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Astronomy 101

Basic Concepts of Astronomy With Laboratory Exercises


4 Credits, 3 Hrs Lecture 2Hrs Lab

Textbook: The Cosmic Perspective 6th edition, Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, Voit. 
Custom packages that contain the textbook and Lab Manual will be available at both Hunter Bookstore and Shakespeare. Details on the various purchasing options will be given in class.


This is an introductory, one-semester astronomy course designed for non-science majors. The approach in this course is to emphasize the ideas of Astronomy and a qualitative understanding of the physical processes that shape the Universe. It minimizes the use of mathematics. The course has a lecture component meeting three hours per week and a lab component meeting nominally once a week for two hours. This course satisfies the science plus laboratory General Education Requirement.


The lecture course begins with an overview of the basic observational features of the night sky and a discussion of the motions of celestial objects observable with the naked eye. We discuss the ancient roots of Astronomy, the scientific method, the Copernican revolution, Kepler's laws of planetary motion and Newton's laws of motion and gravitation, emphasizing the fundamental physical laws and their applications to astronomical phenomena. In the next part of the course we study the properties of light – the cosmic messenger and how it reveals the nature and motion of its source. Next, we explore the origin and formation of the Solar System as well as the geology and atmosphere of the terrestrial planets. After introducing topics of modern physics important to understand astrophysical processes, we discuss the origin, properties, and evolution of the Sun and other stars, including giants, dwarfs, supernovae, neutron stars, and black holes. We then move on to star clusters and galaxies, clusters of galaxies. We also introduce here the notion of the mysterious Dark Matter and Dark Energy. Finally, we consider the large scale structures of the Universe  concluding with theories of the origin and evolution of the universe or cosmology. We discuss Hubble's Law and the expanding universe, from the Big Bang to the present.


The laboratory component of Astronomy 101 consists of thirteen experiments that complement the lecture component. Three of the experiments will be traditional experiments performed in the laboratory rooms under the supervision of a lab instructor. The remaining ten experiments are performed on the web with online instructor assistance available. These set of experiment involve various simulation of astronomical processes, obtaining randomized data from the simulations, analyzing the data and answering questions, making calculations and inferences  based on the experiment.  The lab report can be submitted on line.


On Line Assignment

Weekly problems relevant to the current lecture and lab schedule are part of the course are assigned online. These involve a set of various types of problems and questions based on simulations, visual and conceptual presentations. Every assignment is done online and is due the end of the week. Students must register at  to have access to the assignments.



After completing this course, students should be able to:

·         Describe the various spatial ranges and time scales related to astronomical objects

·         Have some understanding of the scientific method and why it is successful

·         Perform elementary quantitative and physical reasoning

·         Explain the motion of celestial objects and describe properties of astronomical objects, such as asteroids, planets, stars and galaxies

·         Discuss the origin and evolution of  astronomical objects and describe the processes using physical laws

·         Discuss the current theory of the origin of the universe and possible future evolution

Requirements and Grading

This is a rigorous course that requires continuous participation in lectures, laboratories and the regular submission of completed labs and homework assignments. 


There will be three midterm exams and a cumulative final exam. Midterm exams will cover the material in the lectures and readings since the previous midterm, as indicated in the lecture schedule for the semester presented below. The final exam will be cumulative. All midterms, and the final will be closed-book and closed-notes. The grading policy is described in the table below.


% Toward Grade

Midterm 1

Drop the lowest grade

Best two midterms 20% Each

Total 40%

Midterm 2

Midterm 3

Final Exam


Online Assignment


Lab Reports




Lab Reports

Each lab report must be submitted on time and late submission is penalized. It is necessary to complete the lab part of the course in order to receive a grade for the course.

Makeup Policy

There will be NO MAKEUP for any of the MIDTERM EXAMS. If you miss the final exam for a valid reason, e.g. for a serious medical condition and you present a proof of your condition, then, you will receive a grade of incomplete (IN). In this case, to complete your course requirements you must take a written makeup exam on the scheduled makeup exam day in the following semester.

