Chat times for 2017-2018
Weds 4:30pm-6pm
ET/1:30pm-3pm PT

Dr. Christe Ann McMenomy

Student Guide

Astronomy Student Survival Guide

Or: How to survive a science course, with special attention to the problems of studying astronomy

Why Study Science?

At the heart of all science is something called the scientific method. The simple version of the scientific method is based on the idea that the objective reality of the universe can be determined by carefully observing phenomena, recording appropriate measurements, then studying the data from these observations for patterns that can be used to describe the general behavior of classes of natural objects. When we can control the circumstances of the observations, we are performing experiments, but often we cannot control all the factors before we make observations. There are scientists who believe that the only valid scientific data is that which comes from controlled experiments; in their view, most of astronomy, meteorology, geology, and many parts of biology are not rigorously scientific. For the purposes of this course, we will use a somewhat looser definition of valid scientific observation that accepts carefully recorded, repeated observations of natural phenomena.

Man's search for patterns led him to keep track of many astronomical phenomena from very early in recorded history. Many astronomical events are periodic, that is, they happen over and over with much the same frequency, in much the same way. When scientists find periodic phenomena that occur in the same order and at the same rate, they want to study them to see if there is some kind of cause-and-effect relationship between them. When the scientist finds a reasonable explanation, he or she proposes a hypothesis, a testable statement about the phenomena. Hypotheses that stand up over many repeated observations are combined to make theories; distillations of theories that have no known exceptions may be called natural laws. In astronomy, we are particularly concerned with theories of space, time, and relativity; and with the natural laws of motion, gravity, light propagation, and thermodynamics.

The Science Course Online

Science classes are frightening for many students. They anticipate difficulties with the concepts, with the details, and especially with the math. But science is just one way of thinking about the natural world around us, and anyone can learn to think like a scientist. Don't waste energy worrying about your ability to learn the material; use your energy to learn it! Once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to discover, understand, and appreciate the complexity of God's creation better. You will also be better prepared to take your place as a steward of that creation.

Review the prerequisites for the course. These are the concepts and math skills that you should have mastered in order to succeed in learning the material. The math prerequisites for this course are described in the course overview page and the FAQs page. If you have any questions about your readiness for the course, be sure to ask for help during our first session. I will arrange to work with you so that you can gain the required skills quickly.

Every science course has as its main components lectures, reading assignments, labs, and lots of homework to prepare you for taking quizzes and exams. In addition to these, our online course has this website, the Moodle class site, and e-mail to provide the functions that would normally exist in talking to your teacher face-to-face, or looking at a bulletin board or whiteboard. Keeping track of all the components can be a daunting task, especially at first, so plan to spend some time becoming familiar with the course website, your text and CD, and the Moodle class site. Once you have mastered the mechanics of using these tools, you can concentrate on learning the material that they contain.

Why are there so many parts to the course? Well, part of the reason is that you learn in many ways. You memorize facts, you comprehend relationships, and eventually, you understand concepts. You learn by reading, by analyzing pictures and graphs, by watching demonstrations of processes, by participating in discussions, and by applying what you are learning to specific situations in the homework and labs. You "cement" what you've learned by teaching others. The organization and materials of the course require that you take all these approaches.

Managing Your Time

Make the commitment, now, to spend adequate time on coursework. While this astronomy course is not as demanding as some of the others offered at Scholars Online, you cannot do all the work for a given unit on one day ... and you shouldn't do it just before chat session! The table below is a rough guide and a suggested pace for this course. The amount of time you spend on each part of the assigned work will vary greatly from student to student, and from chapter to chapter, and your schedule will of course depend on your other commitments. Work out a reasonable work load and stick to it!

Try to do your reading as early as possible. This allows you to think about the questions and material, review it in your mind, and absorb it more critically.

