Astronomy 141 is an introduction to Astrobiology, the study of life in the universe. The topics that we will cover in this course lie at the interfaces of astronomy, chemistry, biology, geology, and the earth and planetary sciences. We will learn about scientists' ongoing quest for answers to some of the most fundamental human questions: How did life originate on Earth? Is there life on other planets? Are we alone in the universe? What is the long-term future of life in the universe?
We will spend roughly equal time on three topics: (1) the emergence and nature of life on the Earth, (2) the potential for life on other planets in our Solar System, and (3) the search for habitable worlds and life around other stars in our Galaxy. The course will begin with a brief introduction to modern science and astronomy, and end with a brief discussion of the long-term future of life on Earth and in the Universe in general.
Collectively the homework will count for 25% of your grade, 5% per assignment equally weighted. These are not practice quizzes, but instead are an opportunity to ask somewhat more challenging questions than I can on the multiple-choice quizzes. They are designed get you thinking about the course topics in an active way. I strongly encourage you to form study groups to discuss the questions, though you must decide on the final answers yourself (beware the perils of group-think!).
Late Homework Policy
No late homework will be accepted. All assignments must be submitted in class on the due date. Exceptions will only be made for legitimate, documented emergencies.
The quizzes will be held during the normal class time, 12:30-1:18pm, and you will have the entire class time to take it. Bring only a #2 pencil with you: no notes, books, scrap paper or any other items will be allowed.
All of the in-class quizzes and the final exam will be closed-book, closed-notes multiple-choice tests. These computer-generated tests provide each student with a unique test (you are asked the same questions and answers as everyone else, but the order of questions and answers is randomized).
The in-class quizzes will cover the material in the lectures since the previous quiz, whereas the final exam will be comprehensive, covering the entire quarter. Each consists of 50 multiple-choice questions. The general emphasis is on the important core facts covered, plus some questions that require putting ideas together and drawing correct conclusions. I do not expect you to know multi-digit numbers, historical dates, etc. I will also ask a small number of quantitative questions, but the constraints of the multiple-choice format restrict the kinds of such questions I can ask on a 50-question test. As such, I usually defer more complicated quantitative questions to the homework where we have more scope to ask such problems.
Makeup in-class quizzes are only offered by advance arrangement with the professor. Exceptions will be made for legitimate, documentable emergencies which require no advance notice. If you will be away on an official University-sponsored activity (e.g., sports teams, band, etc.), please provide a letter from your coach, director, etc. in advance of the quiz. In-class quizzes must be made up before Wednesday after the quiz that you missed, otherwise that quiz becomes the one that I will drop in computing your final grade.
The Final Exam for this course is scheduled for Monday, December 7 from 11:30am-1:18pm in 1005 Smith Lab. Attendance at the Final Exam is mandatory.
The final will be comprehensive, covering all lectures and in the same format as the in-class quizzes, only longer. It is worth 30% of your final course grade.
Persons who miss the final exam will be given an incomplete (I) with an alternative grade equal to getting a zero on the final, and have to make it up during Winter Quarter 2010 to avoid the alternative grade (which at 30% of the total course grade, will be guaranteed to be much lower than you will like).
In keeping with official University policy, early finals will not be available for those persons who wish to depart early for the Holiday Break. Please plan ahead and make your travel plans accordingly, as I will make no exceptions.
Next in importance are the lecture notes available on the web. While you will very likely find these notes to be useful aids for studying and following along in lecture, they are not substitutes for regular attendance. Most students find that the best strategy is to print out the notes, bring them with to class, and then add their own notes in the margins. Remember, most of the lecture content is what I say, the slides reprinted in the notes are more like annotated illustrations than transcripts of the class.
The third component is the textbook, which makes a nice secondary reference where you can get additional information about topics not covered in class. While my course shares the same basic outline as the text, we will differ greatly in what topics I choose to explore in depth, and which I intend to skip. Overall it is a better than usual introductory textbook for such a broad topic. This subject area crosses many disciplines, and has blossomed in recent decades into a rich area of scientific inquiry at the interfaces of astronomy, chemistry, biology, and the Earth and planetary sciences.
Technology can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you choose to use it. I have found that by putting my notes online, it has helped many students pay closer attention to lectures without having to worry about writing everything down, and it provides a useful study guide before exams. The dark side of this useful technology is that many students fall into the habit of blowing off class and just reading the web notes before the quizzes or final. This is a seductively easy but dangerous path to follow through a content-rich course like this. It is akin to reading the script of a movie instead of watching it for yourself: while you will get all of the words, the important nuances, visuals, and connections between ideas will be lost. Astronomy is a very visual science, working with often striking images, and you'll get none of this from the notes because many of the images are protected by copyright and cannot be posted with my webnotes.
In general, students who do not attend class regularly score one whole grade below those who attend class (i.e., a D instead of a C).
In Astronomy 141, the specific learning objectives to achieve these course goals are: