Las Positas college in Autumn



The Palomar Telescope at Night


Instructor: Eric W. Harpell

Moon and Earth's atmosphere from shuttle

last revised 8/19/07 at 4pm

Welcome! If you are new to Astronomy 10, take a a few minutes to read the course description and information below. The timeline for everything you need to do in the class is contained in the Weekly Schedule. You will see the link for this web page at the top of this page. Please check it out as soon as you can! If you have questions about anything in this document, please ask in class on Monday and Wed from 9:30 to 10:45 in room 2205.

Course Information: contents

  • General Course Information
  • Participation and assessment
  • Required Materials
  • Mini-Research Project
  • Quizzes
  • Mastering Astronomy
  • Exams
  • Grading
  • Getting Help

  • General Course Information


    Astro 10 is a one-semester introduction to the solar system. Along the way, we will explore the motions of the stars, planets, and moons. We will also study the Earth, inside and out (literally!), and some of the environmental problems that we six billion humans are facing here at home.

    Using the Earth as a model, we can also learn about other worlds, starting with the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, the Jovian planets, and the numerous small bodies that orbit beyond neptune, including Pluto and and other newly discovered "dwarf planets." As part of our exploration, we will discuss theories on the formation of the solar system and study evidence for these theories contained in the debris--comets and asteroids--still in orbit about the sun. Finally, we will apply what what have learned about our own solar system to the search for planets outside the solar system and the possibility of finding intelligent life on these new worlds.

    Nuts and bolts

    Learning and processing the big picture presented in astronomy 10 will take a serious commitment of time and concentration. To provide a point a reference, students are advised to set aside nine hours per week for the class--three hours in class, and six studying and working through class materials. My best advice is to try to do something related to astronomy every day until you find a pace that works.

    In simplest terms, you will need to do six things to succeed in this class. In order of importance to your grade, they are

    • Study material from your textbook and web sites listed in the class syllabus, (working with classmates is highly recommended)
    • prepare for and take five class quizzes.
    • come to class regularly, take notes, and complete worksheets as handed out and read them over before coming to the next class.
    • complete Assignments from the Mastering Astronomy Website
    • take a final exam
    • ask questions and get help from your instructor!
    • complete the optional research project.


    To help you track your grades, facilitate communication with your classmates and instructor, and to take a few on-line quizzes, A course management system called Blackboard will be an essential component to this class. You can access blackboard using the link at top of this page, or by going to
    From Blackboard, you can send messages to your instructor and classmates using the e-mail system, and your instructor can send out individual emails, or notices to the entire class (note--blackboard simply routes messages to your regular e-mail address--be sure to go to Student Tools and personal information to make sure your e-mail address is correct. YOU MUST have a valid e-mail address listed there or you cannot hope to communicate as needed). When you are finished reading this document, go to blackboard and click on the various links to see what is available. Two on-line quizzes will appear in the Quizzes/Exams folder on the dates listed in the class schedule. Your instructor will also remind the class well ahead of time. In Blackboard, you can also access this page, as the vital Class Schedule.

    Course Catalog Description:

    family portrait: NGC3603 from APOD


    Introduction to history and physical principles of astronomy, focusing on our Solar System. Includes: constellations; distance scales; historical development of astronomy; gravitation; motion of the Earth, Moon, and Planets; astronomical tools; formation and evolution of the solar system; physical properties, atmosphere, and evolution of the Earth, Moon, and planets within the solar system; asteroids, comets, and other small bodies; discovery of extra-solar planets; possibilities for life beyond Earth. Designed for non-majors in mathematics or a physical science. A companion science lab, Astronomy 30, is also available. 3 hours.

    Course Materials

    Required text: The textbook for our course is The Cosmic Perspective 4thEd: The Solar System by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit.

    Mastering Astronomy Access Code

    If you purchase your text new in the bookstore, a code for accessing the Mastering Astronomy Website will be included in an insert in your text. If you purchase your book used, or elsewhere, you will need to purchase an access code once you log on the Mastering Astronomy. The cost is approximately $27. Note that you must enter the class id: MAHARPELL2227 when you register for the site using your access code.

    Note: Benett's "Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology --The Cosmic Perspective" is a "split"-- approximately half of Bennett's Astronomy, the Cosmic Perspective (the 4th edition). The other half is currently used in astronomy 10.

    astro10 and astro 20 book

    Other Course materials:

    • Computer access: Access to Computer with working Internet connection. While having a working internet connection at home is highly convenient, There are a large number of computers available on campus at Las Positas College (try the Learning Resource Center, building 800, or the science work area in 1824). Local Libraries, Internet cafes, and community colleges also have Internet access. You are responsible for keeping up with class work regardless of the status of your Internet connection!

    Star Trails Above Mauna Kea, From APOD

    Participation and Assessment .

    Grades in Astronomy 10 will be based on your performance on mastering astronomy tutorial assignments, 5 class quizzes, a final exam, and class attendance and participation. Each these graded items will be discussed in more detail below.

    Class Participation

    You are expected to come to class regularly. Although attendance will not be taken each week, worksheets will be passed out without prior announcement Although these will not be graded for correctness, they will be checked for effort and of course, for attendance. Half of your points for attendance and participation will come from these worksheets and class attendance records. The other half will come simply from your instructors determination of the level of effort you have made to come to class and understand class material.

