Introductory Astronomy: Planetary Systems: Ast 103 / Stars, Galaxies, & Cosmology: Ast 104: 3 hours, 3 credit hours: University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)

Course Website / Extended Syllabus

Syllabus: Short Official Version: Which includes the syllabus-irequired UNLV Academic Policies for Students.

: Spring / Summer / Fall:

Course Text Equivalent and Homeworks/Solutions: Introductory Astronomy Lectures (IAL): Find online by googling "unlv jeffery ial".

Course & Section Specific Links

  1. Syllabus Items:
    1. Transparent Course Summary: See especially Student Learning Outcomes.
    2. Class Coordinates: See also Class coordinates: course, section, time, location, semester.
    3. Classroom Guidelines: See especially Device Use. The guidelines do NOT apply to the remote instruction courses, of course.
    4. Evaluation Items:
      1. Reading-Homework-Self-Testings OR for the direct link Reading-Homework-Self-Testings: Readings: Planetary Systems Introductory Astronomy Lectures (IALs), Stars, Galaxies, & Cosmology Iroductory Astronomy Lectures (IALs). See also How to Report Reading-Homework-Self-Testings (RHSTs).
      2. Group Activities OR direct link Group Activities: Note also group activity drops.
      3. In-Class Exams
      4. Final Exam
    5. Remote-Instruction Exam Procedure
    6. Exam Schedule:
      See also Notes on Exams:
      1. In-Person Instruction Exams.
      2. Remote Instruction Exams.
      3. Makeup Exams.
    7. Evaluation & Grading
    8. Submission of Grades to the Registrar
    9. Posted Grade Records and Anonymous Aliases
    10. On With the Show
    11. Today's Group Activity
    12. Course Mottos
    • EOF
  2. Remote Instruction Qualifications: The Course Website / Extended Syllabus now just treats the in-person instruction course and the remote instruction course as two equal streams, and so there are NO more special Remote Instruction Qualifications.
  3. Summer Semester Qualifications: 1, 2, 3, 4. See also the Summer Semester Website.
  4. Introductory Astronomy Lectures (IAL): Find online by googling "unlv jeffery ial".
  5. Exam Announcements
  6. General Links: Which includes UNLV Calendars and Schedules and the Syllabi Content Semester Year Memo.

Syllabus Items

  1. Questions: JUMP in with QUESTIONS at anytime, of course---this applies to the whole course.

    Wave your hand or just speak up as seems appropriate.

  2. Transparent Course Summary:

      • EOF

    1. Course Tasks:
      1. Learn jillions of facts---something like a googolplex of facts:

              googolplex =10 googol =1010100.

        No one can memorize jillions of isolated facts---you learn the narratives in which those facts turn up and the narratives cue you for the facts. This is like almost all non-trivial learning.
      2. How is this learning done? By a combination of learning modes: listening to the lectures, doing the Reading-Homework-Self-Testings (RHSTs), prepping for exams, and interacting with fellow students. We also have group activities in the in-person instruction course classes (but NOT during pandemics) to promote student interaction. In this course, those methods may be enough depending on your particular personality. But having friends to work through problems with, to test your knowledge against, to learn from and teach to, and have fun with in your studies is vital---perhaps, it's NOT so vital in this course, but in your major, it is vital. You have to think and talk a subject to learn it.
      3. Work as hard as you can in this and every course subject to all the constraints in life.
      4. Alas/Unalas, the prophecy implied in the image below has NOT yet come to pass.

      • EOF

    Now that we haved done the RECOMMENDED Transparent Course Summary, on with the details of the course.

  3. WARNING: The syllabus is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor.

    Yours truly does NOT like to do that after a semester has started, but sometimes small adjustments or even large ones are needed.

    Any large one will be called to the attention of the students by email and during the class periods.

    The syllabus is always a little preliminary.

  4. Course Website / Extended Syllabus: The course website is at URL which is the website you are/may be viewing right now. Find online by googling "unlv jeffery ast". The site may NOT be the first item listed, but it should be there.

    And the much shorter official syllabus is at URL

    The course website will never be linked from the Physics Department course page. But Yours truly Himself is listed on the Physics Department site under faculty and my name is linked to my personal site and that has links to my courses.

  5. Class Coordinates:


    Note for the in-person instruction course that there are two Bigelow buildings:

    1. The Robert L. Bigelow Physics Building (BPB): Our building.
    2. The Rod Lee Bigelow Health Sciences Building (BHS): NOT our building.

