Astronomy B1 Physics of Cosmos Class Syllabus Fall 2017Office - Lecture locations

Nick Strobel (link appears in new window)
nstrobel "at" bakersfieldcollege "dot" edu
Physical Office:
Math-Science 101 (top floor, southwest corner), 395-4526 (leave a message if I'm not there). The map at right shows where it is.
Department office:
SE 57, 395-4401 (Another place to leave messages).
MW 8:00 & 9:35 AM in MS 112 (Planetarium), 85 minutes each.
Office Hrs:
MW 11:10 - 12:30 PM in MS 101. Other times by appointment.
Required Text:
The Astronomy B1 Physics of the Cosmos Student Guide from the campus bookstore---about $15.64 with tax (blue cover) and Sapling Learning access code from the campus bookstore---about $52. You can purchase the Sapling Learning access code directly from the publisher by selecting the link ($40). Access code valid for only ONE student. The "Quick Study" sheets are NOT required.
"Opt-Req" Text:
Astronomy Notes (2013 edition) at the campus bookstore (about $132 new or $99 used) or from McGraw-Hill directly. See the "Opt-Req" link for what that means before purchasing the hardcopy.
Reading Level 1 level prior to transfer (college-level comprehension).
Writing Level 1 level prior to transfer (college-level) and Math Level 2 levels prior to transfer.
Other resources:
Class website: and choose the ASTR B1 link for the current semester. The Sapling Learning website is for the homework problems. Class lectures, announcements, exam review sheets, and other class materials are on the class Canvas site. If InsideBC is down, use: and sign-in with your campus username/password.
Sapling Learning website for homework: . Course ID = Bakersfield College - ASTR B1 - Fall17 - STROBEL. (Make sure you don't pick the ASTR B3 course!) You can purchase Sapling Learning access code online (and it's cheaper!). Students with financial aid book vouchers will need to get the access code from the bookstore. Warning: the homework canNOT be done on a cell phone or tablet. It must be done on a regular computer (laptop or desktop) with Flash enabled and turned on.

Course Overview

A college-level survey of the universe, from the everyday observations we make of the sky (and what they mean) to our ideas about the inner workings (physics) of the planets, stars, galaxies and overall characteristics of the universe. Equivalent to a university course except:
  1. slower pace
  2. the instructor wants you to succeed and is much more available for questions
  3. cost

Throughout the course we will examine the process and philosophy of science from the astronomical perspective. We will use several examples from current research problems. Modern astronomy deals with some very mind-expanding stuff requiring sophisticated abstract and logical thinking so you will need to give your brain TIME to mull over and digest the concepts. If you take a look at any college astronomy textbook (not just mine) and any course outline for a college astronomy class, you will see that modern astronomy is mostly a "physics of the cosmos"—how things work and how we know. Astronomy is a visually beautiful and intellectually stimulating subject. We live in a beautiful universe on a gorgeous planet. Understanding how it became the way it is and how the parts interact with each other enriches and deepens our appreciation for the artistry around us. It is my hope that you will take the time and spend the effort to learn how our universe works.

Education pays link (link appears in new window)

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the Physics of the Cosmos (Astr B1) course, the successful student will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a correct understanding of the cause of a given phenomenon, the physical nature of a given object, and the properties and processes of a habitable world [this is the "what we know" SLO]
  2. Describe the scientific method, give the evidence for an explanation and describe the technique(s) used in determining either the property of something, how it interacts with its environment, or its origin and history [this is the "how we know" SLO]
  3. Solve word problems and apply concepts to new situations not given in the book or in lecture using logical, deductive reasoning.
  4. Use a computer to locate information on the internet.

About the Instructor

I have taught introductory astronomy for 26 years now, 5 years at the University of Washington and 21 years at Bakersfield College. Astronomy is a subject that I am passionate about. I got hooked on astronomy when the Voyager spacecraft flew by Jupiter and its moons in 1979. "What were those worlds like?", "how can we explore them if we're stuck here on the Earth?", "what makes them appear the way they do?" are some the questions I had and still do.

I got two Bachelor of Science degrees, one in Physics and one in Astronomy, at the University of Arizona (Tucson, AZ) in 1987. I worked for a year to decompress from the rigors of studying and then went on to graduate school at the University of Washington (in the Astronomy Department). I got my Master of Science in Astronomy in 1990 and finished my PhD in Astronomy in 1995.

While at the University of Washington I taught the introductory astronomy course, the introductory planetary science course, and the introductory cosmology course. I found I enjoyed teaching much more than research. I came to Bakersfield College in 1996. I adapted my 10-week introductory astronomy course to the 16-week semester at BC.

To find out more about me, visit my homepage.


Your grade will be based on your performance on three exams (about 26% course grade) + final (about 19% course grade), 23 homework assignments posted on the Sapling Learning system (about 26% of the course grade), 11 quizzes (about 14% course grade), 1 Skywatch (about 7% course grade), & in-class projects - classroom participation (about 8% course grade). All points will be added up and the sum divided by the maximum possible (excluding extra credit). The course grade will be determined by the following percentage scale:

90 - 100% = A, 80 - 89.9% = B, 65 - 79.9% = C, 50 - 64.9% = D, below 50% = F.

Assignments and lecture slides will be posted on the class website. Check the class website several times a week.

The homework assignments will stress critical reasoning (and some computation). Homework assignments are due by 8:00 AM on the Sapling Learning system. Exam questions are drawn partly from the required homework assignments. No late (including tardy) homework assignments will be accepted. Warning: the homework canNOT be done on a cell phone or tablet. It must be done on a regular computer (laptop or desktop) with Flash enabled and turned on.

