General Astronomy (PHYS*2600)

Code and section: PHYS*2600*DE

Term: Fall 2009

Instructor: Diane de Kerckhove


Course Information

Calendar description: An introduction to astronomy: the solar system, the sun, stellar and galactic structure. (Offered in the Fall semester in odd-numbered years.)
Prerequisites: 0.50 credits in physics at the 1000 level (excluding PHYS*1600, PHYS*1810), 0.50 credit in mathematics at the 1000 level


Instructor Office Extension Email
Diane Nalini de Kerckhove MacN 328 53984

Office: office hours: see website
Course website: Courselink

Teaching Assistant Email
Miranda Schmidt

Lectures and Tutorials


Day Time Location
Tues. & Thurs. 10 am – 11:30 am MacK 116


Day Time Location
Wed. 7pm – 8.50pm MacN 113

Course Materials

Textbook: Universe, 8th Edition by R.A. Freedman & W.J. Kaufmann (available at the University and Co-op Bookstores). A copy of the text is on reserve at the library.

Topics covered:

  • Light, Doppler shift, spectra & blackbody radiation
  • Naked eye astronomy: motion of the sun & moon, early astronomy.
  • The contributions of Copernicus & Galileo
  • Kepler’s Laws and Newton’s Laws
  • Overview of the solar system, models of formation, planetary atmospheres.
  • Earth and terrestrial planets
  • Jupiter and the Jovian planets
  • The Sun
  • The Herzprung-Russell diagram and Stellar evolution.
  • The Milky Way galaxy and dark matter.

If time permits, one or more of the following may also be covered.

  • The search for extra-solar planets and extraterrestrial life.
  • Neutron stars and black holes
  • Galaxies & The Hubble Law

How this course works

This is a lecture-based course, but there are many opportunities to ask questions and discuss astronomy. New discoveries are constantly being made, both in our own ‘neighbourhood’ (e.g. on Mars) and in the area of cosmology. We will discuss new developments as much as possible, while also delving into the tools of early astronomers. There are weekly evening labs/tutorial sessions, where the TA will answer questions and solve sample problems.

Many students ask, “Do I need to buy the book?” The answer is yes. We will be covering most chapters in the book, and I will be assigning readings from each. In addition to this, some of your assignment problems, and many of the quiz topics, are to be found in the book. We will be using the 8th Edition of Universe (black/tan cover). If you choose to purchase an earlier edition, be aware that equations and problems are sometimes renumbered, and you will have to consult the Library’s reserve copy to work out the corresponding numbers in your book. Some problems are absent from earlier editions.

The quizzes are short, multiple-choice tests which are designed to ensure that you are keeping up with your reading. They generally test facts, or ask you to make qualitative assessments. Any calculations required are short.

Labs are fun! They’re designed to allow you to follow in the footsteps of real astronomers, exposing you to simple, ingenious techniques used by early astronomers to work out planetary orbits; or allowing you to use tools which are still being used to this day to calculate stellar masses, look for extra-solar planets, and investigate dark matter.

The assignments require you to demonstrate your ability in problem-solving. Here you get to show your work, justify equations, and reason things out logically.

The mid-term and final exam will combine multiple-choice, short answer questions, and long problems.


Watch the course website for updates/reminders/announcements.

Reading guide & practice questions

Reading guides will be posted on the course website, outlining important textbook readings and practice problems for you to attempt. Solutions to practice problems are posted on the course website.

Observing evenings

Weather permitting, you will be able to attend observing evenings at the telescope in September. Dates will be announced on the website. Please check the website on the day itself, just before attending, as observing conditions can change rapidly.

Laboratory exercises

There will be 3 lab exercises, worth 5% each. Please place lab reports in drawer 159 or 160 on the 4th floor of the MacNaughton building (next to Room 416). Due to space and time constraints, labs must be done in groups of two, with one joint report to be handed in. However, both co-authors are responsible for the content of the report, and work must be divided equally. It is not acceptable for one person to do all the work. You do not need to work with the same partner for each lab. Please follow the written guidelines. Marks will be deducted for messy/illegible/incomplete work. Late lab reports will be penalized at the rate of 10% per weekday, 20% for a weekend. Labs can be downloaded from the course website.

