Astro 1905 - Freshman Seminar - Fall 2011
Tuesdays 3:35-5:30pm Physics Room B49
Instructor - Prof. Liliya Williams, 353 Physics, 624-1084,
Office hours:  T, Th   10:30-11:30am, or by appointment

GOALS: In this course you will
    Become better acquainted with other students, a faculty member, and the U
    Understand how science works
    Learn some Astronomy, and how it developed over the ages
    Have fun!

    Attend all classes
    Do assigned readings, post weekly reflections on WebVista, and discuss them in class
    Participate actively in discussions, including weekly "fascinating facts" (on 3x5 cards)
    Write one 500 word reflective essay on the course (due Dec 6th)

    Check-in time (10 min)
    Fascinating facts (20 min)
    Discussions of readings/questions, exercises (30 min)
    Break (5 min)
    Discussions of readings/questions, exercises (50 min)

  • Cosmos, by Carl Sagan (Ballantine Books) -- available in Book Store
  • Scientific American
  • Science News
  • Astronomy Picture of the Day
  • Other material will be assigned on the web or on library reserve


    Assigned Reading
    Sep 6
    Introductions - us, the course
    Powers of 10
    Cosmic Calendar
    Sep 13
    Direct exploration of the Solar System;
    Planetary Missions
    Preface, Chapter 1
    The modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina
    Comet missions
    Debris disks around stars - Beta Pictoris
    Debris disks around stars - Fomalhaut
    Extra-Solar planets
    Sep 20
    Why are we interested in astronomy (throughout history)?
    Ptolemy and his model of the Solar System
    Chapter 3, first part, p.32-41
    Sep 27
    The beginning of modern astronomy:
    Kepler, Brahe, Newton
    Chapter 3, second part, p.41-59
    Geocentric system - orbit of Mars
    Retrograde motion of Mars on the sky
    Phases of Venus
    Oct 4
    Comets and impacts;
    Galileo and observations of Venus
    Chapter 4
    Lunar crater Giordano Bruno
    The Tunguska 1908 Event
    Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera
    Crater size comparison
    Moon Zoo (a Zooniverse project)
    NASA's Near Earth Object Program
    Pieces of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9
    Comet S-L 9 swallowed by Jupiter
    Crater Chain on Ganymede
    Impact crater on Mimas
    Meteor Crater in Arizona
    The Full Moon Atlas
    Oct 11
    Life on Mars?
    Missions to Mars; mapping of surface; Rovers
    Chapter 5
    Percival Lowell's Mars canals
    Mars Photo Gallery
    Gullies on Mars
    Gullies and Channels on Mars
    Dust devil on Mars
    Oct 18
    The Voyager Missions;
    Satellites of Giant Planets
    Chapter 6
    Extremophiles - Nature article (10 pg.)
    ALH 84001 (slide 18) Martian meteorites
    Galileo mission to Jupiter & Europa
    Jupiter's Europa and Earth's Antarctic Ice
    Jupiter's moon Io
    An active volcano on Io
    Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn & Titan
    Titan: shallow lakes on liquid ethane
    Microbial life in an asphalt lake
    Oct 25
    Why is it that the physical world CAN BE described by mathematics?
    Chapter 7, p.133-145
    Nov 1
    Stars, and how we know their properties
    Chapter 7, p.145-160
    Sun's spectrum
    Stars: Limb darkening
    Scientific Method
    Famous Quotes about Math and Physics
    Nov 8
    Physics of the atom, Chemistry, How stars cook up elements
    Chapter 9
    Orion star forming region
    ITER: fusion reactor: one two
    Plutonium-238 and space missions
    Plutonium-238 supplies running low
    A sphere of Plutonium-238 as PuO2
    Nov 15
    Brief history of the Universe, most distant/oldest objects;
    Hubble expansion
    Chapter 10, p.200-212
    Galaxy collisions - observed cases
    Galaxy collisions - computer simulation
    Formation of cosmological-scale structure
    Astronomer's Periodic Table
    CMB - Cosmic Microwave Background
    CMB; Helium abundance
    Nov 22
    Chapter 10, p.213-222
    Nov 29
    How many dimensions does our Universe have?
    Euclid's 5 Postulates
    Euclid's 5 Postulates & more
    Curvature of 2D space
    Heaven & Hell - Escher
    Dec 6
    We know of only one type of biology - ours
    Storing information: DNA, brain, library, specialization
    A-P: Ch.2; Q-W: Ch.11
    Mars Science Lab, Curiosity launched
    Chapters 2 and 11
    DNA Building Blocks Can Be Made in Space
    Heike crab
    Mandelbrot set
    Dec 13
    Drake equation; first encounter;
    our future as civilization
    Q-W: Ch.12, A-P: Ch.13
    Rosetta Stone (ca. 196 BC)
    Rosetta Stone [large]
    Alan Turing (1912-1954)
    Take a verbal Turing test
    Take a visual Turing test
    The Drake equation
    Kepler 22B - Earth's `twin'

                                      Details of requirements:

    Fascinating facts:
    Bring an interesting something you've learned recently, to share/discuss in class.

    Tentative readings are shown above, in the table. Changes, if any, will be announced in class.

    Weekly Reflections:
    Each week provide an approximately 1/3-1/2 page thoughtful commentary, reflection, etc.---but not just a summary of what you read---on the reading material, and the material we covered in class the previous week. Post entries at WebVista (AST 1905 LECT 001) before 12noon on Monday before Tuesday class. Also prepare one or two questions to be discussed in class.

    Final reflective essays:
    These should be 450-550 words long, and be original and thoughtful reflections on the content and experience of the course. They should be developed around a coherent theme. You will be graded on content, grammar, and presentation. You can submit in electronically in plain text or Word 2003 (.doc); do NOT use Word 2007 (.docx). Or submit a hardcopy.

      Readings 25%
      Weekly reflections 25%
      Class Participation 25%
      Final Essay 25%

    Special Needs:
    Any special needs should be discussed with the professor before the 2nd week of class

    Academic Standards:
    You are responsible for being familiar with the academic standards and policies of your college of enrollment.

    Student Mental Health Services:
    As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, difficulty concentrating and/or lack of motivation. These mental health concerns or stressful events may lead to diminished academic performance or reduce a student’s ability to participate in daily activities. University of Minnesota services are available to assist you with addressing these and other concerns you may be experiencing. You can learn more about the broad range of confidential mental health services available on campus via the Student Mental Health Website at

    Web Vista:
    In this class, our use of technology will sometimes make students' names and U of M Internet IDs visible within the course website, but only to other students in the same class. Since we are using a secure, password-protected course website, this will not increase the risk of identity theft or spamming for anyone in the class. If you have concerns about the visibility of your Internet ID, please contact me for further information.