Quizzes & exams are multiple-choice format. The quizzes will be on Wednesdays except in exam weeks or Wednesday holiday. The exam material will be drawn from homework, quizzes, in-class projects, lectures, and the textbook review questions. The exams are closed book---no live or electronic help, except a calculator, is allowed. Dates for exams are given at the end of the syllabus and also on class website. There are no make-up quizzes or exams without hardcopy documentation of a medical or legal emergency from an officially-recognized neutral third party. Any other reason, including work schedules, will not be accepted. You will need to do the quiz or exam make-up the week of your return. If you have another school activity or family event that prevents you from taking the exam or quiz on the given date, you will need to arrange with the instructor an alternate quiz/exam time that is before the given date.

The Skywatch assignment is due November 27 (Monday) and is worth 60 points. No late Skywatch reports will be accepted---mark your calendar and hand it in early if you will not be able to turn it in on the due date! Choose one of the Skywatch assignments described in chapters 4 and 5 of the Student Guide. The Skywatch requires a hardcopy report that will be turned in (or mailed or faxed) to me on campus—NO emailed skywatch reports! The hardcopy typed, complete data table, star chart, and/or photos are due by November 1 (Wednesday) at the beginning of the class time (NOT emailed!). No late, untyped, or incomplete data records accepted; hand in early if necessary! You must turn in the complete, typed data record by the due date & time and it must be COMPLETE or you will receive zero credit for the final report (not just the data record)! Therefore, October 31 is the last possible date to complete your observations. If you mail me your data record or your final report, allow for at least 3 days mail transit time so that it arrives by the due date!

Your Role

Education pays link (link appears in new window)

Understanding how the universe around us became the way it is and how the parts interact with each other enriches and deepens our appreciation for the artistry around us. However, it does mean that one has to confront and leave aside misconceptions and grapple with some complex (but manageable!) ideas. This class will be challenging but I hope you will find it rewarding and worth the time it takes to learn the subject so that at the end of the semester you will have that appreciation of our universe I spoke of above.

Your role: I expect you to take responsibility for your own learning. The expectations for a college class are a definite jump up from what you had in high school! The standard for minimum acceptable work, the quality and amount of study time outside of class, and the pace the material is covered will be a significant jump up from high school. This a voluntary college course that meets two times a week for 85 minutes a lecture. Because of the limited time spent in class, you will need to spend at least 6 hours a week outside of class reviewing lecture material, reading the textbook, and doing the homework and Skywatch assignments (Title 5 California Education Code Section 55002.5 says BC's 3-unit courses must be 47 in-class time including Final exam + at least 97 hours outside of class). You will not pass if you only attend every lecture and do just the in-lecture-period work. Your grade is determined only by your performance on the required assignments not on "how well I feel you did". It is possible in a college course to get an "F" if your performance on the required assignments is below the "D" threshold regardless of the effort you put into the course.

Late Assignments

Absence for an exam or quiz will result in zero credit. In the event of an unavoidable and documented medical or legal emergency that prevents you from taking a quiz or exam, I will consider a make-up quiz or exam on an individual basis. Work schedules are not valid excuses. The documentation must be from an officially-recognized neutral third party. You must take the exam or quiz the week of your return. Abuse of this policy will void your privilege of a make-up exam or quiz. It is possible to take the exam or quiz early in the case of medical, legal, or job conflicts. Exam and quiz dates are given on the class website. The Final Exam will be comprehensive and will be on the date given in the printed class schedule. It is always possible to take an exam or quiz early but usually only within a couple of days early.

Homework and Quiz Due Times

Skywatch assignments are due at the beginning of class on the given due date. No late homework (including tardy!) will be accepted. No late Skywatch reports and no late, incomplete, or untyped data records accepted at all. If you are sick, have a classmate turn it in. The Skywatch report & data record canNOT be emailed. Assignments, including quizzes and exams, can always be turned in early.

Homework assignments on the Sapling Learning system are due by 8:00 AM sharp of the due day (not 8:01 or later!!). Tardy homework assignments will get zero credit on the system. If you do not do the homework, it is 99% likely that you will fail the course.

Absence of an in-class project (not pop quizzes, homework, or Skywatch) will result in half credit provided the work is made up within one week of the day when the project is given. Make-up of an in-class projects requiring me to set something up will have to be done at a time that is convenient for me, the instructor. I will be lenient in the case of unavoidable and documented medical or legal reasons. Other miscellaneous (and missed) in-class activities that may contribute to your participation grade will be dealt with on an individual basis.


By cheating, you are being unfair to yourself and your classmates. Cheating is defined as not doing your own work on class assignments or on exams. There is a distinction between being helped by someone and copying someone's work. State your answers to the homework and skywatch in your own words. Do NOT show your written (or electronic) copy of your assignment to other classmates. If you help someone out, be sure that they can articulate their response in their own words. NO group solutions! If copying is noticed by me, each person will get a fraction of the total group's solutions grade. Cheating on an exam will result in zero credit with no make-up possible. Permitting someone to copy from you is just as bad. It takes less effort to play fair than to devise clever ways of deceiving your instructor and classmates.

Exam Dates:

Many have marked the speed with which Muad'Dib learned the necessities of Arrakis. The Bene Gesserit, of course, know the basis of this speed. For the others, we can say Muad'Dib learned rapidly because his first training was in how to learn. And the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It is shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn, and how many more believe learning to be difficult. Muad'Dib knew that every experience carries its lesson. (From the "Humanity of Muad'Dib" by the Princess Irulan)
--Frank Herbert in Dune

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last updated: August 12, 2017

Contact: Nick Strobel