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.
By taking this course, students will...
- develop an understanding of the scale, structure and patterns of the observable universe
- develop an understanding of the techniques of astronomical observation, and demonstrate how Earth- and space-based telescopes, robotic probes, and direct human exploration have expanded our knowledge of the cosmos
- explore the connection between astronomical phenomena and the existence of life
- demonstrate that our knowledge of the universe is evolving, and continues to inspire questions in the human imagination and controversy in human society
By the end of this course, students will be able to...
- use qualitative and quantitative terms to describe the scale of the universe
- describe how astronomers use multi-wavelength observations of "light" to interpret the life cycle, temperature, size, composition, and motion of stars and galaxies
- justify the statement that "In a very real sense, we are made of star-stuff." (-Carl Sagan)
- describe the main theories and evidence for how galaxies, our solar system, and the Earth-Moon system were formed
- describe and distinguish the major types of astronomical objects - including stars, galaxies, planets, asteroids, comets, and other solar system objects - in terms of what is known of their composition, structure, dynamics, and life-cycle
- describe and debate the significance of recent discoveries of water, methane and organic molecules beyond Earth
- describe how astronomers have recently been able to identify planets beyond our own solar system, and debate the significance of this information
- describe how science can (and cannot) address the question of life existing elsewhere in the universe
- describe how science can (and cannot) address questions on the origin and fate of the universe
- describe and debate how knowledge gained from space exploration may impact the human condition
- describe and debate potential benefits and tradeoffs in pursuing astronomical knowledge as a society
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.
Course Intro; The Case for Space I
bservational Astronomy: Light, distance and time
Stars I: The Big Bang and the origin of the elements; The lifecycle of stars
Stars II: Black holes, binaries and other not-so-oddities
Galaxies and the Interstellar Medium
Solar System I: Formation of the solar system and the Earth-Moon system
Solar System II: The inner planets
Solar System III: The outer planets and outer "planets"
Solar System IV: Asteroids and comets
Life in the Universe?
Dark Matter and the Hidden Universe
Exploration; The Case for Space II
Course synthesis and review
FINAL PAPER/PROJECT DUE
COMPREHENSIVE FINAL EXAM
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.
- Readings (available on the course LMS) are to be read BEFORE coming to class.
- There will be a short quiz at the BEGINNING of class each week to test your understanding of the readings AND the previous week's material.
- Participation is heavily weighted in this course. All students are expected to contribute to classroom discussion at every class meeting.
- A final paper is required, the topic of which must be approved by me in advance. A project (e.g. a painting, graphic novel, video essay, animation, etc.) may be substituted in place of the paper; projects will require a significant written component, however, in the form of an annotated research bibliography. The paper/project must demonstrate high-level understanding of the science of the topic/theme at hand, appropriate use of information resources, and a facility with the technical and stylistic expectations of college-level writing. In order to demonstrate "high-level" understanding, the paper/project must go significantly beyond what was covered in the class lecture and the required reading. Expectations and assessment guidelines will be posted on the course LMS site in advance of the due date.
- A comprehensive final exam will be given in class during the last week of the semester.
Final course letter grades are based on 100%–90% for A-range, 89%–80% for B-range, etc.
- 25% Weekly quizzes
- 25% Participation
- 25% Final paper/project
- 25% Final exam
There are NO opportunities for extra credit.
- Students must adhere to all Institute-wide policies listed in the Student Handbook under "Community Standards," which include policies on attendance, academic integrity, plagiarism, computer, and network use. Please see the Office of Student Affairs for policies and procedures for handling academic conduct issues.
- Pratt Institute is committed to full inclusion of all students. Those who require special accommodations for disabilities must obtain clearance from the Office of Disability Services at the beginning of the semester. Please make an appointment with the Disability Resource Center (DRC) to discuss these accommodations. The DRC is located in Room 117, Willoughby Hall.
- Students must check the course website on Pratt's Learning Management System to download readings, check guidelines for assignments, and check course announcements.
- Students must obtain a Pratt e-mail address and check this mailbox for official course communication.
- Late assignments will be reduced by one full grade (i.e., 10%) per each day late. No assignments will be accepted for credit more than 10 days late. Late assignments will only be accepted at the discretion of the instructor (i.e., in very unusual circumstances and/or arranged well in advance).
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.