    At the beginning of the semester, there are always a few people going to the wrong Bigelow building and wondering what's wrong. The two buildings are just across the boulevard from each other---they have slightly different light cones. See the preview on light cones in the figure below (local link / general link: light_cone.html). Yours truly likes previews since it is too tedious to cover topics in strictly logical order.

  6. Classroom Guidelines: Click on the link to see the general classroom guidelines.

  7. Rebelmail: UNLV Policies for Students requires that instructors email students only using their Rebelmail accounts: i.e., sending email with addresses for students.

    Though NOT required, it is best for students to email instructors using their Rebelmail accounts. This can always be done with Canvas (unlv), but note that emails via Canvas (unlv) sometimes run slow, and so sending outside Canvas (unlv) is often better.

  8. Pre/Corequisites: None per the physics department Ast 103 course page / Ast 104 course page.

    Note that the courses Ast 103 and Ast 104 are both stand-alone courses. Neither the one nor the other is a pre/corequisite for the other or the one.

    If you would like to take both, you could take them in any order or at the same time.

    The first part of both courses can be much the same depending on the instructor's choice of topics. Often the first part is the basics of astronomy: e.g., the celestial sphere, constellations, phases of the Moon, the history of astronomy, and the necessary background physics material. So taking both courses may give the student a double dose of some topics.

  9. Academic Integrity: Click on the link to see the general statement with course specific comments.

  10. Course Textbook: None. Instead of a textbook, we use the Introductory Astronomy Lectures (IAL).

    IAL was written and is updated by the instructor.

    IAL can never be as perfected as published books, but it amounts to the same thing---and it's free.

    IAL is the unified source---it is ONE-STOP SHOPPING---it is the course textbook, student notes, my notes, and the lecturing tool.

    Students do NOT need to take notes at all. But note-taking probably helps with maintaining alertness and learning the material even if students never looks at their notes again.

    There are numerous supplementary sources: e.g., Wikipedia (generally very good on astronomy, but never a final source), NASA sites (numerous), UNLV libraries (probably quasi-infinite astronomy books), and so on endlessly.

    What of copyrighted material in the IALs?

    For better or worse, all the writing is yours truly's own, except for short quotes which are explicitly indicated as such.

    What of images? Like in the figure below (local link / general link: hubble_ultra_deep_field.html).

    The images are a more complicated story:

    1. Some images are yours truly's own and yours truly's own copyright. The two things are NOT necessarily the same since authors can relinquish copyright and yours truly has done so for some published work.

    2. Many images are from NASA and other US government agencies and are public domain. Public domain means anyone is absolutely free to copy, display, and distribute them. But one has to be careful since NOT all US government agency images are public domain and those agencies do display images on their pages that are NOT their own and are copyrighted.

      Naturally, NASA is a main source for IAL. But finding NASA images is actually tricky since NASA seems to never have invented an easy-to-use, one-stop-shopping image archive. NASA Images may be the closest to that. See Wikipedia: Internet archive: NASA images for a brief, vastly incomplete, and probably out of date discussion of NASA image resources. Wikipedia articles are actually a pretty good sources for NASA images. Good ones for topics have already been selected. You could also just go googling for images.

    3. Many images displayed are linked and hotlinked to Wikipedia and are used under Creative Commons licenses or are public domain.

    4. There are some images from other various sources.

    5. Some images are NOT shown and can be found by clicking on a linked image like the one shown below. These are images I'd like to show, but CANNOT get clear permission to.

    6. In all cases, yours truly has attempted to give the correct credit and permission for use for an image. In most cases, yours truly has given a download site (usually identified as image link) for an image.

      Giving proper credit and permission is ethically required. Also, the value of an image depends very much on its provenance---where it came from, who made it, what is its authority.

  11. Course Topics: All from astronomy---but there are three streams:

    1. All Astronomy (AA): Well NOT quite that, but we cover a lot of ground---but NOT at UNLV.

    2. Planetary Systems (PS): Ast 103: The Solar System at UNLV.

    3. Stars, Galaxies, & Cosmology (SC): Ast 104: Stars & Galaxies at UNLV.

    The facts to learn go on and on---jillions of them.

    How do you do it?

    As mentioned above under Tasks, no one can memorize jillions of isolated facts---you learn the narratives in which those facts turn up and the narratives cue you for the facts.

    There is a
    math component---but it's elementary.

    math component is there because astronomy is very mathematical (though this course isn't), and so getting some understanding of the mathematical aspect of astronomy is essential. It is also one of the gaols of this course to develop student math skills a bit.

