Effective: Early Spring 8-Week 2018/2019

ASTR 108: Introduction To Astronomy

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  Course Description

A survey of the development of astronomy through the years. Topics covered include the historical evolution of our understanding of our place in the Universe, astronomical instruments, the Earth-Moon system, the solar system, the Sun and other stars, galaxies and cosmology.

Prerequisite: MATH 106 or higher

Proctored Exams: Final



  • Comins & Kaufmann. (2014). Discovering the Unvierse (10th). W.H. Freeman.  
    • [ISBN-978-1-4641-4086-0]
    • Note: This text comes with a LaunchPad access code. LaunchPad is an optional resource, and is not required for course completion.

MBS Information

Textbooks for the course may be ordered from MBS Direct. You can order

For additional information about the bookstore, visit http://www.mbsbooks.com.

  Course Overview

This course is designed to provide you with a broad overview of the science of astronomy. This is a conceptual course which means it will focus on the important top level concepts of astronomy and not delve into the deeper physics and mathematics behind the broader concepts. The course will cover our present understanding of the solar system and its formation, stars and their formation, our galaxy, and the known universe. Also covered will be the methods, tools, and instruments by which scientists have expanded our knowledge from the early beginnings up to present day. Each week you will be given a reading assignment, two discussion topics, and a homework assignment related to the readings. There will be six short quizzes, a midterm exam, and a final exam. Topics covered by the course include those listed below.

  • Time and space.
  • General discussion about the composition of the universe.
  • Discussion about different branches of astronomy.
  • Solar system— overview.
  • Different planets, their satellites, and the Sun.
  • Asteroids, comets and meteors.
  • Stars— detailed discussions, and Galaxies.
  • Origin and structure of the universe.

  Technology Requirements

Participation in this course will require the basic technology for all online classes at Columbia College:
  • A computer with reliable Internet access
  • A web browser
  • Acrobat Reader
  • Microsoft Office or another word processor such as Open Office

You can find more details about standard technical requirements for our courses on our site.

  Course Objectives

  • Examine the major types of objects in the Universe and their properties.
  • Describe the instruments and methods used by observational astronomers.
  • Investigate scientific theories on the origin and structure of the Universe.

  Measurable Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the celestial sphere and the coordinate system used to specify locations on it.
  • Outline how the geocentric model of the Universe was supplanted by the heliocentric model.
  • Differentiate between sidereal and solar time.
  • Describe parallax and how they are used to determine distances to celestial objects.
  • State and apply Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.
  • Interrelate the frequency, wavelength, and energy of light.
  • Describe the electromagnetic spectrum
  • Define temperature and interconvert between temperature scales.
  • Explain Wien’s law and emission and absorption spectra.
  • Use the Doppler Effect to calculate the speed of celestial objects, relative to Earth.
  • Explain the functioning of optical and radio telescopes, and compare their capabilities.
  • Outline current theories of solar system formation; describe terrestrial and Jovian planets, asteroids, and comets.
  • Describe current methods for detecting extra solar planets.
  • Describe the properties of the Moon, its phases, and its tidal effects on the Earth.
  • Explain the structure and functioning of the Sun.
  • Outline the lifecycles of stars.
  • Locate various types of stars on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.
  • Describe the different classes of galaxies.
  • Explain Hubble’s law and how it relates to the Big Bang theory of the formation of the Universe.


Grading Scale

Grade Points Percent
A 900-1000 90-100%
B 800-899 80-89%
C 700-799 70-79%
D 600-699 60-69%
F 0-599 0-59%

Grade Weights

Assignment Category Points Percent
Discussion Postings 180 18%
Quizzes 270 27%
Homework Assignments 200 20%
Mid-Term Exam 150 15%
Final Exam 200 20%
Total 1000 100%

  Schedule of Due Dates

Week 1

Assignment Points Due
Discussion 1 12 Thursday
Discussion 2 12 Sunday
Homework Assignment 1 25
Quiz 1 (Syllabus and Welcome Letter) 45

Week 2

Assignment Points Due
Discussion 3 12 Thursday
Discussion 4 12 Sunday
Homework Assignment 2 25
Quiz 2 (Chapters 1-5) 45
Proctor Information N/A

Week 3

Assignment Points Due
Discussion 5 12 Thursday
Discussion 6 12 Sunday
Homework Assignment 3 25
Quiz 3 (Chapters 6 & 7) 45

