Physics 109
Astronomy & Cosmology
Planets here and everywhere
Spring 2016


Prof. Chuck Keeton
Room 305W, Serin Physics Building, Busch Campus
Aresty Research Center, Milledoler Hall, College Ave. Campus
Email: keeton[at]

Class meetings

Study group schedule

Office hours


This course describes the foundations of astronomy and modern knowledge of our Solar System as well as planets around other stars. There are no college-level prerequisites, but typical high school algebra and science preparation are assumed. The companion course, PHY 110, focuses on stars, galaxies, and the universe. The two courses are independent; you can take one or both, in either order.

Note that this course is intended for non-science majors. Students with two semesters each of physics and calculus should consider taking PHY 341/342 instead. Those courses cover similar material as PHY 109/110 but at a more advanced level.

Required materials

We will use the textbook The Cosmic Perspective: Fundamentals by Bennett, Donohue, Schneider & Voit, published by Addison-Wesley. (There are multiple versions of the book that all share the title "The Cosmic Perspective", but we will use the one labeled "Fundamentals".) The reading assignments are tightly integrated with lectures and in-class quizzes, so the textbook is required. I will add supplemental material from time to time, so let me be clear: you are responsible for material that appears in our book or in my lectures.

We will have in-class quizzes using the iClicker classroom response system.

More information about this course, including scheduling details, is on our Sakai site (look for tab "Astro 109 S16 Keeton").

Study groups

We are fortunate to have outstanding undergraduate Learning Assistants (LAs) who will run weekly study groups. These LAs are your greatest allies in helping you master the subject matter and prepare for the homework, clicker questions, and exams. The study group schedule is listed above. Space is limited to ensure individual attention, but you can sign up through Sakai.

You can earn extra credit for attending study groups. If you sign up at least 2 hours in advance and then show up, you earn +1 point; and if you actively participate (ask and answer questions, help draw a diagram on the board, etc.), you earn an extra point for a total of +2.

If your schedule prevents you from attending any of the weekly study groups, you can earn extra credit through active participation in my weekly office hours.


Your course grade will be based on three elements:

The starting thresholds for earning final grades of A, B, C, and D are 90, 80, 70, and 60%, respectively. It is possible that I will lower one or more of these thresholds over the course of the semester, making it easier for you to earn a particular letter grade. The thresholds will never be raised.

Multiple-choice clicker questions will be scattered throughout most classes to assess your understanding of the material we are discussing that day. If a clear majority of the class does not get the right answer to a particular question the first time around, I will give you a chance to re-vote after discussing the question 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 score. All classes will count equally in determining your semester average (regardless of the number of questions). I will drop your two lowest daily scores in computing your semester average.

Homework will be assigned in Sakai and will be due before the start of class on Friday. Assignments will consist of multiple choice questions that assess your understanding of material covered by the previous week's lectures and assigned reading. Answers will be available after class on Friday. I will drop your one lowest homework score in computing your semester average.

There will be a midterm exam held in class on Tuesday, March 8. There will be a final exam on Thursday, May 5 starting at noon. Both exams will be multiple choice and closed book/notes/laptop/phone. The midterm exam will cover the first half of the semester, and the final exam will cover the second half. Makeup exams will be scheduled for students who have excused absences (see below).

Academic integrity

Students will be held to the Rutgers policy on academic integrity. Please familiarize yourself with the different levels of violations and sanctions. A few relevant points of information for this course:

Other items

Useful links

Student Wellness Services

Astrophysics at RutgersDepartment of Physics and AstronomyRutgers University