    A little algebra, a little geometry. Roughly 10 % or less of the questions will involve math. No need to react with shock and awe---like the Medieval scholars shown in the figure below (local link / general link: lady_geometry.html)

    To help with the math component, there is a math refresher: IAL 1: Scientific Notation, Units, Math, Angles, Plots, Motion, Orbits---which is actually the 2nd IAL since there is a zeroth IAL: IAL 0: A Philosophical and Historical Introduction to Astronomy.

  12. Hard Course, Easy Course:

    Is this a hard course or an easy course?

    Somewhere in between.

    It's easy in that there are NO essays, NO course projects, and all exam questions are multiple-choice questions.

    But it's hard in that it is extensive---those jillions of facts.

    But as I always say, it's nothing like organic chemistry.

  13. Daily Routine:

    There are two streams:

    1. For the in-person instruction course, yours truly lectures in a classroom to a live audience of students. There are group activities to encourage attendance, but they are NOT required if a student chooses to opt out and treat the course just as a pure online course, except for exams.
    2. For the remote instruction course, attending the Zoom lectures is optional (i.e., unmarked) and the student can opt to treat the course just as a pure online course, except for exams which must by the provost's rule be during the class period. See Rules for Remote Instruction Exams/Quizzes.

    For either stream, a good approach is to do the reading-homework-self-testing for an IAL first and then listen to the lecture. You get the detailed lengthy presentation and then the abbreviated, simplified one in other words.

    For lecturing, yours truly uses IALs as a lecturing tool.

    Note IAL has a complete narrative as must have in order to be the course textbook.

    But when I'm lecturing, we mostly just look at:
    1. images/animations/applets.
    2. keywords.
    3. key statements.
    4. key facts.
    5. questions for the class.
    6. videos. NOT so many of these as you might think. There are many great astronomy videos, but more than one every once and awhile is more sleep-inducing than hearing yours truly talk. They're too smooth. They lack the glitches of live lecturing.

    I will just scroll through most of the words---those are for the student's private reading.

    I find that students get used to NOT reading most words.

    The two streams again:

    1. For the in-person instruction course, at about the 40 minute mark (or maybe a little later especially in the summer semester), we will usually break from lecturing for about 10 minutes for the group activity---which is a marked item.

      The length of the break for group activity depends a bit on what's in it and how it goes.

      See group activity below.

    2. For the remote instruction course, there will usually be a break of 10 minutes or so. We can look at homework questions and solutions. We can wander off on domestic breaks. We can seek a little cardiovascular health by brief invigorating workouts: see Standards: exercise music.

  14. Evaluation Items: There are 4 marked items for the in-person instruction course and 3 marked items for the remote instruction course.

    1. Reading-Homework-Self-Testings (RHSTs): Click on the link to see the full description of RHSTs.

    2. Group Activities: Click on the link to see the description. For weighting, see Evaluation & Grading. There are NO group activities for the remote instruction course.

    3. In-Class Exams: For weighting, see Evaluation & Grading:

      There will be two of these---just like in the figure below (local link / general link: testing.html).

      All questions will be multiple-choice and, as aforesaid, typically about 50--70 % will be drawn from the homeworks.

      The exams consist of 72 multiple-choice questions and you have 75 minutes.

      The material covered on each exam is specified below in section Exam Schedule.

      See the note on Device Use during exams.

        Summer Semester Qualification 3:

        For in-person-instruction courses, the in-class exams consist of 50 multiple-choice questions and will occur in the first 50 minutes before the ordinary 5-or-so-minute break (see Summer Semester Qualification 1).

        After the break, we will just resume with an ordinary class period.

        It's sort of sickening to have a class period just after a exam, but that's the summer semester for you.

        There will be NO group activities on in-class exam days.

    4. Final Exam: For weighting, see Evaluation & Grading:

      It will be comprehensive and two hours long.

      "Comprehensive" means all IAL readings are included---except for explicit exceptions. See Final Exam Information.

      The final will be similar to the in-class exams, but with 100 multiple-choice questions, and so is ∼ 40% longer---except for the summer semester, it's 100 % longer.

      The IALs covered since the last in-class exams MAY be given a somewhat heavier weighting than earlier IALs. The longer the interval since the last in-class exam, the likelier there will be a heavier weighting.

      See the note on Device Use during exams.

      Why a comprehensive final?

