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Astro 16: Stellar and Planetary Astronomy

Tuesday & Thursday 2:304:00pm, Science Center B10

Professor Charlie Conroy (
Office Hours and Location: Wed, 1:303:30pm (or by appointment), Center for Astrophysics (60
Garden St), P-321

Lab Instructor:
Allyson Bieryla (
Office Location: Science Center 804 (The Astronomy Lab)

Teaching Fellows:
Ellen Price (
Josh Speagle (
Jamila Pegues (

The Astronomy Learning Center (TALC) location and hours: Science Center 113, 79pm Monday
and Thursday. Students are encouraged to use these after hours sessions to complete the course ma-
terial with help from the TFs, and to interact with the TFs as they would in traditional office hours.

Course Description:
This course provides an introduction to the physical principles describing the formation and evolu-
tion of stars and their planetary companions. Topics include thermal radiation and stellar spectra;
telescopes; energy generation in stars; stellar evolution; orbital dynamics; the Solar system; ex-
oplanets; star and planet formation; and stellar death and remnants. This course includes an
observational component: students will determine the distance to the Sun and use the Clay Tele-
scope atop the Science Center to study an eclipsing binary system.

An introductory course in mechanics, which may be taken concurrently, satisfied by Physics 11a,
Physics 15a, Physics 16 or Physical Sciences 12a.

Course Aims and Objectives:

This course will guide students through effective problem solving techniques and the scientific
toolset for astronomy and astrophysics. Estimation through order-of-magnitude calculations will
be combined with an overview of relevant physical processes to prepare students for further study
in any subfield of astronomy. Students will glean an understanding of astronomical topics, objects
and phenomena on the scales of planets to stars and stellar systems.

An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics (2nd Ed.) by Carroll & Ostlie (required), Cabot: on
reserve. Astrophysics in a nutshell by Maoz (recommended), Cabot: on reserve.

Course Policies and Expectations:
Astronomy 16 will employ novel learning techniques that give students significant freedom in de-
termining their work and involvement. Students are expected to be highly motivated and take the
initiative to use the resources provided to further their learning.

Academic Integrity and Collaboration Policies:

Any material submitted to meet course requirements homework assignments, papers, projects,
examinations is expected to be a students own work. Collaboration on studying and on home-
work assignments is encouraged, but you must ensure that anything submitted is the result of
your own work and reflects your own approach to the topic. If unsure, ask the instructor or TFs.
Students must make note of any collaborators, and any resources employed apart from the course
text books and lecture notes when submitting work. This includes discussions with other students,
websites, and other books and course notes. Blogs from previous years are off-limits.

All members of the Harvard College community are expected to abide by the Harvard College
Honor Code, which states:

Members of the Harvard College community commit themselves to producing academic work of in-
tegrity that is, work that adheres to the scholarly and intellectual standards of accurate attribution
of sources, appropriate collection and use of data, and transparent acknowledgement of the contri-
bution of others to their ideas, discoveries, interpretations, and conclusions. Cheating on exams or
problem sets, plagiarizing or misrepresenting the ideas or language of someone else as ones own,
falsifying data, or any other instance of academic dishonesty violates the standards of our commu-
nity, as well as the standards of the wider world of learning and affairs.

Assignments and Grading Procedures:

Regular Assignments: Three blog posts are expected per week, due every Tuesday by class time.
Each blog post is worth 10 points. For each day that the blog post is late 1 point will be deducted.
The course grade will be composed of class participation (20%); blog entries (30%); a written,
in-class midterm exam (15%); an in-class final exam (20%); lab writeups (15%).

Student Blogs:
Rather than turning in writing assignments to a single, anonymous grader, students will maintain
individual course blogs. The primary use of the blog is for students to practice technical writing,
scientific communication, and to allow the course instructors to evaluate their learning. Blog posts
should be written in a technical, yet pedagogical style for a broad audience. Students will be ex-
pected to write at regular intervals, rather than waiting until the deadline. The course instructors
will regularly check student blog entries and offer comments and suggested edits. Each week three
blog posts are required, including:
Two solutions to homework questions (i.e., worksheet questions not completed in class). Students
should select problems that were particularly interesting and challenging, rather than selecting only
the introductory material. Demonstration of deep learning is key for receiving full credit.
A third post on the assigned reading for the week. This can be a summary, or an in-depth analysis
of some aspect of it that especially interests you.

