Welcome to SCHC 115 The Magnificent Universe: An Intro. to Astronomy


Syllabus and tentative class schedule, Fall 2016


(Will be available at  http://boson.physics.sc.edu/~kulkarni/a115.html)


Professor:  Dr. Varsha P. Kulkarni; Phone: 803-777-6293, E-mail:  kulkarni@sc.edu (PLEASE USE THIS E-MAIL ADDRESS ONLY.);  URL:  http://boson.physics.sc.edu/~kulkarni/


Textbook: "The Essential Cosmic Perspective" by J. Bennett, M. Donahue, N. Schneider, and M. Voit, Seventh Edition, Pearson Addison-Wesley, ISBN 978-0-321-92808-5


Calculators: For some parts of this course, you will need a scientific calculator with logarithmic and exponential functions, such as a TI30X or Casio XF65. Graphing calculators and PDAs are not allowed.


Lecture Hours: Tues., Thurs. 11:40 am -12:55 pm, Jones PSC 205


Observatory / Laboratory Hours: Tues., Wed., Thurs. 7:00-9:45 pm. Please make sure you have signed up for one of these sections of SCHC115L.

Labs will start today (Aug. 18) for the Thurs. section (Aug. 23, 24 for Tues, Wed. sections).


Office Hours and Location: Tues. 1:30 pm-3:30 pm and Thurs. 2:00-4:00 pm in Jones PSC 505.  I can also be reached at other times by appointment.


Prerequisites: The only prerequisite for this course is a curiosity about the universe and its contents. The level of mathematics needed is fairly simple. You will need to use only basic arithmetic and algebra; no knowledge of calculus will be required. Anyone willing to put in the required effort (and to ask for help if necessary) should do well in the course.


Attendance and Class Participation: Regular attendance is required and will be highly beneficial to do well in this course. This is because additional material outside the textbook will sometimes be covered. The quizzes, tests, and final exam will be based on what is actually covered in class.


Class Notes: Class notes will be periodically placed in Blackboard.


Course Description and Objectives: Astronomy is the study of the Universe. As such, it encompasses an enormous range of subjects and even touches upon the very basis of our existence.  Astronomy is the oldest science, and yet there could truly be no better time to study astronomy than right now! Modern technological advances in astronomical instruments have caused a revolution in our understanding of the Universe during the past few decades.  In SCHC 115, we will obtain an overview of these observations, and try to understand them in terms of simple physical principles.  We will “visit” the solar system and the more distant objects: stars, interstellar matter, galaxies, etc.


One of the most striking facts about our Universe is that the behavior of the distant astronomical objects can be understood in terms of the same physical laws that govern the behavior of nearby objects in our day-to-day life. Therefore, after an initial overview of the subject, we will briefly survey some basic physical principles.  We will then “explore” the solar system, study the discoveries of planets around other stars, and examine the formation of planetary systems. We will next “visit” the Sun and other stars, and explore stellar evolution--the various stages in the life of a star from birth to death (supernovae, black holes, etc.). We will study the diffuse material in between the stars and stellar clusters. If time permits, we will also “explore” the Milky Way, other nearby and distant galaxies, the expansion of the Universe, and ultimately the evolution and fate of the Universe.


Learning Outcomes: Upon successful completion of the course, students should

--obtain a basic conceptual overview of astronomical objects and phenomena;

--get hands-on experience with astronomical observing using telescopes;

--obtain an overview of planetary systems; and

--develop an appreciation for stars, galaxies, and the distant universe.


Grading Basis:  2 Tests : 40% (20% each); 1 Final Exam : 25%; Quizzes/ In-class activities: 15%; Laboratory: 20%; Attendance and Class Participation: bonus 3%


Grading Scale:  The following will serve as a rough guide to grade boundaries. I may adjust these in the favorable direction for border-line cases.  

> 90: A, 85-90: B+, 80-85: B, 75-80: C+, 70-75: C, 65-70: D+, 60-65: D, < 60: F


Tests and Exams:  There will be 2 tests and 1 final exam. These will typically consist of a number of short-answer questions based on material discussed in the lectures, some of which will not be in the text book. Some of the questions will need simple mathematical thinkingthey will often be simple enough that you can do them without major calculations. Nevertheless, you are advised to bring a scientific calculator (with log and exponential functions), a pencil, and a ruler for all the tests and the final exam. You may also bring a 5" x 3" index card with any formulae that you think may be important (please include only formulae on the index card). The Final Exam will be cumulative and mandatory (i.e., you must take the final exam even if you have done very well on the rest of the course).