        Well, remember a course is about learning.

        A comprehensive final is part of the learning process.

        The student is obliged to comprehend the whole course at once.

        To see big picture and how the parts fit in to the big picture: see the big picture in the figure below (local link / general link: sistine_chapel_ceiling.html).

        From an evaluation point of view, a comprehensive final puts more weight on understanding than the in-class exams where pure memorization is a somewhat more feasible strategy.

  15. Remote-Instruction Exam Procedure:

    See Rules for Remote Instruction Exams/Quizzes.

  16. Exam Schedule: There will be 2 in-class exams and a 2-hour COMPREHENSIVE FINAL. The Exam Schedule below is ONLY for regular semesters. For summer semesters, see IAL Contents.


    Notes on Exams:

    1. In-Person Instruction Exams:

      Students are required to supply their own scantrons with spaces for at least 100 questions for all exams. See also the note on Device Use during tests.

    2. Remote Instruction Exams:

      See Rules for Remote Instruction Exams/Quizzes.

    3. Makeup Exams:

      1. Pre-finals-week makeup exams are given for valid reasons, but students must ask for them in a timely manner (i.e., about a week, unless extenuating circumstances exist) and must do them in a timely manner (i.e., about a week, unless extenuating circumstances exist).

      2. Valid reasons for makeups include religious holidays, official extracurricular activities, illnesses, emergencies, special education/career occasions, jobs, unavoidable absences, etc.

        If you are unprepared because of illness, that is a valid reason.

      3. Nota bene: Makeups are NOT retakes. There are NO retakes.

      4. What if you do NOT do an exam for a non-valid reason (e.g., because you are unprepared) or have NOT asked for OR done a makeup in a timely manner (i.e., about a week in each case, unless extenuating circumstances exist)?

        1. You can still do a late makeup, but ONLY during finals week (by 5 pm Friday of that week at the latest, unless extenuating circumstances exist) AND I will only accept the makeup mark if you have reported "all RHSTs for the semester done".

            You can report all RHSTs done later, but by Tuesday 4 pm after finals week at the very latest (unless extenuating circumstances exist). Do NOT wait for the last minute. The earlier you report all the RHSTs you have done the better.

        2. You can do late makeups during the period of the class final after you have done the final and you have 75 minutes extra to complete every makeup.

        3. You should ask for a late makeup starting in the week before finals week and no later than 1 pm Friday of finals week (unless extenuating circumstances exist).

        4. The rationale for late makeups is to give students a chance to re-engage the course and complete it successfully. Re-engaging should include catching up on RHSTs as quickly as possible and attending class if possible: both are necessary learning modes. Students must make a strong effort at re-engagement. Cramming to catch up in a course is not, of course, the best way to learn a course, but it does have its own educational value since cramming sometimes just has to be done.

      5. For remote makeups, you can do to them whenever in the timely-manner period (i.e., about a week or by 4 pm Friday of finals week whichever comes first, unless extenuating circumstances exist), but otherwise obeying the Rules for Remote Instruction Exams/Quizzes: in particular, the time limit on the exam.

      6. Makeup exams are NOT necessarily the same exam as given in the scheduled time. Nevertheless, students must AVOID knowing about given exams if they are doing a makeup and must AVOID giving out information to other students who have NOT yet done an exam since any such information could give clues to yours truly's thinking on exam questions.

  17. Evaluation & Grading:

    1. Evaluation for In-Person Instruction (IPI):

      The 5 marked items, their weightings, and their drops are given in the table below:

            Table:  Evaluations Items
            Item                  Percentage  Drops     Comment
                                   of grade
            RHSTs                   10 %      no drops 
            group activities        10 %      7 drops   The group activity item will 
                                                        be dropped at student request.
            2 in-class exams        40 %      no drops
            comprehensive final     40 %      no drops
            extra credit             0 %                There is NO extra credit 
    2. Evaluation for Remote Instruction (RMI):

      The 3 marked items, their weightings, and their drops are given in the table below:

            Table:  Evaluations Items
            Item                  Percentage  Drops     Comment
                                   of grade
            RHSTs                   10 %      no drops 
            2 in-class exams        40 %      no drops
            comprehensive final     50 %      no drops
            extra credit             0 %                There is NO extra credit
    3. Notes on Evaluation & Grading:

      1. For IPI courses and RMI courses with synchronous sessions, good attendance is recommended, but NOT marked.

        From the front an audience looks like in the figure below (local link / general link: audience.html): some are attentative, some are asleep.