Credit/No Credit Grading Option

You may choose to be graded in this course on a Credit/No Credit basis.


Attendance at all lectures is required in this course. We have found that regular class attendance plays a major part in achieving success in this course. While the text is comprehensive, lectures are an important part of learning the material. If you are not in class you could miss important scheduling and other changes. Another important part of learning is following the development of information. You cannot learn all of astronomy the night before the exam; you must keep up with the material as it is presented and discussed in class.


In compliance with the American Disability Act of 1990 (ADA) and with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Hunter College is committed to ensuring educational parity and accommodations for all students with documented disabilities and/or medical conditions. It is recommended that all students with documented disabilities (Emotional, Medical, Physical and/ or Learning) consult the Office of Accessibility located in Room E1124 to secure necessary academic accommodations.

Academic Integrity 

Hunter College regards acts of academic dishonesty (e.g., plagiarism, cheating on examinations, obtaining unfair advantage, and falsification of records and official documents) as serious offenses against the values of intellectual honesty. The college is committed to enforcing the CUNY Policy on Academic Integrity and will pursue cases of academic dishonesty according to the Academic Integrity Procedures.  

Tentative Lecture Schedule


Lecture Topic



Introduction: Our Place in the Universe, Modern view of the Universe, Big Bang developing perspective.



Discovering The Universe: Celestial Sphere, Constellations, Seasons, The Moon, Eclipses, The Ancient Mystery of the Planets



The Science of Astronomy: Early Astronomy, The Copernican Revolution. Kepler, Galileo,. The Scientific Method.



Describing Motion: Position Velocity and Acceleration. Newton's Laws of Motion,Conservation Laws in Astronomy. Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation.



Light and Matter: Properties of Light,  Properties of Matter, Phases of Matter. Light The Cosmic Messenger: Atomic Structure  and Spectra. Learning from Spectra. Doppler Effect



Formation of the Solar System, The Nebular Theory



Planetary Geology: Earth and The Terrestrial Planets.



Planetary Atmospheres: Earth and The Terrestrial Planets.



Building Blocks of the Universe: The Quantum Revolution, Fundamental Particles and Forces



Our Star: Why Does the Sun Shine? Structure of  The Sun Properties of Stars: Stellar Luminosity, Stellar Surface Temperature, Stellar Masses, The Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram, Star Clusters.

14 -15


Star Birth: Stellar Nurseries, Stages of Star Birth Beginning of Nuclear Fusion, Masses of newborn stars.



Star Stuff: Life as a High-Mass Star, The Lives of Close Binary Stars, Mass Exchange.



The Bizarre Stellar Graveyard: A Star's Final Battle, White Dwarfs, Neutron Stars, Black Holes: Gravity's Ultimate Victory, The Mystery of Gamma-Ray Bursts



Galaxies and Cosmology: Island of Stars, Types of Galaxies, Galactic Distances. Hubble's Law, Age of the Universe, Expansion of the Universe.



The Beginning of Time: The Big Bang and Evidence of The Big Bang, Evolution of the Universe and Inflation, Open questions in cosmology



Tentative Laboratories Schedule


Laboratory Exercise






Introduction: Getting Perspective, Scale of various astronomical objects, distances and The Scientific Notation



Lunar and Solar Eclipses



The Motion of Planets stars and planets in the sky



Elliptical Orbits, example from our solar system



Measuring “g” acceleration due to earth gravity.



Measuring the mass of an object from Newton's of Universal Gravitation. Mass of Jupiter.



Geometrical optics and simple refracting telescope



Black body radiation, Wein' Law and Stefan-Boltzmann Law.



Parallax and distances to the stars. Brightness.



Spectroscopy and identification of chemical elements.



Classification of stars Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams



The Hubble Constant and the expansion of the Universe.



Final Discussion with Lab instructor






* Traditional Experiments done in the Laboratory


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