Astronomy 10
Introduction to General Astronomy
Summer 2002, Session A

Instructor:Bryan Méndez
Office: 561A Campbell Hall
Office Phone Number: 510-642-2045
Office Hours: TBD (or by appointment) in 561A Campbell Hall
Email Address:

Lectures: MTuWTh 10:00 am - 12:00 PM, 3106 ETCHEVERRY HALL
Lab Sections (Mandatory): M 1:00 - 3:00 pm or W 1:00 - 3:00 pm in 544 CAMPBELL HALL
Course Control Numbers: 17005 (lec), TBD (lab)
Units: 4
Prerequisites: None

Course Web Site:

Required Textbook: The Cosmic Perspective, Second Edition, by Jeffrey Bennett, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit (Addison Wesley, ISBN 0-8053-8044-2). The text comes with a very useful CD-ROM that will be used for several class assignments as well as a password for the website for the text: The website has quizzes, tutorials with animations, and online tutoring. Several assignments will make use of the website so you must purchase a book with a fresh password.

Recommended Text: Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. There are two versions of this book. The first is no longer in print but can still be purchased ( has some copies). It contains hundreds of wonderful color illustrations (Random House Inc., ISBN 0-394-71596-9). The second is a Mass Market paperback (very cheap). It has all the same text, but lacks the illustrations (Random House Inc., ISBN 0-345-33135-4). You will not be responsible for the material in this book on the exams. But I will talk about things from the book in class. It is slightly outdated on some topics, but the prose in the book is so readable and inspiring that no human being should ever go without reading it.

Course Description

      In this course we will explore the wondrous Universe in which we live. The course is designed to provide a description of modern astronomy including the structure and evolution of planets, stars, galaxies, and the Cosmos. We will begin our exploration right here on Earth and seek to understand the nature of the ground on which we stand and the sky above. From here we will examine the history of how we came to our current place in astronomy and the developments in scientific thought along the way. Then we will take a tour of our own solar system and investigate its main component, the Sun. We will explore the lives and deaths of stars, learning some mind-bending physics along the way as we discover exploding stars, neutron stars, and black holes. We will journey further still from home into the realm of the vast conglomerations of stars known as galaxies. We will examine the Universe as a whole and ask what it's like on the largest scales and how it evolved. Finally, we will indulge in some scientific speculation on the existence of life in this expansive Cosmos.

      Astronomy is a physical science and this is a general-interest course that satisfies the breadth requirement in physical science. Astronomy has been with humankind since prehistoric times and all other sciences have been born of its legacy. As such the study of astronomy covers a broad spectrum of subjects. Chief among them is physics, and during the course you will come to understand many of the physical principles that govern the Universe. There are no formal prerequisites for this course, and the reliance on mathematics will not be excessive. Qualitative understanding will be of foremost importance. However, quantitative understanding will in many cases be necessary for you to fully understand the phenomena we will study. It will be assumed that you are at least familiar with simple high school algebra and geometry (including squares and square roots, scientific notation, ratios, proportions, etc.). If you find these topics rusty, don't panic: I will briefly review them as we go and will do examples in class. Remember that astronomy is more than star-gazing, and that we are setting out to explore a physical science together. It will take some effort on your part, but you will also learn much along the way.

      The class will consist of four 2-hour meetings per week as well as a 2-hour lab session on Mondays and/or Wednesdays. These will not be typical lecture classes, but rather a mix of lecture, discussion, and demonstration. The lab sections will be focused on discussions, demonstrations, and some hands-on activities. I will provide outlines of each class on the web for you to print out and bring to class so that you can take more effective notes in class. Reading assignments for each class are listed on the class syllabus and will be in the online class notes. You will get more out of class if you do the reading assignments beforehand.

      Questions in class are greatly encouraged. Questions outside of class are also welcome. I encourage you all to come to my office hours. Come with any questions you may have, be they on homework, lecture material, readings, or astronomy in general. Come just to listen to what questions your fellow students are asking. Or just come if you are feeling chatty. Try and come toward the beginning so that we have enough time to cover everyone's questions. You may also email questions to me and I will do my best to always respond within one day's time. Explaining a math concept is sometimes very difficult to do over email, however. So, if you have such questions you would do better to come see me in person.

Course Goals

      The typical non-scientist has the impression that astronomy, and science in general, is just a body of facts, handed down from on high by these elusive "scientists". That is simply not the case. Science is a process; it is a very human endeavor to understand the natural world. A major goal is for you to understand how this process works and to appreciate the hard work that scientists do. It isn't important that you memorize facts or calculations, but rather that you learn the methods and logic that lead to them.

      Also, I hope that your perception of, and curiosity about the world around you will become more fully developed. For example, when you go outside and look up at the daytime sky, I would like you to notice that the sky is blue, and then wonder about why it is blue. Why is the night sky dark? What are the stars? How far away are they? Asking the question is the first step in finding the answer.


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