astro 20 logo

The Palomar Telescope at Night

[Weekly Schedule] [Blackboard]
[Mastering Astronomy]
[Lectures and Links]

Instructor: Eric W. Harpell
Office: 1830 Science building
phone: 925-424-1379

Last modified: 2/02/09
Please read this entire document carefully before beginning the class!

NGC 284

Portrait of NGC 281
Credit & Copyright:NASA

Course Information: content

spicules on the sun

Spicules on the sun

Welcome! If you are new to Astronomy 20, take 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 webpage at the top of this page and also in the course menu in blackboard. Please check it out as soon as you. Since this is a distance education course, there are no official class meetings. Students are welcome and encouraged to come on campus to use the facilities here and of course stop by your instructor's office hours (see staff information in blackboard). See Blackboard or Eric Harpell's webpage for a schedule of office hours.

Taking (and Succeeding) Astronomy on-line:

In a nutshell, you 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.
  • take quizzes in blackboard
  • complete 5 Assignments from the Mastering Astronomy Website ( Make sure to register using the class ID: MAHARPELL86800 . Note that the access code comes with your text!
  • complete 2 research assignments
  • participate about once per week in discussion board topics
  • take a final exam
    These items, and the grading rubrics for each, will be discussed in more detail below.

This Semester we have embarked on a Journey through the Known Universe. In seventeen weeks, you will read material from the textbook, work through tutorials, research and write brief reviews of contemporary research in astronomy, take quizzes and a final exam. It is a not a race, nor a leisurely stroll--there is much to do in astronomy if you wish to succeed, and sufficient time to learn and enjoy the material if you pace yourself properly. Nevertheless, completing this class will take a serious commitment of time and concentration. To provide a point a reference, students taking astronomy (on the web) as a seventeen week semester course are advised to set aside nine hours per week for the class. My best advice is to try to do something related to astronomy every day until you find a pace that works.

Although this course lacks regular meetings with an instructor or classmates, you are not alone here. Answers to your questions are an e-mail to the instructor away. The discussion area (see below) is also a valuable resource. Be sure to check out the Frequently Asked Questions Page (FAQs) as well (see Blackboard course menu). Finally, in astronomy, perhaps more than any other topic, we are fortunate to have an incredible array of images, descriptions, data, simulations, and activities from astronomers around the world literally at our fingertips on the Internet.

Getting started in Astro 20 DE

As many of you of you have already discovered, the first "portal" for your learning experience is Blackboard. Only students enrolled in the class will be able to login (following the step by step instructions that appear). Blackboard is designed to function as your on-line "classroom" where you will access assignments, view and participate in the "discussion" area, and take quizzes and the final exam. From Blackboard, you can also send messages to your instructor and classmates using the e-mail system (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 to pass this class). When you are finished reading this document, go to blackboard and click on the various links to see what is available. You will find quiz one in the quizzes and exams area (or you will shortly in week one), and assignment 1 in the assignments area. Additional quizzes and assignments will appear on the dates listed in the class syllabus. The most important link in Blackboard, however, is the class schedule/syllabus. Keeping up with the syllabus will you to succeed in this class. Reminders and information about assignments and quizzes will be posted in the "announcements" area in blackboard (you can't miss it) and will also be sent out via email from time to time.

Mastering Astronomy Website

In addition to Blackboard, The Mastering Astronomy Website is another portal to learning astronomy over the Internet. This site is found at Please see your instructors short guide to using Mastering Astronomy. It will save you time and possibly a few headaches. Note that you must join the class by using the Course ID: MAHARPELL86800

Assignments from this site are particularly useful and are a required part of the class! You should complete the assignments listed in the class schedule prior to taking the appropriate quiz in blackboard. Word of warning: DO NOT IGNORE THE Mastering astronomy website! Make sure you see the Guide to Using Mastering Astronomy!

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 on-line. You will need a credit card to make the purchase. Note that this is not optional!

Course Catalog Description:

family portrait: NGC3603 from APOD


Introduction to the study of stars, galaxies, and cosmology. Includes the nature of light, telescopes, spectroscopy, stellar formation and evolution, galaxies, quasars, and cosmology. 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: Stars, Galaxies, & Cosmology ,5th edition


Astronomy, the Cosmic Perspective

both texts by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit , 5th edition.

you need one text or the other but not both. See below for more info!

cosmic perspective-stars text

Cosmic Perspective Text

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: MAHARPELL86800   when you register for the site using your access code.


Other Course materials:

  • Computer access: Access to Computer with working Internet connection at home. If your connection goes down for a few days there are a large number of computers available on campus at Las Positas College (try the Learning Resource Center). 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!

Participation and Assessment ..........

Grades in Astronomy 20 will be based on your performance on 5 Mastering Astronomy tutorial Assignments , 5 blackboard quizzes, One survey and One research assignment, a final exam, and participation in Blackboard discussions. Each these graded items will be discussed in more detail below.