Week 4

Assignment Points Due
Discussion 7 12 Thursday
Midterm Exam 150 Sunday
Discussion 8 12
Homework Assignment 4 25

Week 5

Assignment Points Due
Discussion 9 12 Thursday
Discussion 10 12 Sunday
Homework Assignment 5 25
Quiz 4 (Chapters 10-12) 45

Week 6

Assignment Points Due
Discussion 11 12 Thursday
Discussion 12 12 Sunday
Homework Assignment 6 25
Quiz 5 (Chapters 13 & 14) 45

Week 7

Assignment Points Due
Discussion 13 12 Thursday
Discussion 14 12 Sunday
Homework Assignment 7 25
Quiz 6 (Chapters 15-17) 45

Week 8

Assignment Points Due
Discussion 15 12 Thursday
Homework Assignment 8 25 Saturday
Final Exam (Chapters 1-19) 200
Total Points: 1000

  Assignment Overview

Discussion Postings

Weekly discussion postings will become available on Monday of each week and must be completed by midnight Thursday and midnight Sunday respectively of the assigned week (all time are CT). There will be fifteen discussion topics in all, two per week for the first seven weeks and one in the eighth week of the course. Each discussion is worth a total of twelve points. Eight of these points are earned based on the quality of the scientific argument presented in response to the discussion topic; postings should be in your own words; extensive use of quotes may result in reduced points. The remaining 4 points are earned based on the quality of interaction with classmates. These points will be awarded based on the tables presented in the course Content area. Both topic responses and interaction with other students are due on the dates shown in the “Schedule of Due Dates.”

There are many resources available on-line that you may also use to assist you with your preparation for a discussion topic. Just search the web using key terms of a given discussion topic.

Homework Assignments

Homework assignments are based on topics discussed in the textbook assigned readings and may require some additional research. One assignment of 5 or 6 short answer questions will be made each week. Assignments will be available on Mondays and are due on Sunday of the same week. The only exception is for Week 8, which must be submitted by Saturday midnight, the last day of the course.

The homework assignment sheets are Microsoft WORD documents that you will download to your computer from the “Content” area of the course. Next, you will enter your answers into that same document, and then post the completed assignment to the appropriate D2L Dropbox for that week. Answers are expected to be in your own words rather than quotes; grade may be reduced if extensive quotes are used. Emailed homework will not be accepted. More information regarding homework assignments is available in the FAQ document found in the Content area of the course.

Assignments must be submitted in a format that is recognized by Microsoft Word, such as “.doc,” “.docx,” or “.rtf.” Only documents that can be opened by Microsoft Word will be accepted.


With the exception of Quiz 1, quizzes will be made available by 12:01 A.M. CT on Thursday of the week in which they are to be completed (weeks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7). Quizzes are accessed by clicking “Quizzes” on the navigation bar in D2L. They must be submitted by midnight CT on the following Sunday. Quizzes are intended to be closed book/closed notes. To enforce this intention, a strict time limit of 15 minutes will be enforced. It is recommended that you do your reading assignment and your homework prior to starting the quiz. Once you begin the quiz you must finish it. Should you lose your communication link, you must log back on immediately and still finish the quiz within the allotted 15 minutes. If you have done your readings and homework you should have no trouble completing 9 multiple choice questions within the time limit, even if you must log back on. The intent is that you will not have time to look up answers.

Quiz 1, over the course rules presented in the syllabus and “Welcome Letter,” has a longer time period and allows one re-try so you will better understand the course rules and policies. Late quiz submissions receive no credit, so be sure to submit quizzes by the deadline.

Midterm and Final Exams

A midterm exam is given in week 4 of the course. A comprehensive final exam must be taken during the last week of the course. The midterm exam will become available at 12:01 AM on Wednesday of the week 4 and must be completed by midnight Sunday of that same week. You will be given one hour to take the mid-term exam which is not proctored. The final exam will become available at 12:01 AM on Tuesday of week 8 and must be completed by Saturday midnight CT. You must take the final exam in the presence of the proctor approved by your instructor. The final exam is password protected and the password is available only to your approved proctor. Exams are closed book/closed notes. You will be given one and one-half hours to complete the final exam. Both exams are predominately multiple choice or true/false with a few short answer questions. More information regarding exams is available in the FAQ document. Please see the “Proctor Policy” section of this document for a description of your obligation concerning proctor selection, notification, and scheduling. Although ProctorU and any Columbia College campus testing center will always be approved, you must notify the instructor as to which of these you will use and then take the exam only with that proctor. Failure to notify the instructor as to which proctor you will use or taking the exam with a proctor other than the one you disclosed to your instructor may result in a grade of zero being given for the exam.

