ASTR 101 B: Astronomy

Winter 2024
to be arranged / * *
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Astronomy 101: Introduction to Astronomy

Probably everyone anywhere has wondered where the universe came from; and marveling at the sky connects people across culture, time, and space. You'll learn modern answers to these ancient questions in this course by working directly with astronomical data, and even directing 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 do expect you to remember how to use a scientific calculator and a little algebra, but office software (e.g. Word or Powerpoint, or Google Docs) is just as important. If you do not have access to these tools, please make a point of speaking with your instructor as soon as possible. 

Required Materials

  • Astronomy: At Play in the Cosmos 2nd edition, Adam Frank. W.W. Norton

We've organized this course around this textbook because it presents astronomy as a story about people--because of course it is!. You can buy the textbook from various sources, but the print version is expensive because it includes access to resources we don't need. Instead, I recommend the ebook, available from W.W.Norton for (as of early 2024) $39.95. The first three chapters are free, so you can try it out. FYI, if you find a first edition of the text it'll work--most things are in the same order--but there are a few big typos: At Play in the Cosmos first edition Errata.

Things to Know

  • Weekly Due Dates: This course unfolds over nine lessons, each of which is a Canvas module.
  • Lesson Assignments: Lessons are centered around activities, including short lectures with practice problems, discussions, labs, and the lesson self-checks. We do not present full-length lectures, either recorded or live, but we do present the same material taught in our lecture class, Astro 101A.
  • Late assignments: Canvas will automatically assign a zero to work that is turned in even a second late, but we're not worried about seconds. In general we expect your work will be turned in so we can grade it in a timely fashion. Quizzes and exams have a one hour grace period after they are due--because we want you to turn in your work even if you're a little late--but then they close to submissions. If you miss a due date due to a family emergency, sickness, or other short term situation, please get in touch with your TA when you are again able to participate in school.  After each quiz or exam, your scores on all previous assignments are considered final.
  • Academic honesty: Collaboration is not allowed on quizzes or exams. While you are allowed and encouraged to work with members of the class on other assignments, in all cases your work should be in your own words. If you used other people's work, you must cite it. If you used generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, you must include the response from the tool alongside your own work, which we expect will express ideas beyond those generated by the tool. If we suspect academic misconduct, I 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, please reach out to your instructor and/or SafeCampus.
  • We Follow UW Policies: We follow the UW's guidelines for faculty, including not requiring notes from doctors. For a full list, see UW Syllabus Guidelines and Resources.

Accommodations & Support

Support is available to discuss safety and well-being 24 hours / 7 days a week through SafeCampus. Accommodations for temporary health conditions and permanent disabilities are organized through UW DRS.

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

Exams -- 30% of your grade

There are two timed, multiple-choice exams. The Unit 1 Exam will test content from the first half of the class, while the Unit 2 Exam will focus on the second half of the class. See About the Quizzes and Exams for more information.

Quizzes -- 30% of your grade

There are three written quizzes, each of which focuses just on the previous two lessons; they come at the end of Lessons 2, 4, and 7. See About the Quizzes and Exams for more information.

Labs -- 20% of your grade

In the labs you will work with real data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). The last lab will give you a chance to choose your own astronomical experience, including directing a telescope to take observations for you.

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. We drop your lowest discussion score, so if you need to take care of an emergency or are sick, the missed discussion will be dropped automatically and will not impact to your grade.

Final Grade

Your final grade is determined by transforming your overall percentage to the 4.0 scale. A percentage score of at least 60% is required for credit. A score of 72% guarantees a 2.0 or higher, an 82% guarantees a 3.0 or higher, and a 95% guarantees a 4.0. If you have chosen Satisfactory/Not-Satisfactory grading you will need a 2.0 or better to receive credit.

Catalog Description:
Introduction to the universe, with emphasis on conceptual, as contrasted with mathematical, comprehension. Modern theories, observations; ideas concerning nature, evolution of galaxies; quasars, stars, black holes, planets, solar system. Not open for credit to students who have taken ASTR 102 or ASTR 301; not open to upper-division students majoring in physical sciences or engineering. Offered: AWSpS.
GE Requirements Met:
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Quantitative and Symbolic Reasoning (QSR)
Last updated:
May 15, 2024 - 8:45 pm