Comet Hale-Bopp, APOD 2005 May 22

Byrne Seminar
Death from the Skies?
Spring 2013

Mondays 3:20-4:40pm
SERC 220, Busch campus
Instructors: Saurabh W Jha & Tad Pryor


The universe is a dangerous place and our Earth is a fragile home. If an asteroid can wipe out the dinosaurs, what would a nearby supernova do to human civilization? We will explore the astronomical facts, not fiction, of the many perils that threaten our planet, and estimate the odds of surviving to the end of the semester and beyond.

This one-credit course is only open to first-year students. No background in physics or astronomy is required.

Useful Links

More information about this course is available in our tab on Sakai (Byrne Seminar: Death from the Skies Sp13).

Public observing nights at the Schommer Observatory (on the roof of Serin) take place on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of each month, weather permitting.

Contact Information

Prof. Saurabh W Jha
Prof. Tad Pryor
Office Hours:
Wednesdays 3:30-4:30pm
Tuesdays 3-4pm
732-445-5500 ext 6979
732-445-5500 ext 5462

Required Materials

The textbook we will use is Death from the Skies! by Philip Plait. The course is tightly integrated with this textbook, so the textbook is required.

Reading and Homework

There will be reading and homework assigned for class meetings 2-5. The reading will be a chapter from the book, and the homework will be to write a response paragraph based on the reading, with assigned questions to guide you. The homework will be posted on Sakai and will be due by the beginning of class. No late homeworks will be accepted.


In the second half of the course, we will work on a class project, culminating with in-class presentations during the last two class meetings. More details about the project will be posted on Sakai.


This class is graded credit or no-credit. This determination will be made based on in-class attendance and participation, the written homework assignments, and the project.

Schedule: Topics and Assignments

This syllabus may be modified as the semester progresses. The assignments are listed on the date they are due.

Jan 28
course introduction
Feb 4
asteroids and impacts
read: Chapter 1
homework on Sakai
Feb 11
the Sun: solar flares to stellar evolution
read: Chapter 2
homework on Sakai
Feb 18
exploding stars: supernovae
read: Chapter 3
homework on Sakai
Feb 25
when aliens attack
read: Chapter 6
homework on Sakai
Mar 4
project research
Mar 11
project research
Mar 18
spring break! no class
Mar 25
project research
Apr 1
project presentations
Apr 8
project presentations

Other Items

Students with disabilities should consult the department policy.

Students will be held to the Rutgers policy on academic integrity.

Astrophysics at Rutgers
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Rutgers University

Last updated: February 19, 2013 swj