Astronomy 104 -- The Solar System

Spring 2006

Class Hours: 2:00 - 3:15 Tuesday and Thursday, Hutchinson 141 (HUBBELL AUDITORIUM)

Professor:     Eric Blackman, Bausch &Lomb 417A, 5-0537,
Office Hours: Tues and Thurs 3:30-5:00pm (after class)

Teaching Assistant: Kristopher Yirak , B&L 476, 5-8557,
Office Hours:    Mon 2-3:30 and Wed 2:00-3:30pm


Basic Course Objective: To show how astronomers and astrophysicists use the "scientific method" to learn about our solar system and its place in the universe.

Text: Seeds, Foundations of Astronomy 8th Edition. We will cover chapters 1-8 and 19-26.

Other Resources: The World Wide Web is an excellent resource for information on astronomical subjects. HOWEVER PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE IS A LOT OF INCORRECT INFO OUT THERE TOO! A COUPLE OF GOOD SITES ARE LINKED BELOW The course web page (at which you are looking) is

NASA sites are particularly thorough. You can learn about the recent Mars exploration here: NASA M2K4 (Mars 2004)

Check out the "Astronomy picture of the day archive" . You can look at the textbook publisher's home page . Astronomy and Sky and Telescope magazines are both excellent sources for current information about the Solar System and astronomy in general. Find them in the POA library and the WWW.

Links to Observing the Night Sky:

Here is a link which describes what can be seen with binoculars binocular observing

This link has a weekly summary of what to look for in the night sky "This week's sky at a glance." (It tells you when you need a telescope). At the bottom of that page, you can actually subscribe to have the information there emailed to you weekly if you are so inclined. In general for things brighter than about 5.5 magnitude (thus lower number than this on the magnitude scale) you can see them with naked eye.

These two links have a bit info on naked eye and binocular observing: naked eye and binocs . The following link is a to the video archieve of the "Jack Horkheimer Star Gazer" show for naked eye astronomy with links of 2 minute video descriptions of of what to look for. star gazer show .



Study text & notes.

Lecture Notes

7 Problem Sets Asignments will be posted on the web (see below). All assignments must be turned in to the locker labeled AST104 near B&L 106, by 5pm on the due date. You may turn in your homework to the box to any problem set as early as you wish. No credit for that set will be given for homework turned in after this due date/time because the solutions for that homework will be posted after the due date expires. Solutions will be linked on this web page. Homework will be worth 25% of the grade.

3 Closed Book Exams: There will be three closed book multiple choice exams. The second exam will emphasize material introduced after the first exam. The third exam will be based on material after the second exam AND a specified subset of earlier chapters that I perceive to be the most important in the course. I aim the exam questions toward testing your understanding of the concepts rather things like dates or specific detailed numerical values.

The material in this course is cumulative, so many concepts from the first part of the course will re-appear throughout the course.

Your two highest exam scores will each count 30% of the final grade. The lower of your three exams will be 15% of your grade. If you miss an exam you will receive a zero for that exam.

No Formal Final Exam this Year

Course Grading: The grading scale for the overall course will be 89-100=A range; 79-88=B range; 69-78=C range; 55-68=D range; Below 55=Fail range. Any adjustments to this scale, if the need arises, will be in your favor.


Keys to Success:

Mastering the material in the textbook, the homeworks, and using the summaries at the end of each chapter as a guide for your review is a good approach for doing well in this course.

Pace yourself: Keep up with the reading so that the review before the exams is indeed a review.

Discuss the material with classmates.

All graded work will be placed in a box outside of B&L 417A.

Lecture Notes


Course Schedule

Below are the Date; the Topic; Chapter Number in Seeds. Lecture notes are linked above.

Listed below is your study and chapter reading time plan for the course. Occassionally material presented in lectures may be supplementary to the study plan below (e.g. film), but you should still keep pace with the study plan, textbook reading, and online lecture notes listed below because the exams will be based on the textbook chapters specified.

Note also: Some pedagogic films will be shown during the course, even when not explicitly listed.


19 Jan; Introduction to Astronomy, Time and Spatial scales, scientific notation, survey of planets; 1

24 Jan; Magnitudes, Night sky, Celestial Sphere, Seasons; 2

26 Jan; Motions in the sky, cycles of the moon; 3

31 Jan; Motions in the sky (continued); 3 (HOMEWORK 1 DUE 5pm in box near B&L 106 )

2 Feb.; History of Astronomy; 4

7 Feb.; History of Astronomy (continued); 4

9 Feb.; Gravity and orbits; 5

14 Feb.; Gravity and orbits (continued); 5 (HOMEWORK 2 DUE 5pm in box near B&L 106)

16 Feb.; (GUEST LECTURER) Light and telescopes; 6

21 Feb.; Information from distant objects; 7

23 Feb.; The Sun; 8 (HOMEWORK 3 DUE 5pm in box near B&L 106)

28 Feb.; Exam #1; (at regular class time) on chapters 1-6

2 Mar.; The Sun; 8 (continued)

7 & 9 Mar.; Origins of the Solar System; 19

21 Mar. ; the Earth, Moon and Mercury; 20 & 21 (HOMEWORK 4 DUE 5pm in box near B&L 106)

23 Mar. ; the Earth, Moon and Mercury (continued); 20 & 21

28 Mar.; Venus and Mars; 22 (HOMEWORK 5 DUE 5pm in box near B&L 106)

30 Mar.; Venus and Mars (continued) 22

4 Apr.; Jupiter and Saturn; (HOMEWORK 6 DUE 5pm in box near B&L 106) 23

6 Apr.; Jupiter and Saturn (continued) 23

11 Apr.; Exam #2 (at regular class time) ; on chapters 7,8, 19-22

13 Apr; Uranus, Neptune and Pluto; 24

18 Apr; Meteorites, Asteroids and Comets; 25 (HOMEWORK 7 DUE 5pm in box near B&L 106)

20 Apr; Origins of life in the Universe 26

25 Apr: Film (to be decided)

27 Apr: Film (to be decided)

2 May: Exam #3 (at regular class time) ; on chapters 2,3,5,6,7,19,23,24,25