A brief introduction to some of the guiding questions of modern space science research

This TWO-CREDIT SPECIAL TOPICS course in basic astronomy provides an overview of our current understanding of the universe around us. Topics include the origin of the universe, galaxies, stars, planets, interstellar matter, black holes, space travel, the possibility (or not) of extraterrestrial life... as well as the observational techniques we use to reveal the universe.

Course goals

By taking this course, students will...

Student learning objectives

By the end of this course, students will be able to...

Course calendar

The calendar below is an example of how the course has been structured in the past. Like most non-studio two-credit classes at Pratt, the course meets for a total of 30 in-class hours— one weekly session of 2 hours for each of 15 weeks.

  • Week 1

    Course Intro; The Case for Space I

  • Week 2

    bservational Astronomy: Light, distance and time

  • Week 3

    Stars I: The Big Bang and the origin of the elements; The lifecycle of stars

  • Week 4

    Stars II: Black holes, binaries and other not-so-oddities

  • Week 5

    Galaxies and the Interstellar Medium

  • Week 6

    Solar System I: Formation of the solar system and the Earth-Moon system

  • Week 7

    Solar System II: The inner planets

  • Week 8

    Solar System III: The outer planets and outer "planets"

  • Week 9

    Solar System IV: Asteroids and comets

  • Week 10

    Extrasolar Planets

  • Week 11

    Life in the Universe?

  • Week 12

    Dark Matter and the Hidden Universe

  • Week 13

    Exploration; The Case for Space II

  • Week 14

    Course synthesis and review


  • Week 15


Textbooks, readings and materials

Students do not have to purchase any reading material for this course. All required readings will be posted as PDFs or made otherwise accessible through the course website on Pratt's Learning Management System.

Course readings will include book chapters, government reports, articles from peer-reviewed journals (e.g., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, Nature), mass-market science periodicals (e.g. Scientific American), and recent articles in the popular press. To comply with "Fair Use" copyright guidelines, students will need to authenticate with a Pratt userid and password to gain access to readings.

Projects, papers, assignments

Assessment and grading

Final course letter grades are based on 100%–90% for A-range, 89%–80% for B-range, etc.

There are NO opportunities for extra credit.

Course policies


It is absolutely in your best interest to attend all class sessions. Absences and late arrivals/early departures will count against your participation grade and — if one was missed — your quiz grade. On the comprehensive Final Exam, you are held responsible for all material covered in the course, regardless of whether you were present.

If you are absent AND if you contact me within a day of your absence, I will provide you with an out-of-class assignment which will be due at the next class meeting. This assignment will require well-researched answers to a series of questions that parallel the lecture and class discussion. Answers will require explicit citation to required articles and supplementary reading, and may require additional research to demonstrate college-level understanding. Timely and satisfactory completion of the out-of-class assignment will give you a chance to earn participation credit up to the full amount for the missed session, and will assure that the missed quiz does not count against you. (Your other quizzes, however, will factor that much larger in the calculation of your final course grade.) If you elect not to complete the out-of-class assignment, you will not earn participation credit, and the grade for your missed quiz (if any) also will be recorded as a zero.


As per Pratt Institute policy: I will only consider granting an incomplete if a student in otherwise good standing within the course can provide a compelling and exceptional reason for the request (e.g., documented unexpected illness, death in the immediate family, etc.) — in writing — before the final exam, and agrees to a contract for completion of all missing material. In no circumstance will incompletes stay on a transcript for more than one semester. An incomplete will automatically change to a grade of "F" if the deadlines and expectations in the contract are not followed.

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