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ASTR 201

Course Description

This course is intended to provide an introduction to the fundamentals of modern astronomy and the underpinnings of our understanding of our place in the universe. The course is designed to satisfy Group III distribution requirements. Students majoring (or intending to major) in astronomy / astrophysics are better served by the courses ASTR 350 (Introduction to Astrophysics – Stars) and ASTR 360 (Introduction to Astrophysics – Galaxies and Cosmology). If you are currently undecided about your major then this course and its companion ASTR 202 (Exploration of the Solar System) are good places to begin determining where your interests lie. Stars, Galaxies and the Universe starts with an overview of the universe and our place within it, before embarking upon an exploration of the cosmos to encounter: the birth, life and death of stars; the formation and evolution of galaxies; and the origin, large scale structure and the future of the universe. Along the way we will learn about some of the history of astronomy and the interesting characters who led its development. We will also study many of the fundamentals of astronomy such as the motion of celestial bodies, why understanding these motions matters to us on Earth, and how we came to know much of what we know about the skies thanks to the invention of the telescope. During the course we will review and emphasize basic physics such as forces and motion, conservation laws, energy and temperature, and the interaction between light and matter, all of which are needed to understand the fascinating objects that we see in our skies.


Learning Outcomes

The student learning outcomes of this course encompass a variety of knowledge and skills that apply scientific reasoning to an understanding of the universe, the bodies of which it is comprised, and the means by which we gather and interpret the information that lead to this understanding. In particular, the students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate and understanding of the basic principles of science and scientific investigation;
  • Show how observations can inform our understanding of astronomical phenomena;
  • Explain the basic properties of the universe and of the bodies of which it is comprised;
  • Discuss how electromagnetic radiation is used by astronomers to gain information about the properties of astronomical bodies;
  • Relate the basic properties of matter to an understanding of astronomical observations;
  • Discuss the basic processes that govern the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies;
  • Explain the basic processes that govern the evolution of the universe;
  • Apply scientific reasoning to everyday situations;



No scientific or mathematical background beyond high school physics and algebra is assumed. The homework problem sets will not require calculus, but will involve equations and making calculations. Remember that they are designed to reinforce what you learn, not to catch you out. Examples relevant to the homework problem sets will be worked through during class.


For more information, see the course syllabus available through the Rice Registrar office.