Ph 110: Astronomy and Cosmology - Fall 2015
Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe

Astrophysics at RutgersDepartment of Physics and AstronomyRutgers University

Summary Information:

Professor: Dr. Tad Pryor, Physics & Astronomy Bldg, Room 302W, 848-445-8873
Time: T3 (Tue, 12:00-1:20), F3 (Fri, 12:00-1:20)
Location: Physics Lecture Hall
Office Hour: Tuesday, 3:30 - 5:00 PM (call or email to arrange other times)
Text: The Cosmic Perspective: Fundamentals, 2nd edition, by Bennett et al. (Pearson, ISBN 9780321566959)
Sakai: 01:750:110:01 F15 Pryor

More Detailed Information:

Course Description Lecture Schedule
Sakai Text
Homework Examinations
Public Observing Astronomy Websites
Students with Disabilities

Figure: The Hubble Space Telescope in low Earth orbit, about 570 km above the surface. The telescope is about the size of a school bus. Note how thin the fuzzy blue band formed by the atmosphere is at the edge of the Earth, which shows how thin the atmosphere is compared to the size of the Earth. Taken from the Space Shuttle.

Course Description

In this course we will examine the structure and evolution of stars, the properties of galaxies, and the past, present, and future of the Universe. Astronomy is arguably the oldest science, with roots going back millennia. However, most of what we know about the above topics was learned in just the last century and the surprising discovery of the acceleration in the expansion of the universe occurred just 17 years ago. Astronomers today have a detailed knowledge of stars and the exotic endpoints of their evolution -- white dwarfs, neutrons stars, and black holes. They understand the broad outlines of how stars and galaxies form and the history of the universe as a whole. Science is not just a static body of facts, but also the process by which those facts are discovered and then arranged into coherent models. We will use this process to help avoid being buried in the avalanche of facts discovered in the last 100 years.

There are no college-level prerequisites for this course, but typical high school algebra and science preparation are assumed. The companion course, Ph 109 (taught this semester by Profs. Keeton and Sellwood), covers the historical foundations of astronomy and our own and other solar systems. The two courses are complementary and independent; you can take one or both, and in either order. Note that Ph 109 and 110 are intended for non-science majors. Students with college-level math and science credits should consider taking Ph 341/342 instead. These courses cover much of the same material as Ph 109/110, but at a more advanced level.


This course has a "virtual classroom" set up through Sakai: 01:750:110:01 F15 Pryor. All homework assignments, lecture slides, practice exams, scores, and important information about the course will be posted on the Sakai site, so check it regularly. It is also a good place to submit questions about course material or logistics.


The textbook for both Ph 109 and 110 is The Cosmic Perspective: Fundamentals, 2nd edition, by Bennett et al. (Pearson, ISBN 9780321566959). Our class covers chapters 1, 8-14, parts of chapters 2, 3, and 15, and some of the "tools of science" from the remaining chapters. The textbook is available at the Rutgers Bookstores, New Jersey Books, or on-line.

The textbook compact, clear, and (reasonably) up-to-date. You are responsible only for reading the sections given on the lecture schedule, though those with a strong interest in astronomy should be able to enjoy the whole book. Lectures will be more accessible if you have read the appropriate part of the book before class. A few equations are included in the text. You will not be asked to perform calculations more complex than simple proportionalities in this class.


Homework will be assigned, done, and graded weekly using Sakai. Homework sets are due Tuesday nights (5 AM Wednesday) on the dates given in the syllabus (first date: September 15). They will become available a week before they are due and scores and correct answers will become available immediately after the deadline passes. No late homework submissions will be accepted. However, I will drop the lowest two out of the 12 homeworks when calculating your grade.

It can be beneficial to discuss homework questions with your fellow students, but your submitted answers must be your own. Simply asking a classmate for the answer to a problem is exploitation, not discussion. Representing someone else's work as your own is a serious infringement of academic integrity that is reportable to your College Dean.


There will be a midterm and a final exam. The midterm will be held in place of class in the Physics Lecture Hall on Friday, October 23. The final will be Monday, December 21, 9:30-11:00 AM in the Physics Lecture Hall. There will be make-up midterm and final exams for those who have an excused absence. Both exams will be multiple choice, computer graded, and closed book/laptop/phone. Material from the text, lectures, and homework assignments will be used in selecting exam questions. You must bring a photo ID and a pencil to the exams.


Your course grade will be determined by: midterm -- 33%, final -- 33%, and homework -- 33%. As it is easier to obtain a high score for the homework, it is impossible to get a good overall grade without a good homework score. No extra-credit assignments will be offered.

Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities are welcome in this class. Please show me your Letter of Accomodations (details here) early in the semester so that we can make the necessary arrangements for you to have a successful learning experience.

Public Observing at Schommer Observatory

Members of the Rutgers University community and the general public are invited to observe the skies through the 20-inch telescope of the Schommer Observatory on the second and fourth Thursday of every month, weather permitting.

Observing will be canceled for that night if the skies are cloudy at the beginning of the observing session. Please see the observatory home page for information about the next night.

Please send any comments on this page to pryor at

Created August 31, 2015