Checklist for normal schedule

Completed? Task Approximate Time Scheduled for...
1 _____ Check Website for instructions 15 minutes Immediately after class session
2 _____ Read Web Lecture 1/2-1 hour Thusday
3 _____ Read Text Assignment (and work through example problems! 1-2 hours Thursday
4 _____ Work through Starry Night exercises, watch videos, perform Lessons 1 hour Friday
5 _____ Complete Homework 1-2 hours Monday
6 _____ Post assignment to Moodle 1/2 hour Wednesday before class
7 _____ Make observations for lab 2-3 hours Available clear nights!
8 _____ Perform calculations/reduce data 1 hour Tuesday
9 _____ Write lab report 1 hour Tuesday
10 _____ Take Moodle quiz 20-30 minutes (only at the end of the chapter)

Web Lectures

Rather than take our precious chat time by lecturing to you, all unit lectures are posted to the site. You need to read these as well as the text. The Homework and Weblecture pages between them have

  • study guide notes to help you with the reading
  • a lecture that expands on the text or go into details about related topics
  • practice with concepts (checkpoints for your understanding)
  • lists of discussion questions to prepare for chat
  • application examples or process analysis
  • highly recommended website simulations or videos on specific topics
  • link to the associated lab

The "checkpoint" exercises ask you to figure something out, then offer you the opportunity to check your answer. Try to figure things out before hitting the "answer" button! If you were correct, and your reasoning was correct, congratulations! You are ready to continue with the next concept. If you missed the answer, but understand the correction, make a note to review the concept later. If you don't understand the explanation, ask the teacher during class, or send e-mail requesting further help.

As you read the web lecture, make notes on anything that puzzles you, and be sure to raise your questions in class.

Getting to Know the Textbook

Astronomy has long been considered the queen of the sciences, the one in which the basic concepts of math, physics, chemistry and now even biology come together. Although there is not a lot of "heavy math" in this text, certainly not in comparison to the Scholars Online chemistry or physics courses, there are still a lot of concepts to master and integrate. As you plan your workload, be sure that you give yourself enough time to

  • review some of the previous material, such as the key idea summary at the end of the last chapter
  • read through new material carefully
  • study the diagrams; some are "just for pretty", but most are integral to the presentation of material
  • work the example problems
  • check the vocabulary lists at the end of the chapter

There are a number of "boxes" which explain how to use mathematical formula to determine quantitative answers for many different situations. Sometimes you may figure they aren't worth the time it takes to read them, but don't be misled by this sensation! In fact, you may want to mark these somehow (I use sticky notes with a lable), since you must often refer to them when doing problems in later chapters. When you work through the "box" examples, which usually involve mathematical applications, be sure that you understand

  • how to interpret the example questions, so that you know what you are looking for
  • how to identify the equation or method to solve the problem
  • how to map the information in the question to variables in the equation
  • when to convert units, and why
  • how to perform the mathematical techniques involved and get a numerically correct answer
  • how to figure out the significant figures for the answer

There are also several appendices and charts at the end of the book that contain useful information for answering questions. You need to realize this material exists, since some problems will require you to look up information here.

TAKE NOTES! Outline the chapter, identify important terms, concents, and formulae. even if the text supplies you with an outline. After each section, write down the important points it makes, any items of particular interest, and any questions that you have.

a name="Homework">Doing Homework

Homework is not merely useful, it is essential for mastering the concepts of an astronomy course. Just as we test theories by applying them to experimental situations, you test your understanding by applying it to specific situations. You will know whether you understand a concept if you can use it to solve a "real-world" problem, and when you can teach it to someone else.

We use both techniques in this course. You will be assigned both word-essay questions and observational data analysis for each unit. You should work all of these. You will also be asked to post the answer to at least one question and one calculation problem to the Moodle. You will need to show your calculations and explain them in your posted answer. This is your opportunity to explain to your fellow students what you know.

Your reading assignment will be on both the Moodle and the Schedule page, along with links to my Web lecture and study notes for the assignment. You are expected to do any online exercises, videos, and tutorials assoicated with the reading that are mentioned in the homework page or weblecture.

The assigned problems for each chat session and your individual posting assignment will be at the Moodle forum for the day's chat.

NB: mycroft, the original bot for my science classes, has long since been freed to do other things, like attend class, make obnoxious remarks, and aid stumped students. If you really get stuck figuring out the problem you've been asked to post, mycroft has been known to accept bribes in the form of virtual Oreo cookies to finish your problem for you.

Essay Questions

Essay questions ask you to explain a concept in words. As you answer a science essay question, be prepared to cite calculation information as well as concepts, or give examples.