Class Activities:
Rather than exclusively listening to lectures, students will spend the majority (2/3) of class time
engaging in active, collaborative learning. Each week will feature a worksheet designed to walk
students through key concepts of a specific subject area. Students will work in small groups of 24
individuals at a chalkboard/whiteboard, stepping through each problem on the worksheet. TFs
and the instructor will be on hand to guide students through the problem solving process. Any
portions of the worksheet not completed in class are considered homework, to be completed out-
side of class. A typical week will contain 57 individual sections/questions. Upon completion of
the worksheets, students will select two questions each week for which they will present detailed
solutions and write-ups on their blogs. TFs will regularly check blog entries and leave comments
and suggested edits.

Lab Activities:
There will be two out of class lab activities during the semester. In the first lab, we will measure
the Astronomical Unit (AU), the distance between the Earth and the Sun. These measurements
will take place during the day over the course of 3 weeks before spring break. The second lab is
an evening lab which will take place after spring break. During the night lab, we will use the Clay
Telescope atop the Science Center to measure properties of a binary star system. The results from
each lab will be written up as a scientific paper. All lab times will be determined in the first few
weeks of class. There will also be an optional Exoplanet Challenge Lab which will be discussed
later in the semester.

There will be an in-class written midterm examination on March 9th, and an in-class written final
examination at the end of the term. Collaboration is not allowed on these exams.

Accommodations For Students with Disabilities:

Students needing academic adjustments or accommodations because of a documented disability
must present their Faculty Letter from the Accessible Education Office (AEO) and speak with the
professor by the end of the second week of the term, Friday February 3rd. Failure to do so may
result in the Course Heads inability to respond in a timely manner. All discussions will remain
confidential, although Faculty are invited to contact AEO to discuss appropriate implementation.

Course Outline:
(subject to change - check the course website for the latest version)

Week Content
Course Introduction. Order-of-magnitude estimations
W1: Jan 24, Jan 26
Worksheets: Scale of Earth and Moon; Math review
The Celestial Sphere and Telescopes
W2: Jan 31, Feb 2 Reading: Tu: C&O Ch. 1; Th: C&O Ch. 3.3, Ch. 6
Worksheets: The Celestial Sphere; Telescope basics
Radiation and Basic Observations
W3: Feb 7, 9 Reading: Tu: C&O Ch. 3.4, 3.5; Th: C&O Ch. 8
Worksheets: Blackbodies; Using blackbodies
Observing Stars; the ISM and Spectral Lines
Reading: C&O Ch. 3, Ch. 8.1
W4: Feb 14, 16
Worksheets: Magnitudes and parallax; Spectral lines and ISM extinction
Beginning of Daytime Lab (days & times TBD)
Stellar Interiors Hydrostatic Equilibrium
W5: Feb 21, 23 Reading: C&O Ch. 10.1, Ch. 2.4
Worksheets: Hydrostatic Equilibrium; The Virial Theorem
Stellar Interiors Nuclear Fusion, Equation of State, Energy Transport
W6: Feb 28, Mar 2 Reading: C&O Ch. 10.2, 10.3, 10.4
Worksheets: Radiative diffusion
Midterm Review, Mar 7
W7: Mar 7, 9
Midterm, Mar 9

Mar 14, 16 Spring Break

Observing Exoplanets
Reading: C&O Ch. 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 (23.1)
W8: Mar 21, 23 Worksheets: Doppler Detections. Transiting exoplanets
Daytime Lab write-up Due Mar 21
Beginning of Nighttime Lab (days & times TBD)
Star Formation and the Interstellar Medium
W9: Mar 28, 30 Reading: C&O Ch. 12.1, 12.2
Worksheets: Star formation. ISM structure
Protoplanetary Disks and Planet Formation
W10: Apr 4, 6 Reading: C&O Ch. 19.3, 23.2
Worksheets: Planet formation; Habitable zones
Stellar Evolution and Ages
Reading: C&O Ch. 13, 15.1
W11: Apr 11, 13
Worksheets: TBD Nighttime Lab write-up Due Apr 11
Beginning of Exoplanet Lab (optional; days & times TBD)
Stellar Deaths and Degenerate Remnants
W12: Apr 18, 20 Reading: C&O Ch. 15.2, 15.3, 16.2, 16.3, 16.4
Worksheets: White dwarfs; Supernovae & Tides
Stellar Deaths and Degenerate Remnants
W13: Apr 25 Reading: C&O Ch. 17.2, 17.3
Worksheets: Black holes