-100
A 85-89
A- 80-84
B+ 77-79
B 73-76
B- 70-72
C+ 67-69
C 64-66
C- 60-62
D+ 57-59
D 53-56
D- 50-52
F 0-49

Statement of Students’ Academic Responsibilities

Your success as a student depends above all on your own response to the opportunities and responsibilities that the university environment provides. The University of Guelph is committed to supporting you in your intellectual development and responding to your individual needs. To this end, a broad network of advising, counselling, and support services is provided to assist you in meeting your personal and academic goals.

For more information on your responsibilities as a student, see Statement of Students’ Academic Responsibilities.

Plagiarism Detection Software

Students should be aware that faculty have the right to use software to aid in the detection of plagiarism or copying and to examine students orally on submitted work. For students found guilty of academic misconduct, serious penalties, up to and including suspension or expulsion from the University can be imposed.

Recording of Materials

Presentations which are made in relation to course work—including lectures—cannot be recorded or copied without the permission of the presenter, whether the instructor, a classmate or guest lecturer. Material recorded with permission is restricted to use for that course unless further permission is granted.

Religious Holidays

Should a student need to miss scheduled tests, mid-term examinations, final examinations, or requirements to attend classes and participate in laboratories for religious reasons, please advise the instructor within two weeks of the distribution of this course outline so that alternate arrangements can be made.

Rights and Responsibilities

For distance education (DE) courses, the course website is considered the classroom and the same protections, expectations, guidelines, and regulations used in face-to-face settings apply, plus other policies and considerations that come into play specifically because these courses are online.

Please consult the Open Learning and Educational Support website for more information on your rights and responsibilities when learning in the online environment.