For example: Why can't you see any surface features on Mercury when it is closest to the Earth?

A good answer will be grammatically and syntactically correct, using proper English, as well as contain the correct information. It will cover more than one point in supporting its argument.

You cannot see any surface features on Mercury because it is always very close to the sun. Much of the time, it's reflected light (which is low because it's abledo is only .12, meaning that it reflects only 12% of the light falling on it) is lost in the sun's glare. When it is furthest from the sun, it still can only be seen just after sunset or just before sunrise, when it is near the horizon. Its image is distorted since it is seen through the maximum amount of Earth's atmosphere.

a name="MathQuestions">Doing Math Questions

Most astronomy concepts are based on simple physics principles. Newton's form of Kepler's law (which we discuss in chapter 4) is

    p2 = [ 4 pi 2/G(m1 + m2)] a3

which is relatively simple math. Our problem is in the application of such concepts to real situations.

So here is a "general problem solving" approach.

  1. Visualize the situation described. Make sure that you understand what is happening in the real or idealized physical event.
  2. Identify and list all known values given in the problem and the unknown to be found.
  3. If appropriate, chose a coordinate system that simplifies the math.
  4. Determine whether or not the units should be converted, and complete the conversion (e.g., one value is listed in grams, but your constant is in kilograms).
  5. Set up a notation system for the knowns and unknowns, so that you can use the symbols in math relationships.
  6. Check for any hidden information — values that you know because of the situation, but which may not be explicitly given in the description. For example, starting velocities for "falling" objects (not thrown) are assumed to be zero.
  7. Look for a relationship that relates what you know to what you don't know. You need one equation per unknown value.
  8. Solve the formula for the unknown. Don't substitute values in prematurely: you'll only wind up doing more math. Make sure that your units will cancel to give you the correct units for the answer. For example, if you set up a formula to find distance, and the units of the knowns cancel to sec-1, you've done something wrong.
  9. Once you have the final version of the formula isolating the unknown and setting it equal to known values, substitute the known values into place.
  10. Do the arithmetic.
  11. Check your answer for reasonableness, direction, and proper units.

Let's look at an example:

    Given that Jupiter's moon Io orbits Jupiter at 421600km in 1.77 days, what is the combined mass of Io and Jupiter?

  1. Visualize the situation described. Be sure that you understand the concepts involved before you think about how they relate to a mathematical description. Here, visualize what is happening: Io orbits Jupiter under the influence of their mutual gravitational attraction, according to the law of gravity.
  2. Identify and list all the "knowns" and the "unknowns". We know Io's distance from Jupiter and Io's period.; these were given in the problem statement. If they had not been, we could refer to the appendix to determine them. We need to find the combined mass of Io and Jupiter.
  3. Set up a notation system for the knowns and unknowns, so that you can use the symbols in math relationships. Distance between two orbiting bodies is usually designated with r, so r = 421600km. Period is p = 1.77 days; mass will be mJ + mI.
  4. Check for any hidden information — values that you know because of the situation, but which may not be explicitly given in the description. There are no unknowns to worry about; but we may need to change units, depending on the relationship we use.
  5. List everything you know and the unknowns, in Standard units (meters, seconds, grams)

    r = 421600km = 4.216 * 108m
    p = 1.77 days = 1.529 * 105s
    mI + mJ = X gr
  6. Look for a relationship that relates what you know to what you don't know. You need one equation per unknown value. In this case the relationship we need is the law cited above:
    p2 = [ 4 pi2/G(m1 + m2)] a3
  7. Solve the formula for the unknown. Don't substitute values in prematurely: you'll only wind up doing more math. We need the sum of the masses, m1 + m2, which in this case are mI + mJ. Solving gives us
    m1 + m2 = 4 pi2a3 / Gp2
  8. Once you have the final version of the formula in place, substitute the known values into place.
    m1 + m2 = 4 pi2(4.216*108)3 / (6.67 * 10-11)(1.529*105)2
  9. Do the arithmetic.
    If you work out the numbers above, m1 + m2 = 1.9 * 1027kg
  10. Check your answer for reasonableness, direction, and proper units.
    Comparing this number with value for Jupiter in the appendix shows that we are at the right order of magnitude.

You are done!

