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.
Astro Help Room: Click on the link to find the times when astro TAs are available in
the Astro Help Room - that is the Mac Lab in the basement of Physics (turn left and head to the end of the hall at the bottom
of the stairs leading to the Planetarium. In addition, Dr. Kawaler is usually available from 2:15 to 4:00 on Tuesdays in A529 Zaffarano.
If you would like to talk at other times, please contact us and arrange a meeting - we have flexible schedules so it should be easy
to find a time to talk.
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.
The exam dates are as follows. Please note them in your
Exam 1: Tuesday, October 1, 6:45-8:00PM
Exam 2: Tuesday, November 12, 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.
Items from earlier in the course
Exam 3 (final) was Wednesday, December 18, 4:30-6:30PM. ROOM - MacKay 0117 (not in 5 Physics).
Cornell professor Yervant Terzian has passed away.
Dr. Terzian was an early mentor of mine, and gave me my first astronomy teaching job back in 1978 (as a TA for Carl Sagan and, later, Frank Drake).
He was an unparalleled teacher and researcher, a wonderful human being, and will be missed by many.
Please read carefully: Homework 9, for recitation on November 15 (or 18),
was a bit different than usual.
In recitation on those dates, you participated in a debate
on the value of funding NASA for a human return to the Moon (and eventually a visit to Mars).
The homework is designed to help you prepare for the debate by guiding you through some reading about
the NASA budget and the Moon-Mars program.
The completed assignment was due in recitation.
A second part will be completed in recitation following the conclusion of the debate.
Since participation in the debate itself is vital to the process, no late assignments
will be accepted. Note that this activity counts as 2 homework assignments.
On Monday morning, November 11, a Transit of Mercury occurred
when the planet Mercury passes directly between the Earth and Sun. It appeared as a tiny, slowly moving dot on the Sun from sunrise until