Research Assignments :

There will be one survey and one research assignment on special topics in Astro 20. Links for these assignments will be found in the Blackboard Research Assignments area. For assignment one, you will take an online survey (Quiz 0), and then administer a different survey of basic astronomical knowledge to a few other people. The results will be reported in the discussion area of Blackboard. The second assignment is a report on a print article of current interest in astronomy backed up by information that you find on the web. More of this will be discussed below. The only criteria for choosing a topic for assignment two is that it is directly related to course material, and that you have access to three very recent references on the subject, both electronic and print (at least three total--textbook not included), and that your material iscurrent (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 recent discovery that the universe is accelerating its rate of expansion
  • the search for neutrinos and the possibility of neutrinos mass
  • the scientific examination of astrology
  • the recent discovery of Black Holes at the Center of Galaxies and the nature of black holes in general
  • the relationship between particle physics and cosmology
  • the possibilities for space travel to another star system.
  • Supernovae and their use as distance indicators.
  • New classes of "hypernovae"
  • The study of "Dark Matter" and "Dark Energy"
  • Multi-wavelength astronomy from the Spitzer or Chandra space telescopes
  • Recent or planned ground based or space based telescopes such as the James Web Space telescope (to replace the HST)
  • Gamma ray astronomy (Project GLASST)
  • Project Amanda/ICE CUBE to detect high energy neutrinos.
  • Blue Cresent moon as seen from the ISS
    Crescent Moon as seen from the ISS

    Note that your topic must not focus on material generally discussed in the other astronomy course taught at Las Positas College, namely astronomy 10. These "forbidden" topics include The Earth and other planets, moons, asteroids, and comets,

    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. Research, outline, and develop a small power point presentation, web page, or paper--with text equivalent to at least four pages of double spaced twelve point type in length-- and submit it on or before the due date listed in the class syllabus. Attempts to make your projects appear longer by using spaces and larger type won't go over well!......Inserting properly referenced images in your paper is a wonderful (and strongly recommended)idea, but they must lengthen your paper beyond three pages. In Lieu of a formal paper, you are strongly encouraged to create a web site or Power point presentation with illustrations, links, etc., so long as the text content is still equivalent to at least three double spaced and typed pages. In all cases, you must reference your sources. Whether you create a web page, type a formal paper, or create a power point presentation is completely up to you. You will submit your assignments by clicking on the link in the blackboard assignments area and uploading your paper or presentation from your computer (If you do a web page, you can simply include a link). You must also submit your work to "" before submitting it to your instructor. More information on to do this will be in the Research Assignment area of Blackboard. If you do a power point presentation, you will need to create a text only version to upload in turinitin. More on this will send out as email/annoucements we get closer to the submission date.

    Class Discussion

    You are expected to make frequent use of the discussion area in Blackboard to post questions, provide feedback to your classmates, and simply discuss topics of interest to you. This area constitutes your "attendance" in Astronomy 20. More importantly, however, it will be a primary learning tool, allowing you to explore astronomy by interacting with others. You will find that as your knowledge of astronomy grows, your ability and desire to write about it will grow as well. Many posts in astro 20 concern the five quizzes--you will see that there is a discussion area for each quiz where you can post questions and receive help for each quiz. Guidelines for this process are discussed below. There will also be a section entitled Question of the Week (though there will be new questions only ever two or three weeks) where you are asked to comment on a question posted by your instructor each week. Hopefully, the posts will not be limited to a simple reply, but will be part of discussion between your classmates and yourself.

    Points for your Posts

    In some cases, assignments will require you to post items in the discussion area. For these posts, you will receive a set number of points toward your final grade. A larger number of points, however, will be given at the instructors discretion for your participation ....i.e., The frequency and quality of your responses to the posted items from your classmates. The idea of the discussion board is simple. Check in frequently, and post items of interest to you, and respond when you can. It is hoped and expected that all students will receive full credit for this portion of the class. Your feedback will help the instructor make this area more interesting and useful for everyone. For an "A" grade in the discussion area, you are expected to post to the discussion board at least 14 times per semester. More posts are fine--The quality of your posts will also determine your grade on the discussion board. For more info, check out:Rubrics for the Discussion Area.

    Blackboard Quizzes:

    There will be 5 blackboard quizzes on dates given in the schedule. These Quizzes will be based on textbook material, Mastering Astronomy tutorials, and required class lectures and links found in the Lectures and Links page in blackboard. As part of your mastering astronomy assignments, you will also take "textbook quizzes". The results of these quizzes are part of your score in the mastering astronomy assignments, but more importantly, they will definitely provide an "edge" on the blackboard fact some questions in blackboard come directly from the Mastering Astronomy quizzes and tutorials!

    Quiz due dates are listed in the syllabus, and in the Blackboard quiz area (so you can't miss hearing about them). Quizzes will generally be "open" meaning that you can take as long as you want to complete them (within the allotted period), and use whatever resources you find useful. Feel free to print them out and work on them off-line until it is time to submit them. (See "cheating" vs. "fair use" guidelines for quizzes below). In other words, the quizzes are not timed.
    If you fail to submit a quiz by the due date, you can still submit it late, but you will be subject to a penalty (see below). Quiz problems will be generally be multiple choice.
    Warning: If you try to take the quiz in one sitting you are not likely to do well!! Thinking of them as a type of homework is most likely to produce good results!
    In order to keep you on track for the summer, Quizzes will be "open" until the end of week three. After that, the results of these quizzes will be downloaded, and anyone taking them after week three will be docked 10% for being late. Quizzes 3 - 5 will be available prior to the end of week three and will be open until the final exam. There will be no late options for these last three quizzes.