Getting the Most from Chat

During our weekly meeting, we will base our discussion on the material in our textbook. We will also discuss demonstrations found on the web or in our Moodle, websites of related interest, homework problems, and any observations that you make during the week.

You may raise questions about the material from the text, my web lectures, your homework, your labs, and when we have time, from news media articles with an astronomy connection, such as the discovery of extra solar planets, space station development, discovery of black holes. I realize that there are diverging scientific, philosophical, and theological opinions on much of the material that we cover, particularly on the origin of the universe. You may challenge any statement made in class or in your text, as long as you do so politely.

I do consider your contributions to our discussion in determining your final grade and making comments, so don't just sit back and watch others type. If you have questions, ask them! When you are assigned a report topic or a homework problem to post, be sure that you have spent adequate time to prepare not only the formal content that you post to the class forum in the Moodle, but also to anticipate the questions of your fellow students about your topic.

Chat sessions are 90 minutes. Plan accordingly, and take a break just before class starts. Do some stretching, go to the bathroom, eat or get your drinks before you enter the classroom. Be sure to try to connect to your ISP and check mail 10 minutes before class if possible, in case any late notices have been sent by the teacher. Give yourself the extra time. High traffic on your ISP or the school server can slow you down and force you to miss the first 5 to 10 minutes of class.

If you have not already done so, post any pre-chat preparation materials to the Moodle before chat.

Bring your textbook, notes, homework calculations, calculator, and paper and pencil to class. If you are comfortable using a desktop calculator and taking notes in a text utility like Notepad (available as different applications on both Windows and Macintosh), you can use those. You may also find a dictation program like Dragon helps reduce typing, either into chat or taking notes. Take notes during class. Since Scholars Online logs the chat sessions, you do not need to document things the teacher or other students say, but it is useful to note your own questions and observations as they occur, so that you can study them later.

Chat sessions in astronomy frequently involve discussion of mathematical calculations. One convention we use is underscore (_) for subscript and up-arrow (^) for superscript. The term x_1 ^2 means "take the value x-sub-1 and square it". You may be more used to seeing this written as x12, and we can actually do that in Dr. Bruce's chat, but it requires a bit of typing. If you prefer to use HTML tags, then here's a quick guide:

  • Subscripts are written with the HTML <sub> tag. Be sure to use the closing tag </sub> or you may wind up with material too small to read! The sequence v<sub>0</sub> typed into chat will look like v0.
  • Superscripts are written with the HTML <sup> tag. Be sure to use the closing tag </sup> after your exponent or indicator. The sequence 10<sup>3</sup> typed into chat will look like 103.
  • You can use unicode to indicate special characters. &alpha; will print as α, frequently used to designate angles. There is a good guide to unicode characters at TNT Luoma HTML Codes.
  • UPDATE for 2017 Dr. Bruce has implemented ASCIImath notation in the Scholars Online Chat. This allows you to type even complex mathematical formula relatively easily. To use the ASCIImath syntax options shown the site, type a RIGHT curly bracket symbol } as the first symbol on a line. Your entry will be translated before uploading to the server. A line like
    }F_g = (GMm)/r^2

    will appear as F g   =   GMm r 2

    Your teacher will provide more instructions during the first few chats.

After chat, log into the chat window again, hit the button for past chat logs, and print the log out. As soon as possible after class, review the log and make notes on it about any points that bother you, and be sure to ask about these in our next session. Mark important points for review later. Consult your notes or the Scholars Online copy of the log to review before the next session and before semester examinations


All the physics examinations (quizzes and semester exams) which I use to evaluate your understanding and progress in astronomy will be drawn from the homework questions in the text. It is very important that you complete the homework problems, study questions, and any reports assigned to prepare for the exams for this course.

There will be an online quiz for each chapter, which will be available on the Moodle when we have finished discussing the material in the chapter. These quizzes include 10-30 multiple choice, short calculation, and other format questions and are timed. When you take the quiz, you will receive immediate feedback for your attempt. You will have a second chance to take the quiz for review during the grace period before midterm exams.


Start your review two weeks prior to the scheduled examination.

Go through the Key Words listed at the end of each chapter. Are there any that you still don't understand? Note them down, and look them up. If you still have trouble remembering the meaning of the term, make a flash card for it and drill yourself.

