Physics 109: Astronomy and Cosmology: The Solar System
Fall 2013 - Section 1

Professor Andrew Baker
Serin W309 (Busch Campus)
Phone: 732-445-5500 x2544
Email: ajbaker[at]physics.rutgers.edu

Course meetings
Wednesday, period 3 (11:30-12:50) in Scott Hall 123
Friday, period 4 (1:10-2:30) in Scott Hall 123

Office hours
Tuesday, 4:00-5:30 in Serin 401
Friday, 3:00-4:30 in Scott Hall 121
Some evening availability in the chat room of the virtual classroom set up on Sakai.

Course description

This course describes the foundations of astronomy and modern knowledge of our Solar System as well as planets around other stars. While astronomers know a tremendous amount about the universe, science is not just about a static set of facts, but also about the dynamic process of discovery. We will therefore consider science as a way of understanding the world we live in.

There are no college-level prerequisites for this course, but typical high school algebra and science preparation are assumed. The companion course, PHY 110, covers stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole. The two courses are complementary and independent; you can take one or both, and in either order. Note that PHY 109 and PHY 110 are intended for non-science majors. Students with college-level math and science credits should consider taking PHY 341/342 instead. Those courses cover much of the same material as PHY 109/110, but at a more advanced level.


The primary textbook for this course is

The Cosmic Perspective: Fundamentals, by Bennett, Donohue, Schneider, & Voit (ISBN 0-321-56704-8), published by Addison-Wesley/Pearson. While this book is self-contained, I will supplement it from time to time with additional material in the slides for my lectures. You will be responsible for material that appears in our book, and any clearly designated additional material in my slides, which I will make available after class in Sakai.

Student response system

In addition to the textbook, you are required to purchase an i>clicker+ "student response system" (these require two AAA batteries and are available at the campus bookstore). Each i>clicker+ unit has its own unique number; once you have purchased yours, please log into Sakai and register it using the i>clicker tab in the lower left corner of the page for this course.


The sequence of lectures and homework due dates is provisional; I will update them as needed during the course of the semester. I will also include in the schedule the dates of any public events that are relevant to the subject matter of this course (attendance at these events is strictly optional). Note that "T#" in the table below refers to the "Tools of Science" box in Chapter # of the textbook.

1 Sep 4 Overview; Our Cosmic Address
no clicker questions
1.1, T11  
2 Sep 6 An Insider's View of Science 3.2, 3.3, T1, T2, Appendix C  
3 Sep 11 Understanding the Sky 2.1 HW1
  Sep 11 Optional event: public lecture by Professor Alyson Brooks
8:00pm, Physics Lecture Hall, Busch Campus
sponsored by the Rutgers Astronomical Society
  Sep 12 Optional event: public observing night
8:30pm, Robert Schommer Observatory, Busch Campus
sponsored by the Rutgers Astronomical Society
4 Sep 13 Learning from the Sun and Moon 2.2  
5 Sep 18 Greek and Renaissance Astronomy 2.3, 3.1 HW2
6 Sep 20 Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion 3.1 (Kepler)  
7 Sep 25 Newton's Laws of Motion
Guest instructor: Professor Chuck Keeton
3.1 (Newton), 3.3, T6 HW3
8 Sep 27 Gravity in Action 3.3, T6  
9 Oct 2 Light and Heat T5 HW4
10 Oct 4 Light and Atoms T7, T8, T9  
11 Oct 9 Energy, Density, and Pressure T4 HW5
12 Oct 11 REVIEW
no clicker questions
13 Oct 16 MIDTERM EXAM (in class)
no clicker questions
14 Oct 18 Scale and Content of the Solar System 1.3, 4.1  
15 Oct 23 Age of the Solar System 4.3 HW6
16 Oct 25 Formation of the Solar System 4.2  
17 Oct 30 Geology of the Earth and Moon 5.1 HW7
18 Nov 1 Terrestrial Planets: Geology 5.2  
19 Nov 6 Terrestrial Planets: Atmospheres 5.1, 5.2, 5.3 HW8
20 Nov 8 Jovian Planets 6.1  
21 Nov 13 Io, Europa, and Ganymede 6.1, 15.1, T15 HW9
22 Nov 15 Titan and Enceladus 6.1, 15.1, T15  
23 Nov 20 Planetary Rings 6.1 HW10
24 Nov 22 Pluto and the Kuiper Belt 6.2  
25 Nov 27 Comets and Asteroids
Friday class schedule; clicker questions count double
26 Dec 4 Finding Exoplanets
Guest instructor: Professor Chuck Keeton
7.1 HW11
27 Dec 6 Characterizing Exoplanets
Guest instructor: Professor Chuck Keeton
7.2, 7.3, 15.2  
28 Dec 11 REVIEW
no clicker questions
4:00-7:00pm, Scott Hall 123


Your course grade will be based on a weighted combination of four elements:

Homework will be assigned in Sakai on a roughly weekly basis, and will be due before the start of class on Wednesday. Assignments will consist of 8-10 multiple choice questions that assess your understanding of material covered by the previous Friday's lecture and the coming Wednesday's assigned reading. Solutions will be posted after class on Wednesday. I will drop your one lowest homework score in computing your semester average.

Multiple-choice clicker questions will be scattered throughout most lectures, and are intended to assess your understanding of the material we are discussing in that class. If a clear majority of the class does not get the right answer to a particular question the first time around, I'll give you a chance to re-vote after discussing it with your neighbors. Your score for an individual question will be determined as follows:

All scores for a given day will be combined to determine your daily average. All days will be weighted the same, except for November 27th (the day before Thanksgiving), which will count double. I will drop your two lowest daily clicker scores in computing your semester average.

The midterm exam will comprise 30 multiple-choice questions covering the material from lectures 2-11. To give you a sense of what sorts of questions to expect, I will provide a sample midterm exam ahead of time, which we will review during the last regular class period before the exam. A makeup exam will be scheduled for students who have excused absences on the day of the midterm exam (see below).

The final exam will comprise 45 multiple-choice questions over the material covered in lectures 14-27. A few questions may rely on material from the first half of the course (e.g., it is probably best not to have forgotten how scientific progress occurs by the time you sit down to take the final exam!), but these will be limited in number. To give you a sense of what sorts of questions to expect, I will provide a sample final exam ahead of time, which we will review during the last regular class period of the semester. A makeup exam will be scheduled for students who have excused absences on the day of the final exam (see below).

Academic integrity

I take academic integrity concerns very seriously, and in the case of a possible violation I will initiate a disciplinary process without hesitation. Please familiarize yourself with the different levels of violations and sanctions, and note that more than one "non-separable" violation can lead to suspension or expulsion. A few relevant points of information for this course:

Other items
Last updated November 13, 2013.