    Unless the instructor fails to post a quiz on time, there will be no exceptions made to this policy I.e., If you had to work, or were ill, or had a relative in need of care, or if your internet service provider went off line, you will still miss at least 10% on that quiz if its late. I apologize for this strict policy, but 10% on a single quiz is very unlikely to harm your overall grade (see the grading policy below). On the other hand, please feel free to let me know if there are legitimate problems going on. At the very least, I will know that you are still involved in the class and perhaps I can help in some small way. Also, if you expect to see a quiz when you log in and it is not there, don't panic, and please don't send threatening emails to your instructor. You will not be penalized for "glitches" on the instructors end. Running a distance ed class (or two) is quite complicated...stuff happens....I'll do my best to try to avoid problems, but when they do I will also do my best to resolve the problem in as painless a manner as possible.

    Final Exam:image of mir space station
    There is one final exam, mostly essay format-- in counterpoint to the quizzes which are multiple choice. There will also be a few multiple choice questions, but these should be quite simple if you have made an effort to learn something about astronomy! You must take the final sometime during the dates listed in the schedule. The final exam is vital for your final grade, so please mark the dates on your calendar. You will receive announcements in blackboard ahead of time to help you prepare for the exam.
    For the Final, you will have three and a half hours to complete it once you start. One
    week prior to the final, a set of questions will be sent out to help you prepare.

    The final exam cannot be taken late or early unless PRIOR arrangements have been AGREED UPON by the instructor and student. There will be no exceptions to this policy.

    Cheating Stephens quartet of galaxies Fair Use

    In my opinion (as both an instructor and a long time student) there are three important components to learning a subject: learning on your own, learning by interacting with others, and getting feedback to see whether you really understand something. In Astronomy 20, I wish to strongly encourage all three methods. Most of your assignments will be designed to do just that, getting you to do some research to answer questions that will pique your interest and help you learn, and then discuss the responses with others, either in person or through the discussion area. The quizzes, however, represent a bit of a gray area. On the quizzes, you will be asked a series of questions (multiple choice) that test your understand of a topic, or at least your familiarity with the learning resources (i.e. where to find the answer in the text, or on the web). So here is the dilemma: Should you ask a classmate or someone else about quiz questions? The answer is "sometimes." To make this a bit less cryptic, here is how you cheat on a quiz or exam:: Student A takes the quiz or exam and submits his or her answers. Feedback is automatically output for for each question. Student B then gets the feedback (i.e. the correct answers) from Student A and uses those answers to get a higher score on the quiz. Here is how you interact fairly for a quiz:

    1) take it yourself without asking anyone else, or...
    2) send an e-mail to the instructor asking specific questions, or...
    3) Use the discussion area to ask your classmates where to look for information leading to the answer (there will be a separate category in the discussion area for each quiz, where you can post questions and helpful information about where to look!) While It is difficult for the instructor to be positive if a student is or is not taking a quiz fairly, it is usually easy enough to tell by comparing the times that a quiz is submitted with the score, and by comparing performance on the exams with performance on quizzes. Such problems are rare at Las Positas, but they have occurred. In particular, students have failed the course for collaborating on the final exam.


    Graphic of person pushing ball uphill
    Your grade will be based on total points as follows:

    • 5 assignments from Mastering Astronomy --100 points Mastering Astronomy scores will be weighted in the students favor--if you get 80% or higher on an assignment, you will get all possible points. For more detail, see the guide to mastering astronomy.
    • 5 online quizzes --250 points
    • One survey assignment -20 points
    • One Research Assignment 50 points
    • a final exam 75 points
    • course participation in on-line discussions. 65 points

    total = 560 pts

    note that by checking "my scores" in blackboard, you can see how you have done on individual assignments.Points subtracted from late quizzes will not show up in blackboard until the end of the class. Mastering Astronomy scores will also not appear in blackboard during the semester. Also note that You can keep track of your progress on tutorials by viewing the "results reporter" in the Mastering Astronomy web site. Finally, note that you cannot drop the class after the NGR and W deadlines listed in the class schedule, even if you are not doing well. Likewise, incompletes will only be allowed if there is verifiable medical emergency.

    Grades (out of 560 possible points)

    A 88.5% = 496
    B 77.5% = 428
    C 65% = 364
    D 55% = 308

    Getting Help

    If you are having problems logging into blackboard, or with any other technical (i.e. computer or web) issues that are preventing you from doing course work, please contact distance education support . Please check out the FAQ page in blackboard as well.

    For questions regarding grades, course material, quizzes, assignments, late work, and of course astronomy concepts and information, please contact your instructor at: You will generally get a response within two days (and usually one). If you don't get a response after two days, please try again! I never ignore emails from students, so you don't get a reply, something went wrong in cyberspace. Mastering Astronomy maintains their own on-site support, so please contact them, and let your instructor know if you are having site-specific problems.

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