Read the Key Ideas sections at the end of the chapter. These list the main points of the chapter. You should have any information in these points memorized, and you should be able to explain and use this information to solve problems.

Review the chat logs, and go over your notes.

Review your performance on quizzes, and make a list of the concepts with which you are still unfamiliar or which still puzzle you.

Look these up in the index or table of contents, and review the textbook discussion. If the idea still confuses you, write up a question for the review session, or e-mail the teacher.

There will be several major exams (midterms), after major sections of the text are completed. These may be mailed electronically to you, or you may take them on the Moodle. Either way, you will need your parent or other responsible adult to act as as proctor. If you take the exam (or part of the exam, such as the multiple choice section) in the Moodle, you will need to complete it before it closes. If I email the exam to you, or if you take the problem section of the exam on paper, you will need to type or scan in your answers to a computer file, and upload the file to the Moodle assignment for that exams before the assignment closes.

Most exams will include a multiple-choice or other format objective section, an essay section, and a problem section, which will often include some interpretation of data from astronomical observations. All sections are closed book. You may bring to these exams one 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper with whatever notes on it that you desire — so don't worry about memorizing formula. Learn concepts and applications!

Study Groups

Yes, of course you may study together — remember that explaining or teaching what you just learned to someone else is one of the important techniques of learning! You may also work together to solve the homework problems ... but be sure that you can solve them on your own afterwards, since you cannot work as a study group on quizzes or examinations. Let me know if you need special chat times for your study group.

Doing Labs: The Scientific Experience

One of the basic methods of science is to secure documented observations of periodic or common events in order to make some general summary about the behavior of natural objects. We can do this in several ways.

  • Directed observation

    All observations of stars and planets, most observations of plants and animals in their native habitats, and many observations of geological specimens and meteorological events, are "field" observations. The situations must be allowed to occur without human direction, either because such direction is impossible (we can't control when a star will go nova), or because human intervention would interfer with the observation (we don't want to feed animals if we are researching their eating habits in the wild). The best we can do is make many observations of phenomena that are as similar as possible.

  • Laboratory-based experiments

    Laboratory-based observations are much more tightly controlled. Specific techniques and equipment are used for particular kinds of data collection. The experimenter can often vary only one factor at a time to see how it affects other dependencies. This allows many experimentalists to compare their results easily.

  • Surveys

    Frequently, research in one area reveals a tendency for a particular phenomena\on to behave a certain way. Rather than simply starting to observe the phenomena anew, one may choose to go back through past observations, looking for the same patterns or evidence of how nature behaved in similar circumstances. Surveys of historical data are common in weather studies, where such records exist for periods of 100 to 150 years, and in astronomical observations.

    Surveys and re-examination of astronomical data are very common, since telescope plates taken in the 1920s by a researcher interested in a single star or event will contain data relevant to other events as well. The earliest photograph showing the growing magnitude due to the supernova of 1987 was taken by an Australian astronomer who was looking for something else entirely in a different part of the Magellanic Cloud. After checking the photo for his own star, he went to bed...and so missed being the "discoverer".

Special concerns for Astronomy Labs

Determining Observing Times

Universal Time: The occurance of most events is listed in the literature as though you lived in Greenwich, England, on the Prime Meridian (0 degrees longituded), in hours and minutes of Universal Time, using a 24-hour clock. If you use a program such as Starry Night or Voyager III (there are about a dozen good ones), you can set the local time display for your location. Then when you look up an event such as a lunar eclipse in Sky and Telescope, you can easily "process" to the proper Universal Time listed, and see your local time displayed as well. But it is theoretically possible that you may be without this software from time to time.

Correcting for clock time. Universal Time is 5 hours earlier than Eastern Standard Time (8 hours earlier than Pacific Standard Time.) To determine when an event scheduled for 23:15 UT will occur in your local time zone, subtract the number of hours different. UT 23:15 is 15:15 PST.

Remember that if your local time is currently using Daylight Savings Time, your clock has "sprung forward" one hour: 15:15PST is 14:15 PDT. So an event at 23:15 UT on August 15 will occur when it is 14:15 in Seattle, or in the middle of the Seattle day (and probably be unobservable).