Please Note: Equipment or software issues are not acceptable reasons for late or missed assignments. Submit your assignments early and have a backup computer plan (home, work, friend, etc.).

  Course Outline

Click on each week to view details about the activities scheduled for that week.

Reading Assignment
Chapters 1 & 2
Discussion 1
Introduce yourself to your classmates. Please give more than your name. Include your profession, hobbies, interest in astronomy, and any other information that can help us get to know you.
Discussion 2
Galileo was the first scientist to use the telescope to study the nighttime sky. Among his discoveries were the phases of Venus and the four major satellites of Jupiter. Describe the specifics of what Galileo saw that supported the heliocentric theory and refuted the geocentric theory. Given the views he put forward, do you believe he was treated fairly by society?
Homework Assignment 1
Assigned in D2L based on topics discussed in Chapters 1 and 2.
Quiz 1 (Syllabus and Welcome Letter)
Quiz 1 covers information available in the syllabus and “Welcome Letter. There is a special time limit for this quiz only!
Reading Assignment
Chapters 3-5
Discussion 3
Our solar system was created from a cloud of dust and gas called the solar nebula. Describe the processes that took place according to this Solar Nebula theory and specifically how it came to be that we have planets orbiting around a star and why this orbital motion is all in the same plane and in the same direction. Also explain why, according to this theory, the terrestrial and the Jovian planets are so different in size and chemical composition.
Discussion 4
Describe what is meant by the term “exoplanet.” There are four common methods used to discover exoplanets; name each method and describe how each allows us to determine the existence these objects.
Homework Assignment 2
Assigned in D2L based on topics discussed in Chapters 3-5.
Quiz 2 (Chapters 1-5)
Proctor Information
Submit your proctor form to the appropriate Dropbox folder by the end of the week. Remember to “Save” the form before placing it in Dropbox. See the Content area for more information.
Reading Assignment
Chapters 6 -7
Discussion 5
We have been reflecting laser beams off the Moon since the early 1970s using reflectors left there by Apollo astronauts. From these experiments we have learned that the Moon is moving away from the Earth at a rate of 3.8 cm per year. Discuss the specifics of the process that is causing this to occur including detail on how the Moon is getting the energy to recede. What is the likely end result for the Earth/Moon system and what do you think the impact on humanity might be.
Discussion 6
Several planets in our solar system have global magnetic fields. Describe how this global magnetic field/magnetosphere is created for both the terrestrial type planets and for the Jovian planets. What is a general statement of the process that applies to both? What do you see as the impact to Earth if we should lose our magnetosphere?
Homework Assignment 3
Assigned in D2L based on topics discussed in Chapters 6 and 7.
Quiz 3 (Chapters 6 & 7)
Reading Assignment
Chapters 8 -9
Discussion 7
There has been a scientific debate raging for many years over the classification of Pluto. Pluto recently lost its status as a planet. Do you feel it should be classified as a dwarf planet, a planet. Or is it just a large version of a captured comet or KBO? State your opinion on this issue and the scientific rationale for your position.
Midterm Exam
Exam over chapters 1-9. Sixty minute time limit is strictly enforced.
Discussion 8
Meteors often appear in "showers" that occur at the same time each year. During these showers the rate of occurrence is many times higher than the random events we see at other times of the year. Discuss the cause of these annual predictable events. Also discuss the difference between a meteoroid, meteor and a meteorite. Should we worry about being struck by any of these shower objects?
Homework Assignment 4
Assigned in D2L based on topics discussed in Chapters 8 & 9.
Reading Assignment
Chapters 10-12
Discussion 9
Discuss the primary regions or zones within the Sun and what occurs in them, how and where energy is created in the Sun, and the Sun’s chemical composition.
Discussion 10
Parallax is used as a tool to determine distances to stars. Describe how this stellar parallax works. Also discuss what limits the effective range of the technique and the maximum distance that can be accurately measured. Parallax is not unique to astronomy. Provide some specific examples of non-astronomy applications.
Homework Assignment 5
Assigned in D2L based on topics discussed in Chapters 10-12.
Quiz 4 (Chapters 10-12)
Reading Assignment
Chapters 13-14
Discussion 11
The larger the mass of a star, the higher the internal pressure caused by gravity. Higher internal pressure causes higher temperatures and it is temperature that determines the types of fusion that can occur deep in a stars interior. Discuss all of the types of fusion that can occur in a star, the temperatures at which they occur, and the mass (not density) required to produce them.
Discussion 12
Discuss the cause of Black Holes and their major components/features. Make sure you address the event horizon and the singularity along with other major properties. Does the concept of a Black seem reasonable to you? Why or why not?
Homework Assignment 6
Assigned in D2L based on topics discussed in Chapters13 & 14.
Quiz 5 (Chapters 13 & 14)
Course Evaluation
Please evaluate the course. You will have an opportunity to evaluate the course near the end of the session. A link sent to your CougarMail will allow you to access the evaluation. Please note that these evaluations are provided so that I can improve the course, find out what students perceive to be its strengths and weaknesses, and in general assess the success of the course. Please do take the time to fill this out.
Reading Assignment
Chapters 15-17
Discussion 13
"You can't see the forest for the trees" might seem an appropriate analogy for astronomers attempting to determine the shape of the Milky Way galaxy when we are in fact located inside the galaxy. Discuss techniques used by astronomers (including how each technique aids in mapping), both today and in the past, to determine the type of galaxy in which we live , why it is so difficult to determine the shape of our galaxy, and where our Sun is located in the galaxy?
Discussion 14
Describe at least four of the most commonly used techniques used to determine distances to stars and galaxies. For each method, make sure you include what is actually measured and how these measurements allow the calculation of distance. Also indicate the distance over which valid measurements can be made for each method.
Homework Assignment 7
Assigned in D2L based on topics discussed in Chapters 15-17.
Quiz 6 (Chapters 15-17)
Reading Assignment
Chapters 18-19
Discussion 15
Many astronomers have spent their entire careers trying to definitively answer the question "are we alone in the universe." Discuss the type of efforts made to date to find extra-terrestrial intelligence. Is there a possibility we might still find life in our solar system and if so where? Aside from the scientific evidence, what are your views regarding life beyond Earth?
Homework Assignment 8
Assigned in D2L based on topics discussed in Ch.18 & 19.
Final Exam (Chapters 1-19)
This is a proctored exam covering all of the material discussed in the course. It will become available on Tuesday morning.