        In any course, just showing for class keeps the
        student at least partially up to date just in itself.

        It's hard to fall completely behind if you attend class.

        And there is lots of evidence that good attendance correlates with achievement---but don't ask me to produce this evidence---it's what deans tell me---and Kenneth Sufka too.

      2. Letter grades will be assigned per the Academic Policies: Grades---which allow instructors some freedom of interpretation on how to determine "average".

      3. During classes, yours truly uses a simplified fixed scale for grades:

        1. Above 50 %, S. This just means satisfactory or better.
        2. 47--50 %, D+.
        3. 43--47 %, D.
        4. 40--43 %, D-.
        5. Below 40 %, F.

        The rationale for the simplifed scale is that it is unfair to use a completely fixed scale when the difficulty of exams varies and people report reading-homework-self-testings at various times and some report quite late. So trying to distribute letter grades above satisfactory in a consistent way becomes difficult. But final grades are on the 12-point scale as discussed in the next item.

      4. Final grades are always set by yours truly drawing grade lines by personal judgment in order to get a fair distribution.

        The particular needs of individual students CANNOT influence the grade line choice

        Usually, yours truly uses the 12-point scale: A,A-,B+,B,B-,C+,C,C-,D+,D,D-,F.

          However, yours truly may use the 5-point scale (A,B,C,D,F) if the 12-point scale seems unfair which can happen when the class becomes small and some of the 12-point categories become unpopulated.

      5. The final grade line choice, among other things, sets the class GPA to be what yours truly thinks is fair for the overall class achievement. An achieving class should get about B- (i.e., about 2.7) and less achieving class will be a bit lower.

        So the grades are NOT all A's and B's. There will be C's. And note that yours truly is rather parsimonious about A's---just being in the upper third of the class is NOT enough.

        However, there do NOT have to be any D's or F's necessarily. But they can happen.

  18. Submission of Grades to the Registrar:

    Yours truly will submit MIDTERM GRADES (by whatever name they are called) when they are due and final grades by their due date---which is always the Tuesday at 4:00 pm after finals week or, for summer semesters, the Monday at 4:00 pm after the last Friday of the semester.

    As mentioned above, the absolute DEADLINE for the reading-homework-self-testings is when final grades are due.

    Remember that after an instructor has submitted
    final grades, any adjustments (except for purely clerical errors) are NOT easy.

    This is true for any course.

    Students should make any queries about their final grades or requests for reweighting of items before the instructor submits final grades.

  19. Posted Grade Records and Anonymous Aliases:

    Yours truly posts grade records (which includes current letter grades) under anonymous aliases.

    Grade postings under
    anonymous aliases are allowed by FERPA and UNLV policy. See Academic Semester Memos: Faculty Policies.

    Yours truly usually informs a student of what their anonymous alias is on their first report of reading-homework-self-testings.

    If you send me a request for your current grade record or letter grade, I will usually simply tell/remind you of your anonymous alias and point to the appropriate grade directory from the list below (local link / general link: ast_grade_records.html).

    If you wish to choose your own anonymous alias, just tell me your choice by email or on a group activity slip folded to conceal the anonymous alias. You can make the request at anytime in the semester.

    The anonymous alias should be known to you alone and it should NOT be guessable as you or anyone else and NOT be objectionable in an academic context. Also it CANNOT be an astronomical object since all the common ones are already all used.

    The anonymous aliases must be 15 characters or less and can consist of characters from an extended alphabet:

          where use "_" rather than a blank.  

    The posting order will be in the extended alphabetic ordering (as above) which is the ordering used by Unix for its files in its directories.

  20. Questions About Anything at All:

    Yes/no? 15-second wait at least.

    You can, of course, email me questions about anything at anytime.

    But if it is something just specified in the Course Website / Extended Syllabus (i.e., on this site), I'm likely to reply just with the URL to the relevant item above.

  21. On With the Show:

    On with the show: Introductory Astronomy Lectures (IAL)---or Today's Group Activity (if this is an in-person instruction course) and then on with the show.

  22. Today's Group Activity:

  23. Course Mottos:

    Don't Panic.
    This is so cool.
    Unchain your inner nerd.
    In science, we are slaves to the truth---only error can set us free.
    "Basta. Cuando la ciencia ha hablado, no se puede replicar."---Prof. Lidenbrock: Viaje al centro de la Tierra (1864).

    Very reassuring I think.

    Also my favorite Einstein quote: