Astronomy & Cosmology: Ph 109 Fall 2015

Main page

In this page: Overview, Logistics, Textbook, iClickers, Syllabus, Reading, Homework, Examinations, Grades, Learning Centers, Students with Disabilities, Observing, Astronomy on the Web.


The course describes the historical foundations of astronomy, and modern knowledge of our solar system and planets around other stars, and how they might have originated. Our solar system comprises the Sun, planets and their associated moons, and other minor bodies orbiting the Sun. The huge quantity of information now available is expanding all the time, so the emphasis of the course is on how astronomers know what they claim to know, and how confident they are of their claims.
The companion course, PH 110, covers the structure and evolution of stars, the properties of galaxies, and the past, present, and future of the Universe. The two courses are independent; if you wish to take both, they can be taken in either order or concurrently.
The 109/110 sequence is intended for non-science majors. There are no college-level prerequisites, but minimal high school math and science preparation are assumed. Students with college-level science & math credits should consider taking Ph 341/342 instead, which covers much of the same material as 109/110, but at a more advanced level.


Instructor The author of this page is the course professor, Jerry Sellwood.
Office Hour My office hour is Monday 3:20-4:40. I can be found in room 308 in the Physics & Astronomy Building, Busch Campus, telephone 848-445-8879. I am also available to offer help and answer questions for a few minutes just before or just after every class.
e-mail I prefer not to provide individual help with course material by e-mail - please ask in class or in my office hour. Questions on logistics not already on this web page etc. can be sent to me at
Classes Classes are Tuesday and Thursday period 7 (6:40 - 8pm) in the Physics Lecture Hall on Busch Campus.
Sakai I have established a course page in the Sakai system. Go to and log in using your RUId and password. Click on the "Astronomy 109 F15 Sellwood" tab to enter the course site. If you have trouble logging in, please send e-mail to All homework assignments, lecture notes, practice exams, scores, and important information about the course will be posted on the Sakai site, so check it regularly.

Back to top


The recommended book for both 109 & 110 is

The Cosmic Perspective: Fundamentals (2nd ed 2016) by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider & Voit,(ISBN 978-0-13-388956-7) published by Addison-Wesley. This excellent book is comprehensive, up-to-date and very well illustrated. It contains a lot of material, more than can be covered in both courses even, but those with a strong interest should be able to enjoy the whole book. Used copies of the first edition will be perfectly adequate, since it differs very little from the second edition.

The book should help students to understand the material, especially because it offers a different presentation which can clarify the topics covered in class. I recommend this book because it is the least expensive new book that is available, but the used book market may offer other similar astronomy books that could be equally helpful. Since I will not assign chapter readings or homework problems from any book, the choice of which book to buy, or even whether to buy one at all, is up to each student.

Back to top


There will be in-class quizzes that use the i>clicker classroom response system. You will need to buy either the original i>clicker or the second generation i>clicker 2; we will not use any of the new features. Once you acquire your i>clicker, you should register it through Sakai, using the "i>clicker" option of Sakai, under "MyWorkspace". The iClicker app on your smart phone may work, but is not as reliable.

Responses with i>clickers will be recorded in 25 classes, and your 20 best i>clicker scores will count towards your grade. Any answer to a question will get 1 point, the right answer gets 2.

Back to top


The lectures will not follow the book at all closely. I will omit some parts and provide additional material over and above that provided in the book in other areas. A preliminary outline of the topics of each lecture is listed here, or on the Sakai resources page, together with an indication of the most relevant chapter.

Back to top


The reading references given in the syllabus are incomplete as I will frequently draw material from many different chapters. This will be particularly true when discussing the different properties of planets, when I will suggest you dip into small parts of several chapters for each class.

Back to top


Weekly homework will be assigned and collected on-line using Sakai. Each assignment appears under "Tests & Quizzes" on Friday afternoon and is due Monday night. You can use the browswer on your own computer, or any of the Rutgers student computing center machines (see
Deadlines Assignments are due during Monday night (actually 5am Tuesday), every week beginning Sep/7 and ending on Dec/14 (except for Mondays just before a mid-term exam). Assignment scores and answers will be available immediately the submission deadline is passed. No late homework submissions will be accepted.
Only those who complete the assignment can see both it and their answers after the deadline. The questions will be posted later under "Resources" so that they can be reviewed, but not completed, by those who missed the assignment.
Copied Homework It can be beneficial to discuss homework questions with your fellow students, but your submitted answers must be your own. Representing someone else's work as your own is a serious infringement of academic integrity that is reportable to your College Dean.
Homework scores There will be twelve homework assignments and your ten best homework scores will count towards your grade for the course. Completing the homework assignments is the best way to ensure a good grade because: (1) homework counts 25% towards your overall score for the course, (2) homework scores are generally higher than exam scores, and (3) since many of the exam questions will test the material covered in the homework, thorough preparation for the homework will help a lot with the tests also.

Back to top


There will be three examinations: two mid-terms and a final. The mid-terms will be held at the usual class time and location on Tuesday October 6 and Tuesday November 10. The final exam will be held on Tuesday December 15 at 8:00 PM in the Physics Lecture Hall. All exams will be multiple choice and computer graded. Material from the lectures, homework assignments, and text will be used in selecting exam questions, which will not be cumulative. Sample mid-term and final exams will be posted a week or so before each test.
Alternative Final Exam An alternative final exam will be held at 10am on Thursday Dec 17 on rm 205 of ARC. Anyone who would prefer, for whatever reason, can take this make-up instead of the regular final, provided you notify Dr. Sellwood by the time of the last class (Thursday Dec 10).

Back to top


Your course grade will be determined by your overall score out of 400, which is made up as follows. Each exam mid-term will each be scored out of 66 and the final out of 68 making a maximum possible exam score of 200. Your ten best homework scores will be aggregated to make a score out 100 points, and your 20 best i>clicker scores will be combined for another 100 points.
Exam scores and final grades will be available through Sakai.

Back to top

Learning Centers

The Learning Resource Centers provide a little support for this course. the Math and Science LCs on Busch and Douglas offer video tapes, experimental apparatus and computer demonstrations. If there is a demand, the LRCs will try to set up tutoring help.

Back to top

Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability, it is essential to speak to Prof Sellwood early in the semester to make the necessary arrangements to support a successful learning experience. Also, you must arrange for Prof Sellwood to receive a Letter of Accommodation from the Office of Disability Services. For more information, see

Back to top


There are viewing sessions (which are open to the public) using telescopes located on the roof of the Physics & Astronomy building on Busch campus. They are held every 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month when the sky is clear. See the web site for more information. Attendance at these observing sessions is optional.

Back to top

Astronomy on the web

A new astronomy picture appears here every day. All NASA's photographs of planets, etc. can be found on their PhotoJournal website. This neat interactive website was pointed out to me by a class member: Andrew Gilleece-Carpenter.

Click here for information about the Southern Africa Large Telescope (SALT), which has recently begun observations in South Africa. Rutgers owns a 10% share of this exciting new facility.

The "Mechanical Universe" videos can be viewed from here

You might like to help with the Galaxy Zoo project, which involves the general public in real research. Start here to find out more - it can be addictive!

Back to top