Astronomy 101: Introduction to Astronomy
Where did our universe come from? What's in it? Are we alone? These are some of the most natural and fundamental questions that humans have been asking since the dawn of time. In this course you'll learn modern answers to these ancient questions, and you'll work directly with astronomical data, and even have a chance to direct a robotic telescope.
This course has been taught online since 2012, always in an asynchronous mode (i.e. few live meetings). If you prefer scheduled lectures, please consider the excellent A sections of Astro 101 or 150. All of these courses are open to everyone, and there are no prerequisites. We do not assume or require that you have a scientific or mathematical background. That being said, we will expect you to do some algebra. You will need to know how to use a scientific calculator and office software (e.g. Word or Powerpoint, or Google Docs). If you do not have access to these tools, please make a point of speaking with your instructor or TAs as soon as possible.
- From the Moon to the Renaissance.
- Light and Telescopes.
- Measuring the Stars.
- The Lives of the Stars.
- The Milky Way and Dark Matter.
- Life in the Universe.
- Astronomy: At Play in the Cosmos 2nd edition. Adam Frank. New York: W.W. Norton, 2019.
- At Play in the Cosmos: The Videogame. Available for Windows, MacOS, iPhone, iPad, and Android.
We've organized this course around this textbook because it's current, it presents astronomy as a story about people (because it is, of course, a story about what people know about the universe), and because it's reasonably succinct. You can buy the textbook and the videogame as a bundle ($55) or separately (the videogame alone costs $35).
The instructions below show you to register for trail access or to purchase, as well as how to join our class' student set, which will allow me to give you credit for your progress in the videogame. When you register please use the same name you have in Canvas, and your UW email, since that makes it much easier for us to give you credit.
- For students studying outside of the US: You will need to enter a US billing address for the purchase to go through. You can use the UW's address: 3910 15th Ave NE / Seattle WA 98195 / 206-543-2888 (click to see how).
Once you have registered you can learn more about the video game by navigating to https://digital.wwnorton.com/cosmos2 (Links to an external site.), choosing "Quick Start Guide", and reading “What is At Play in the Cosmos?”.
Things to Know
- Participate each week: Success in this class hinges upon your commitment to complete the assignments every week of the quarter. Many of the people who choose this course have day jobs, or are currently in a different timezone than the UW, but everyone must still commit to completing the assignments in a way that works with both your schedule and the course's, and ideally gives you enough time to get help when you need it. This course moves quickly through material, so we do not allow registrations beyond the first week.
- Required Materials: In addition to the textbook and videogame, you are responsible for the information presented on the course's Canvas site, including announcements and messages sent to you via Canvas.
- Late assignments: In general we expect your work will be turned in by the due date so we can grade it in a timely fashion. If you find yourself in a situation where you will miss due dates please let us know; we are more than happy to make appropriate accommodations. Shortly after the Lesson 4 due dates, your scores on all previous assignments from the first half of the course are considered final. Similarly, shortly after the Lesson 9 due dates, your scores on all previous assignments from the second half of the course are also considered final.
- Academic honesty: Cheating and/or plagiarism is not tolerated. Except on the weekly Lesson Quizzes, you are allowed and encouraged to work with other members of the class, but all of your assignments must be in your own words with citations to other people's work. The examples of academic misconduct in the statement of Student Academic Responsibility are useful for understanding how to avoid plagiarism. In addition:
- We use SimCheck to automatically produce originality reports for many assignments in this class. The SimCheck Report will indicate the amount of original text in your work and whether all material that you quoted, paraphrased, summarized, or used from another source is appropriately referenced. About SimCheck plagiarism detection.
- If we suspect academic misconduct then we will withhold your grade and report the suspected activity to Community Standards & Student Conduct.
- The University of Washington Department of Astronomy does not tolerate harassment of any kind: Harassment is any behavior by an individual or group that contributes to a hostile, intimidating, unwelcoming, and/or inaccessible work environment. Anyone can experience harassment. If you believe that you are being harassed, the Astronomy Department's Statement on Harassment lists resources where you can find support.
Accommodations & Support
This class provides accommodations for temporary health conditions and permanent disabilities through UW DRS. Support is available to discuss safety and well-being 24 hours / 7 days a week through SafeCampus.
Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.
Evaluation and Grading
Quizzes -- 25% of your grade
Each lesson culminates in a written quiz, which will be available for 24-hours (midnight-11:59pm Seattle time). Please read About the Quizzes for lots of details about what to expect, what we expect, and grading. We drop the lowest score, which means even if you miss an entire quiz it won't count. This is so you can take care of family emergencies, sickness, or anything else without it impacting your grade.
SDSS Labs -- 25% of your grade
You will work with real data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) as you learn how this data shows us more about the galaxy and the Universe. The assignments are completed individual as a Word document or pdf.
Discussions -- 20% of your grade
Credit will be based on the quality and timeliness of your posts and responses. Your first post in each discussion is due before the due date, read About the Discussions for all the details. You must participate throughout each week for full credit.
Practical Labs -- 10% of your grade
These labs vary widely in their content, but they are all intended to be practical demonstrations or activities you can do at home.
Videogame -- 10% of your grade
Your score is based on how many of the assigned missions you complete by certain deadlines. Missions are graded credit/no credit.
Self-Checks -- 10% of your grade
You have multiple attempts on these multiple-choice self-check quizzes so you can test your knowledge without fear of losing points.
Your final grade is determined by transforming your overall percentage to the 4.0 scale. A 97% course average guarantees a 4.0, an 80% guarantees a 2.0, and a percentage score of at least 60% is required for credit. If you have chosen Satisfactory/Not-Satisfactory grading you will need a 2.0 or better to receive credit.