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Winter 2015

Science 238: Introductory Astronomy [course ID: MAAFSHORDIWINTER2015]

Instructor: Niayesh Afshordi                                  


Phone: (519) 569-7600 x 6532                          

or (519) 888-4567 x 32932

Office: PHY 251 or PITP 374                                

Office hours: Wed. 11-11:30, Fri. 11-12 @ PHY 251   (or by appointment)              

Teaching Assistants:         

Mansour Karami (

Chiamaka Okoli (

Mohamad Shalaby (

Yurui Wu (

TA Office Hours: TBD


Lectures: Tuesadys 6:30pm-7:50pm, 8pm-9:20 pm @ DC 1350

Course Description: A survey course in Astronomy intended primarily for Mathematics, Engineering, and Science students, but also accessible to interested students in other programs. Topics covered will include early astronomy, motions in the sky, planetary systems, modern physics of light and matter, properties of stars and stellar evolution, the Milky Way galaxy, other galaxies, the nature of the universe (see below for a more detailed outline). It will involve a combination of powerpoint and chalkboard presentations. [Antireq. : PHY 175]

Up-to-Date lecture and exam schedules can be found here (refresh your browser)        

Lecture slides can be found here.

Online tutorials, concept and reading quizzes, etc. can be found here.

Course Learning Objectives:

  1. We are a part of the universe and thus can learn about our origins by studying the universe.
  2. The universe is comprehensible through scientific principles that anyone can understand.
  3. Science is not a body of facts but rather a process through which we seek to understand the world around us.
  4. A course in astronomy is the beginning of a lifelong learning experience.
  5. Astronomy affects each of us personally with the new perspectives it offers.

Required Material: 

1- The Cosmic Perspective (7th Ed.) by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider & Voit        

You will need the textbook, as the exams for this course are open book.

2- Online subscription to MasteringAstronomy.COM [course ID: MAAFSHORDIWINTER2015]

You are required to purchase the subscription, as your weekly assignments are done on this site (this can be purchased as a package with textbook).

Weekly Assignments: are due every Tuesday @ 6:30 pm EST. They are to be filled out on the website, and become available 6-7 days prior to their due date. Note that assignments CANNOT be submitted after their due times. Please check the course schedule for assignment due dates.

Grading: The final grade in the course will be based on 12 online assignments, a midterm and a final exam. Assignments will be posted on the Mastering Astronomy webpage a week in advance, and solutions will become available immediately after the due time. The midterm will be held on Feb. 24th March 3rd 8pm-10pm (class time +40 minutes). The final exam will be during April 10th-25th period, and will be set by the 6th week of the semester on April 20th at 4-6:30pm. The final grade will be determined using the following scheme:

Online Assignments

20% (+ extra credit assignments)

Midterm Exam (Feb. 24th, 8-10pm)


Final Exam (Apr. 10th-25th)




Your two lowest-marked assignments will be excluded from your final grade.

Outline of the Course Lectures:

  1. Our Place in the Universe
  2. Discovering the Universe for Yourself
  3. The Science of Astronomy
  4. Motion, Energy, and Gravity
  5. Light and Matter
  6. Telescopes
  7. Our Planetary System
  8. Other Planetary Systems
  9. Life in the Universe?
  10. Space and Time
  11. Spacetime and Gravity
  12. Quantum Universe
  13. The Sun
  14. Surveying the Stars
  15. Star Formation
  16. Stellar Evolution
  17. Bizarre Stellar Graveyard I
  18. Bizarre Stellar Graveyard II
  19. Our Galaxy
  20. Galaxies and Modern Cosmology I
  21. Galaxies and Modern Cosmology II
  22. Galaxy Evolution
  23. Dark Universe, and its Fate
  24. The Big Bang

Work expected: Students are expected to attend lectures and respond to clicker questions, complete assigned readings, work through the weekly online assignments, and sit the mid-term and the final. No exceptions to these requirements will generally be made in cases where students miss classes or do not complete assignments. The general workload for the course should be (on average) 3 hours of lectures, 3 hours of reading, and 3 hours of online assignments, plus additional study time for exams. Students should also check the course website regularly for course announcements.

Group Work/Discussion of Results: Collaboration and/or discussion with other students are allowed on assignments. Online assignments must, nonetheless be completed individually by each student, using his/her own account.

Plagiarism in completing assignments is a serious offence, that can significantly affect your academic standing, and even prevent you from graduation. This includes (but is not limited to) verbatim copies of answers off the web, without following proper citation protocols.

No form of collaboration, copying, or discussion is allowed on the final examination, nor on the midterm. However, calculators (, as well as textbook/notes can be used in the exams.

Examinations: Attendance at examinations is mandatory, and exams will not generally be rescheduled, except in cases of severe illness or personal trauma. Student travel plans are not considered acceptable grounds for granting an alternative examination time. Any medical exceptions must be documented by a signed medical note from a doctor or clinic, indicating the date and severity of the illness, and will only be accepted at the instructor’s discretion. Exams will not be excused for minor complaints. Students with chronic health problems should consult with the Office of Disabilities for alternate exam arrangements.

Please be aware that that starting with the Winter 2013 term, only Verification of Illness forms (VIF’s) issued from our campus Health Services ( will be acceptable documentation when the service is available ( Obviously a student who is sick on a weekend, during offhours, while out of town or receiving ongoing care from a family physician or specialist may have to provide valid and suitably informative VIF from other health service providers. Information should include: 1) date of the physician assessment, 2) dates of illness, 3) level of incapacitation, and 4) whether the diagnosis was made by the physician or based on description by the student. You must register the VIF at the Science Undergraduate Office.

Drop-dates: Students concerned about the level of the course, course requirements, or their performance should keep in mind cut-off dates for dropping courses without penalty. Please check these with the undergraduate advisor or the Faculty of Science office:

Retention of Course Material: Unclaimed course materials will be destroyed at the end of term.

Academic Integrity: In order to maintain a culture of academic integrity, members of the University of Waterloo community are expected to promote honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility. [Check for more information.]

Grievance: A student who believes that a decision affecting some aspect of his/her university life has been unfair or unreasonable may have grounds for initiating a grievance. Read Policy 70, Student Petitions and Grievances, Section 4, When in doubt please be certain to contact the department’s administrative assistant who will provide further assistance.

Discipline: A student is expected to know what constitutes academic integrity to avoid committing academic offenses and to take responsibility for his/her actions. A student who is unsure whether an action constitutes an offense, or who needs help in learning how to avoid offenses (e.g., plagiarism, cheating) or about ”rules” for group work/collaboration should seek guidance from the course professor, academic advisor, or the undergraduate associate dean. For information on categories of offenses and types of penalties, students should refer to Policy 71, Student Discipline,

For typical penalties check Guidelines for the Assessment of Penalties,

Appeals: A decision made or penalty imposed under Policy 70, Student Petitions and Grievances (other than a petition) or Policy 71, Student Discipline may be appealed if there is a ground. A student who believes he/she has a ground for an appeal should refer to Policy 72, Student Appeals,

Note for students with disabilities: The Office for Persons with Disabilities (OPD), located in Needles Hall, Room 1132, collaborates with all academic departments to arrange appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities without compromising the academic integrity of the curriculum. If you require academic accommodations to lessen the impact of your disability, please register with the OPD at the beginning of each academic term.