Sidereal Time: Long-duration phenomena are not listed as occuring at any given moment; rather, the location of the phenomena is listed in terms of celestial coordinates. Suppose a comet makes an appearance, and, moving slowly, will be at 6 hours Right Ascension, -18 degrees (south) declination. You want to know when it will be visible.

Aligning a Telescope

    See Lab on Basic Telescope Techniques.

Using Binoculars

Binoculars are very useful instruments for viewing large areas of the sky. Even low-power binoculars (8X) can show you the craters of the moon, the phases of Venus, the rich starfields of the Milky Way, the hazy disc of Andromeda, and the 4 large moons of Jupiter, and give you a sense of position in space that is difficulat to achieve with a more powerful telescope.

The major problem with binoculars is that they are usually hand-held, causeing the image to jump around. When using binoculars to view astronomical objects, try to brace your arms or the binoculars against a stable object (the side of the house, a fence post, the hood of your car). If possible, mount the binoculars on a camera tripod or telescope tripod.

Writing Lab Reports

Your lab report is the evidence of your observations of a particular phenomena. Your observations should be presented in such a way that the data is easy to understand and supports your conclusions, but also with enough detail on how you obtained them that any peer with similar equipment could repeat your experience and confirm your results (or challenge them, as the case may be).

Organization: A good science lab report has at least seven sections:

  1. The abstract: a short paragraph explaining the goal of the lab, the overall purpose or hypothesis, the type of data gathered, and the conclusions.
  2. Materials and equipment: a description of the consumable materials and the observing equipment, instruments used to collect data. For standard equipment, references to the make and model are generally sufficient, along with verification that the equipment was tested for proper calibration.. If the equipment was modified, or specially configured, describe the new settings. If the equipment was specially built, either summarize the intent and purpose of the equipment and methods of calibration, or refer to other documents which provide this information.
  3. Procedure: a list of steps taken to secure the data. This should be detailed enough to allow peers in the field to repeat the measurements you made under simillar circumstances. Any choices you made that might affect results should be stated, along with the reasons you made them.
  4. Raw Data: the numbers you copied from instruments, descriptions of what you saw with your own eys, notes to yourself about odd things that happened, and rough sketches made during the observation. They might also include photographs, data collected by computer, and so forth. In many cases, the amount of data collected this way exceeds the space available in a formal report, so you do not need to include all of it. You should select representative samples of this data, and retain your notebooks with the actual raw data for reference if anyone questions your results.
  5. Sample Calculations: at least one each of any calculations you did to determine reliability (statistical analyses) or to figure out derived data (e.g., density from volume and mass measurements). This allows a reviewer (such as your teacher) to determine whether you used the proper technique of data reduction in this situation.
  6. Processed Data: all the processed data on which you base your results in the most useful forms. Frequently this involves creating a table, and may additionally involve preparing graphs to show trends.
  7. Conclusions: your assessment of whether your originaly hypothesis or assumptions are supported by actual phenomena. If your results did not bear out your assumptions, but you still feel the assumption is correct, you should explain the source of the problem (errors in measurement, calculations, equipment), and outline a plan for redoing the observations. When your experiment bears out your hypothesis, your conclusion should place these results in the context of the large field, and could include suggestions for further research.

Because of the nature of astronomical observations, there are some kinds of data that you should always include for any observing session.

  • Location, local time, date (and Universal Time, if you want to help out the reader).
  • Seeing conditions (temperature and atmospheric state, presence of haze, clouds, or twilight; lunar phase, magnitude of faintest visible star).
  • Location of transient phenomena (moon, planets, meteors, comets, nova) in celestial coordinates.

There are several standard forms for making observtions. Among the most popular are those used by the American Association of Amateur Astronomers. I recommend that you download the two observing forms, copy them, and use them when you observe:

Download the form for the Observing Log (PDF).

Download the form for the Sketch Template

Term Papers (Research Reports)

Part of each semester's assignments is a research paper of 4-7 pages (1000 - 1500 words), written as a research proposal on some specific area of astronomy, and due at the same time as your semester examination.

You may use any and all resources at your command, including websites, text, other books, magazine articles, etc. You may spend any amount of time on the report that you wish, and you can work on it before and finish it after the exam if you so choose, but it is usually due at the same time as the semester exam.