Make-up tests can be given only for genuine medical emergencies or other extreme circumstances which must be documented and brought to my attention immediately. Make- ups cannot be given for the final exam.


Quizzes/In-class Activities: These will take place throughout the semester, typically once every week. Quizzes will be ~10 minutes long, and consist of short questions based on material covered in a particular lecture or related to the homework for a particular chapter. If you pay close attention in class and do the homework regularly, you should do well in these quizzes/ activities.


Laboratory: Labs will consist of observing sessions at the Melton Memorial Observatory on clear nights and in-door experiments on cloudy nights. You will make visual observations of the sky, use the Observatory's optical telescopes to make observations of planets and stars, and record them with a CCD camera. To the extent possible and allowed by weather constraints, we will make an effort to coordinate the lectures and lab sessions, so as to help you to understand the topics better. Labs will start on Aug. 18. For your first lab, please go to the Melton Memorial Observatory at 7:00 pm on your scheduled day. In subsequent weeks, if it is cloudy, you will need to go to the Jones Physical Sciences (PSC) building.


Homework: Homework will consist of reading the relevant sections of the textbook and class notes after a particular topic has been discussed in class, and answering questions from the textbook similar to those discussed in class (see below for some assigned questions). Homework will not be collected or graded. But doing the homework in a timely manner is essential to do well in the quizzes, tests, and final exam.


Suggested Homework Questions: (While preparing for tests, feel free to also try other questions relevant to the material discussed in class.)


Question #  for 7th edition


3, 23, 25, 30, 42, 43, 45


9, 10, 14, 30, 44, 48


6, 8, 23, 24, 38, 39


1, 25, 26, 32, 45, 46a,b


3, 10, 12, 27, 31, 33, 48, 49


5, 9, 13, 34, 46


7, 8, 11, 15, 35, 49, 51


2, 4, 25, 31, 43, 48


1, 5, 10, 27, 31, 42


2, 10, 35, 46, 47


5, 11, 15, 30, 31, 47, 48


3, 9, 10, 25, 28, 33, 46, 47, 50


4, 11, 15, 30, 34, 46, 47


1, 12, 26, 28, 32, 46


1, 4, 10, 15, 29, 32, 46



4, 6, 9, 33, 37, 42, 59, 60





How to use the Mastering Astronomy website for additional practice:

     * Log in to masteringastronomy.com  with your username and password.

* Enter course code: MAKULKARNI75478

* Click on “Study Area for practice questions on each chapter (reading quiz, concept quiz, visual quiz, tutorials, interactive figures etc.).

* Click on “E-book for electronic version of the textbook.


  The following guidelines should help you to succeed in this course:

* Attend all classes, and take an active interest in the material.

* Pay attention to the lectures, including topics outside of the textbook.

* Keep all electronics, including cell phones, ipads, laptops etc. turned off. Likewise, close other books, papers, etc.

* Participate actively! Ask lots of questions and answer my questions!

* Read class notes and the textbook.

* Do homework questions regularly and come prepared for the quizzes.

* Attend all labs.

* Come and see me if you need help with any topic! It is best to do this sooner rather than later!


Tentative Schedule of Tests and Important Dates (Please note that Test 1 and 2 dates are subject to change):


Aug. 18

  7:00 PM-9:45 PM

1st Lab Meeting at Melton Obs. For Thurs. section



Sept.  1

11:40 AM-12:55 PM

Regular class followed by Planetarium Session in Hollings Lib.


Sept. 22



11:40 AM-12:55 PM

Test 1

Oct. 13


No class (Fall break)

Oct. 27

11:40 AM-12:55 PM

Test 2

Nov.  8      


No class (Election day)

Nov. 24


No class (Thanksgiving holiday)

Dec.  1

11:40 AM-12:55 PM

Last class, Review for final exam.

Dec.  6

12:30 PM-3:00 PM

Final Exam.


Students with Disabilities: If you have a disability, it is essential that you speak to me early in the semester to make the necessary arrangements to support a successful learning experience. Also, you must arrange to have a Letter of Accommodation sent to me from the Office of Disability Services.


SPECIAL LECTURES (Extra-credit opportunities):

Colloquium by Dr. Mario Livio: “Our Place in the Cosmos” on Wed. Sept. 7, 3:30 pm, Hollings Special Collections Library Program Room (132)

Public lecture by Dr. Mario Livio: “Brilliant Blunders” on Sept. 8, 7 pm, Law School main auditorium