The Solar Neighborhood: Understanding the Universe Within the Nearest 50 Light-Years

ASTR 190, Summer 2012

Time: Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 1:10 to 2:50
Place: Physics and Astronomy A building, room A210 (map)

Instructor: Sarah Jane Schmidt
Phone: 206 543 8989
Office: PAB B335
Office Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday 3-4 or by appointment

This Syllabus: (pdf)
Class Schedule:
Online Gradebook:
Class Blog:

This is a special topics course based on "The Solar Neighborhood: Understanding the Universe Within the Nearest 50 Light-Years."

There are plenty of mysteries in the universe, but it's often surprising how many of those mysteries are practically on the Earth's doorstep. Even with current technology probing the distant, early universe, Astronomers do not yet have a complete census of the objects nearest the Sun. This course will focus on detecting and characterizing objects within the solar system, the closest stars and brown dwarfs, and planets around other stars.

The course theme was selected because it represents the intersection of my expertise with topics of general interest. We will explore the nearby universe using a combination of labs, activities, a class blog, and weekly quizzes.

None required. Relevant information will be provided in class; see resources section for recommended additional reading.

The Cosmic Perspective (any addition, on reserve at Phys/Astro Reading Room) (online textbook-likes notes)

In class, we will often use rulers and scientific calculators, which can be provided by the instructor. Outside class, you will need access to the internet

Final Grades:
Your final percentage score will be converted to a grade using the scale below.

Grading Criteria:
Full points will be given only for correct, legible, and well-explained responses. Partial credit will often be awarded for incorrect responses with some logical reasoning. No credit will be given if I cannot read your response. Late work will not be accepted. If you have special circumstances that prevent you from turning in work when it is due, you must notify me ahead of time.

Grading Scale:
35% Labs
15% Activities
15% Blog
35% Quizzes

You will be assigned one lab assignment per week. These will include a hands-on component to be completed in class in addition to some questions and analysis that may be completed in or out of class. Lab assignments will typically be due at the beginning of the next class period.

Activities are designed to be entirely completed in class and will be checked for completion at the end of the class period. Quiz questions will often be based heavily on information presented in activities.

There will be nine quizzes, each one based on material presented during a single week. They will be a combination of multiple choice, true/false, and drawings/diagrams. The quizzes will not be cumulative. Once the quizzes are graded, you will have the opportunity to correct any wrong answers for half credit.

Each week, you will be required to write a blog post and comment on another student's blog post. These posts will be a summary of a short news article that relates to the theme of the week. On the first fay of class, I will pass out a handout and discuss details.

Cheating and Plagiarism:
Will not be tolerated. Any incidence of suspected cheating will be investigated fully and handled in accordance with university policies.