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Astronomy 141:
Life In the Universe

Autumn Quarter 2009 Course Syllabus

[ General | Description | Homework | Quizzes | Final Exam | Grading | Makeups | Lectures | Students with Disabilities | Academic Misconduct | Classroom Etiquette | GEC Goals ]

General Information

MTWRF, 12:30-1:18pm
1005 Smith Laboratory (SM1005)

Professor: Richard Pogge
Office: 4059 McPherson Lab, 292-0274
Office Hours: Tue & Wed 3-4pm, Thur 2-3pm, or by appointment

TA: David Nataf
Office: 4000 McPherson Lab, 292-3099
Office Hours: Tues 3-4pm, Thur 1:30-2:30, and Fri 11-12 or by appointment

Course Web Page:

Life in the Universe 2nd Edition, by Jeffrey Bennett and Seth Shostak (Pearson/Addison Wesley, paperback)

Course Description

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.

Homework Assignments

There will be five (5) Homework Assignments during the quarter, each consisting of a set of short-answer questions turned in worksheets provided in class.

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.

In-Class Quizzes

There will be four (4) in-class quizzes, scheduled for the following Fridays:
In-Class Quiz 1: Friday, Oct 9
In-Class Quiz 2: Friday, Oct 23
In-Class Quiz 3: Friday, Nov 6
In-Class Quiz 4: Friday, Nov 20
Please mark your calendars with these dates.

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 Policy

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.

Final Exam

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.

No makeup final will be offered

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.

Grading Policy


Lectures will be given daily, 12:30-1:18pm, in 1005 Smith Laboratory on the OSU main campus in Columbus. Attendance is required. The daily lectures are your primary information source for this course.

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).

Students with Disabilities

Any student who feels that he or she may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact the Professor to discuss their specific needs. We will work with the Office for Disability Services to verify the need for accommodation and develop appropriate strategies. Students with disabilities who have not previously contacted ODS are encouraged to do so in advance by visiting the ODS website and requesting an appointment.

Academic Misconduct

All OSU instructors are required to report suspected cases of academic misconduct to the Committee on Academic Misconduct. See the University's Code of Student Conduct for details. The most common forms of misconduct in classes like this are copying from another student's exam or homework assignment. All cases will be investigated following University guidelines. When in doubt, follow the Ten Suggestions for Preserving Academic Integrity. These are common-sense guidelines that cover most situations.

Classroom Etiquette

To help establish and maintain a courteous, distraction-free learning environment in our classroom, I ask that all students please observe the following rules of behavior during lectures and exams:
Use of cell phones and pagers is prohibited.
This includes using cell phones for instant messaging, email, web, pictures, etc. When in class, all cell phones and pagers must be turned off (do not simply put them into stand-by "silent ring" modes).

Use of Wireless Laptops or other networked devices is prohibited.
Surfing the web, instant messaging, reading email or typing on a keyboard during class is extremely distracting to those around you. When in class, all laptop computers and other networked devices (especially devices like iPhones, iPods, Blackberries and such that can be used for 2-way communications, email, IM, etc.) must be turned off and put away. Exceptions will be made for assistive technologies for the vision- or hearing-impaired in consultation with the professor.

Please do not start packing up until class is completely over.
Nothing is more rude or distracting than the noise of notebooks closing and jackets and backpacks rustling while the professor is trying to finish up. I'll be very clear when we're done, and work very hard to stay on time, so please wait until I get to the end.

If you come late or have to leave early, please sit near the back of the room.
This will make your late arrival or early departure less disruptive for your fellow students.
A little courtesy and common sense can go a long way. Thank you for your cooperation.

GEC Goals and Objectives

Astronomy 141 is a General Education Curriculum (GEC) Physical Science course in the Natural Science category. The goals for this course include: Learning Objectives:

In Astronomy 141, the specific learning objectives to achieve these course goals are:

Return to the Astronomy 141 Main Page
Updated: 2009 Sept 19
Copyright Richard W. Pogge, All Rights Reserved.