  Course Policies

Student Conduct

All Columbia College students, whether enrolled in a land-based or online course, are responsible for behaving in a manner consistent with Columbia College's Student Conduct Code and Acceptable Use Policy. Students violating these policies will be referred to the office of Student Affairs and/or the office of Academic Affairs for possible disciplinary action. The Student Code of Conduct and the Computer Use Policy for students can be found in the Columbia College Student Handbook. The Handbook is available online; you can also obtain a copy by calling the Student Affairs office (Campus Life) at 573-875-7400. The teacher maintains the right to manage a positive learning environment, and all students must adhere to the conventions of online etiquette.


Your grade will be based in large part on the originality of your ideas and your written presentation of these ideas. Presenting the words, ideas, or expression of another in any form as your own is plagiarism. Students who fail to properly give credit for information contained in their written work (papers, journals, exams, etc.) are violating the intellectual property rights of the original author. For proper citation of the original authors, you should reference the appropriate publication manual for your degree program or course (APA, MLA, etc.). Violations are taken seriously in higher education and may result in a failing grade on the assignment, a grade of "F" for the course, or dismissal from the College.

Collaboration conducted between students without prior permission from the instructor is considered plagiarism and will be treated as such. Spouses and roommates taking the same course should be particularly careful.

All required papers may be submitted for textual similarity review to Turnitin.com for the detection of plagiarism. All submitted papers may be included in the Turnitin.com reference database for the purpose of detecting plagiarism. This service is subject to the Terms and Conditions of Use posted on the Turnitin.com site.


There will be no discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, ideology, political affiliation, veteran status, age, physical handicap, or marital status.