    Titan From Cassinia
    Saturn's moon Titan, as seen from the Cassini orbiter


    There will be 5 quizzes on dates given in the schedule. Three quizzes will be in class and two will be on-line in Blackboard. Quizzes will be based on lectures, textbook material, Mastering Astronomy assignments, and class worksheets. Although quiz questions will not be drawn from external websites (those linked to the class), they may be of help from time to time. Quiz problems will be be multiple choice and short answer/essay. Review sheets for the quizzes will be posted in the class schedule ahead of time to help you prepare. In class quizzes are closed book, and no notes, but they also will not require you to memorize minute detail. On-line quizzes are open book, and open notes, but you may not work direction with another person.

    Missed or late Quizzes:

    Your final exam can replace your lowest or missed quiz. In other words, if you do well on the final, it counts double. If you have missed one quiz, then the final exam percentage will automatically replace the missing quiz. If you miss a second quiz, you are out of luck unless you complete a research paper (see below) which can also replace a quiz. If you know you are going to miss a quiz in advance, please see your instructor for alternative arrangements.

    Assignments from Mastering Astronomy

    Mastering Astronomy Website is portal to learning astronomy over the Internet. This site is found at Note that you must enter the class id: MAHARPELL2227 when you register for the site using your access code. Before you get started, please check out Harpell's guide to Mastering Astronomy

    Word of warning: DO NOT IGNORE THE Mastering astronomy website!

    Tutorials, Ranking Tasks, and Practice Quizzes from the Mastering Astronomy site are particularly useful and are a required part of the class! The Mastering Astronomy website is designed, created, and updated by the publishers of your textbook. See Harpell's guide to Mastering Astronomy. You are graded for completing assignments in the "assignment list" in mastering astronomy on a scale of 1 - 10 points. It is best to complete the tutorials after you finish reading each chapter. A schedule of assignments in mastering astronomy is found in the class schedule/syllabus. Note that Mastering Astronomy contains many more tutorials than the ones listed here. You can access the "extra" tutorials, as well as practice quizzes and interactive figures by clicking on the tabs beneath the "study area". .

    James Webb Space Telescope

    Getting Credit for your Mastering Astronomy Assignments

    For full credit, you need only get 70% or better. If you get less than 70% you grade will be computed by taking your percentage dived by 70%, and then multiplied by 100% (or 8 points). So if you get 50%, for example, your score will be 50/70 x 100% =71%. You can easily get over 70% however, but practicing the tutorials and quizzes in the study area.

    Please be sure to Read the Guide to Mastering Astronomy

    When you register for the mastering Astronomy website, be sure to enter the class ID:MAHARPELL2227

    If you purchase your text new in the bookstore, a code for accessing the Mastering Astronomy will be included in an insert in your text. If you purchase your book used, or elsewhere, you will need to purchase an access code once you log on the Mastering Astronomy. The cost is approximately $36.

    Research Assignment (optional) :

    If you wish to replace your lowest quiz score with a research assignment, you are encouraged to find a topic that interests you and complete the following assignment. The research assignment will be a current event summary--your first source will be a print article of current interest in astronomy beyond the solar system, backed up by information that you find on the web. Most people want to do this in the opposite order, but if you want a good grade on this assignment, please don't ignore the directions--find a printed article, then look for information on the web..period! More of this will be discussed below. Once you have completed your research you will create a power point presentation, web page, or word document and submit it to your instructor via email or by brining a hard copy to class.

    The only criteria for choosing a topic for the assignment is that it be directly related to course material, and that you have access to three recent references on the subject, both electronic and print (at least one of each--textbook not included), and that your material is current (for example, a report on large astronomical telescopes should include information on telescopes currently under construction) In particular, you are encouraged to explore areas of current debate such as:

  • the discovery and search for extra-solar planets
  • the possibility of life on Mars
  • NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
  • planned exploration of Europa
  • the possibility of finding life on Europa or other Jovian moon
  • the geology of Mars or Venus
  • the evolution of the Earth's atmosphere
  • the possibilities for colonizing the moon or other world.
  • The Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn
  • Project Deep Impact to Comet Tuttle.
  • The discovery of Trans-Neptunian Objects such Quoar, Sedna, and the newly discovered Planet ten ("Eris")
  • Of course, there a large number of choices, too numerous to list here. Once you have selected a topic, the requirements are listed below.

    1) Complete your research and create a presentation using Power Point, a web page creation tool, or simply a word processing program. Your work should include text equivalent to three or four pages, twelve points and double spaced, in length.

    2) Submit your projects it on or before the day of Quiz 5. Note ......Inserting properly referenced images in your paper or project is a wonderful idea, but they must lengthen your paper beyond three pages of text. In Lieu of a formal paper, you are strongly encouraged to create a web site or Power point presentation with illustrations, links, etc. In all cases, you must reference your sources. While multi-media presentations are strongly encouraged, they are by no means mandatory! Whether you create a web page, type a formal paper, or create a power point presentation is completely up to you.

    Grading:animated gif man pushing round boulder up a hill and the man slides backward down the hill
    Your grade will be based on total points as follows:
    • ten assignments from Mastering Astronomy--100 points
    • 5 Class Quizzes --250 points
    • a final exam 50 points
    • course participation 30 points

    total = 430 points

    Grades (out of 430 possible points)

    A 88.5% = 381
    B 77.5% = 329
    C 65% = 279
    D 55% = 236

    Getting Help

    Ask questions during class, or after class...even better, come to your instructors office hours in room 1830. Here are your instructor's office hours and class schedule. You are always welcome to come by and chat!

    Return to Top