Laboratory reports are due by 5pm on the following days:

  • Lab 1: Spectra and Blackbody Radiation due: Thursday, September 24, 2009
  • Lab 2: The Orbit Of Mercury due: Thursday, October 29, 2009
  • Lab 3: The Rings Of Saturn due: Thursday, November 12, 2009


There will be two problem sets due during term, worth 5% each. These will be posted on D2L in downloadable format. These are individual assignments, not pairwork assignments. Students are required to demonstrate that their work is their own. Please place assignments in drawer 159 or 160 (next to Room 416). Assignments must be neat, well-organized, and all work and reasoning must be shown. Marks will be deducted for messy/illegible/incomplete work. Late assignments will be penalized at the rate of 10% per weekday, 20% for a weekend. Assignments will no longer be accepted once solutions have been posted on the D2L website (usually one week after the due date).

Problem Sets are due by 5pm on the following days:

  • Assignment 1 due: Thursday, October 8, 2009
  • Assignment 2 due: Thursday, November 26, 2009.


There will be 5 short quizzes during term, worth 2 % each. These will consist of multiple choice questions, administered via Desire2Learn. A given quiz may be written at any time up to the stated deadline, when it closes at 11:59pm that night. Quizzes are timed (varying between 15 to 30 minutes in length, depending on the quiz). The quizzes may be written from your home computer, or from any University computer with an internet connection. Quizzes are open book.
Quiz dates are as follows:

  • Quiz 1: Thursday, September 17, 2009
  • Quiz 2: Thursday, October 1, 2009
  • Quiz 3: Thursday, October 15, 2009
  • Quiz 4: Thursday, November 5, 2009
  • Quiz 5: Thursday, November 19, 2009

Using Desire2Learn

To access Desire2Learn (D2L), visit:, and login using your central ID. If you are registered for the course, it should appear when you login. Follow the link to PHYS*2600 to reach the course webpage. There will be a ‘test quiz’ posted in the first week of class, to verify your account works. You must take this test quiz before being eligible to write the first quiz on September 17th.


Assessment Weight
Quizzes (5, worth 2 % each) 10%
Lab reports (3, worth 5% each) 15%
Problem Sets (2, worth 5% each) 10%
Mid-Term Exam 25%
Final Exam 40%

Mid-term exam: Thursday, October 22, during class (8:30 – 9:50 am)
Final exam: 8:30 am – 10:30 am, Saturday, December 12, location TBA
(Please note it is your responsibility to ensure that you have no exam conflicts. There is no alternate exam date).

Summary of important dates for PHYS*2600:

  • Thursday, September 17 Last day to write Quiz 1
  • Thursday, September 24 deadline to submit Lab 1
  • Thursday, October 1 Last day to write Quiz 2
  • Thursday, October 8 deadline to submit Assignment 1
  • Thursday, October 15 Last day to write Quiz 3
  • Thursday, October 22 Mid-Term Exam (in class)
  • Thursday, October 29 deadline to submit Lab 2
  • Thursday, November 5 Last day to write Quiz 4
  • Thursday, November 12 deadline to submit Lab 3
  • Thursday, November 19 Last day to write Quiz 5
  • Thursday, November 26 deadline to submit Assignment 2
  • Saturday, December 12, 2009 Final Exam (8.30 AM – 10.30 AM, location TBA)

Course Policies

Academic integrity

Discussing ideas with colleagues is an excellent way to learn, and you are encouraged to do this. However, outright copying is unacceptable. Plagiarism, of any kind, is a major offense and will not be tolerated. Please refer to the Undergraduate Degree Regulations at:

Consideration for Illness, etc.:

If you request academic consideration due to illness, you must provide suitable documentation (e.g., a doctor’s certificate). Please see the Undergraduate Calendar ( for details.