Student Accessibility Resources

Students with documented disabilities who may need academic services for this course are required to register with the office of Student Accessibility Resources. Until the student has been cleared through this office, accommodations do not have to be granted. If you are a student who has a documented disability, it is important for you to read the entire syllabus as soon as possible. The structure or the content of the course may make an accommodation not feasible. Student Accessibility Resources is located in Student Affairs in AHSC 215 and can be reached by phone at (573) 875-7626 or email at sar@ccis.edu.

Online Participation

You are expected to read the assigned texts and participate in the discussions and other course activities each week. Assignments should be posted by the due dates stated on the grading schedule in your syllabus. If an emergency arises that prevents you from participating in class, please let your instructor know as soon as possible.

Attendance Policy

Attendance for a week will be counted as having submitted any assigned activity for which points are earned. Attendance for the week is based upon the date work is submitted. A class week is defined as the period of time between Monday and Sunday (except for week 8, when the work and the course will end on Saturday at midnight.) The course and system deadlines are based on the Central Time Zone.

Cougar Email

All students are provided a CougarMail account when they enroll in classes at Columbia College. You are responsible for monitoring email from that account for important messages from the College and from your instructor. You may forward your Cougar email account to another account; however, the College cannot be held responsible for breaches in security or service interruptions with other email providers.

Students should use email for private messages to the instructor and other students. The class discussions are for public messages so the class members can each see what others have to say about any given topic and respond.

Late Assignment Policy

An online class requires regular participation and a commitment to your instructor and your classmates to regularly engage in the reading, discussion and writing assignments. Although most of the online communication for this course is asynchronous, you must be able to commit to the schedule of work for the class for the next eight weeks. You must keep up with the schedule of reading and writing to successfully complete the class.

No late discussion posts will be accepted.

The following late assignment policy will be applied without exception.

  • Discussion postings: You will have one week after the discussion due date to clear deficiencies noted by your instructor.
  • Homework assignments submitted after the due date will have their graded value reduced by 20% for each day or partial day that they are submitted after the due date. Homework assignments submitted more than three days after the due date will receive a grade of zero.
  • Quizzes and exams must be taken on or before the assigned due date. Barring extraordinary and unavoidable circumstances, makeup quizzes and exams will not be given; allowing makeup exams or quizzes is at the sole discretion of the instructor. Thorough documentation will be required before a makeup quiz or exam will be allowed. As a general rule, arrangements must be made with the instructor prior to the due date of the exam or quiz. It is important to note that quiz submissions after the time limit has expired may receive no credit so students must be sure to submit quizzes by the time limit set in D2L.

Due dates may be extended only by the instructor. This will only be done for unavoidable circumstances, such as the D2L site being unavailable for an extended period of time, that affect the entire class. Pay close attention to the course homepage for announcements.

Course Evaluation

You will have an opportunity to evaluate the course near the end of the session. A link will be sent to your CougarMail that will allow you to access the evaluation. Be assured that the evaluations are anonymous and that your instructor will not be able to see them until after final grades are submitted.

Proctor Policy

Students taking courses that require proctored exams must submit their completed proctor request forms to their instructors by the end of the second week of the session. Proctors located at Columbia College campuses are automatically approved. The use of ProctorU services is also automatically approved. The instructor of each course will consider any other choice of proctor for approval or denial. Additional proctor choices the instructor will consider include: public librarians, high school or college instructors, high school or college counseling services, commanding officers, education service officers, and other proctoring services. Personal friends, family members, athletic coaches and direct supervisors are not acceptable.

  Additional Resources

Orientation for New Students

This course is offered online, using course management software provided by Desire2Learn and Columbia College. The course user guide provides details about taking an online course at Columbia College. You may also want to visit the course demonstration to view a sample course before this one opens.

Technical Support

If you have problems accessing the course or posting your assignments, contact your instructor, the Columbia College Helpdesk, or the D2L Helpdesk for assistance. Contact information is also available within the online course environment.

Online Tutoring

Smarthinking is a free online tutoring service available to all Columbia College students. Smarthinking provides real-time online tutoring and homework help for Math, English, and Writing. Smarthinking also provides access to live tutorials in writing and math, as well as a full range of study resources, including writing manuals, sample problems, and study skills manuals. You can access the service from wherever you have a connection to the Internet. I encourage you to take advantage of this free service provided by the college.

Access Smarthinking through CougarTrack under Students -> Academics -> Academic Resources.