TOPIC: You may choose a topic from the current semester's astronomy materials, where you can discuss how it is an example of a class of solar system objects (fall) or stellar or galactic objects (spring); what makes the particular object interesting, and how it might be studied. For example, you could choose planetary atmosphers, a particular moon like Io, or a particular application Roche limit theory (formation of planetary rings around Uranus). You must submit your proposed topic to the teacher and have it approved before continuing your research.

REPORT FORMAT: The report should include the following sections:

  • Abstract: A short (100-200 word) paragraph summarizing your paper and its research proposal.
  • Introduction: Some basic information about the type of object you have chosen (a kind of introduction for the non-astronomically minded), that identifies the unique characteristics of the particular object that make it worth investigating. For example, if you chose Io, you would describe the general class of gas giant moons, and in particular those moons undergoing tidal stresses. You would then describe how tidal stresses lead to geolgocial activity.
  • Research Area: Here you identify the specific phenomenona or characteristics you would like to investigate and describe in some detail what is known about them NOW. Explain why knowing more about the object is important in understanding other objects or processes in similar objects. For example, if you are writing about planetary moons, you could discuss the importance of moon formation in understanding how planets form.
  • Research Proposal: A significant portion of your report should describe your research proposal and its target outcomes. Determine what equipment and materials your investigation would need: what measurements would you take, what kind of instruments would you need (telescopes? earth-based or satellite? interstellar missions? rovers?),and what the data would tell you about the phenomena?
  • While I would like you to use good report formatting, I am not particular about the format of title pages, table of contents, double or single spaces, size of margins, or style of citations. You should, however,
    • Set your abstract off as a separate paragraph at the beginning of your paper. Traditionally, the abstract comes after the title and author's name, and before any table of contents.
    • Whether you include a table of contents or not (it is not required), do clearly mark sections of your paper with subtitles.
    • Give appropriate credit for any summaries or direct citations of the work of others. You may use footnotes or inline citations and a bibliography: the point is to include enough information that the astute reader can check your reference for himself, determine the authority of the citation, and compare his own conclusions in reading the reference with yours.
    • If you want extra help on formatting your paper or even in learning how to write research papers, check out the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University on Writing Research Reports, and look up the sections for which you need help.
    • Keep in mind that correct formatting doesn't make up for lack of content or clarity! If your content demands that you deviate from a specific formatting rule to more clearly present your material, then use a format that makes sense.

From a grading standpoint, I would like you to show me that you understand something about the general characteristics of one of these areas:

  • First semester - basic telescopes and observing techniques, terrestrial planets and gas giants, planetary moons, comets or asteroids.
  • Second semester - stars, galaxies, cosmology theories.

You will upload your paper as to the Moodle assignment location by its due date. It must be in acceptable format (Word DOC (not DOCX), RTF, Ascii text (TXT), PDF, or Mac Pages format). If you use another word processor, please check with me before uploading the file; I may not be able to read it.

Mycroft's Sample Research Proposal: Is the Moon made of cheese? (a PDF file)


Planning Observations....

Starry Night will show you the positions of the stars and planets, the sun, the moon and its phases, for a given observing time.

Sky and Telescope and Astronomy Magazine both contain articles on observing techniques for amateur astronomers, general articles on recent discoveries, and monthly star charts with planet locations, lunar phases, meteor showers, comets, and other information. Both magazines maintain webpages as well.

The local newspaper may carry similar information on its weather page.

Current events....

NASA's website carries important information about current manned missions (mostly to the International Space Station) and unmanned missions (Cassini to Saturn, Galileo in orbit around Jupiter, various Mars missions).

The Hubble Telescope site carries the best of the Hubble's pictures, plus extensive information about the latest pictures and their implications.

Course wares...

Astronomy is the most popular of the sciences from the public's point of view: who can resist the pretty pictures? or eclipses? There are more books available on astronomical topics than almost any other science (counting computers and programming as something else entirely!). Consequently, there are many textbooks which range from simpler than the one we are using to much more firmly based in physics and mathematics. When looking at texts, try to find more recent editions, since information and theories in astronomy change rapidly, even at the fundamental level!