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SPST631 - Astrophysical Studies

Course Details

Course Code: SPST631 Course ID: 3932 Credit Hours: 3 Level: Graduate

This course examines the study of stars and galaxies with special emphasis on the methods and instrumentation used in the exploration of the universe around us. Focus is also placed on cosmology, the study of the past, present, and possible future of the universe. (Prerequisite: SPST630). This course requires access to the web site MASTERING ASTRONOMY, and use of CLEA Labs, which are Windows only programs. If you are not using a Windows program, please verify that your system will be compatible with CLEA labs prior to registering for the course. The link for CLEA labs is


Course Schedule

Registration Dates Course Dates Session Weeks
11/26/18 - 05/03/19 05/06/19 - 08/25/19 Spring 2019 Session K 16 Week session
02/25/19 - 08/02/19 08/05/19 - 11/24/19 Summer 2019 Session K 16 Week session

Current Syllabi

Upon completion of this course, the student will be able to

  • Examine Einstein's theories of special relativity and general relativity. (CO-1)
  • Distinguish the principles of the fundamental particles and forces and how they relate to astronomy. (CO-2)
  • Analyze the source of energy in the Sun (and other stars), and how solar activity affects humans. (CO-3)
  • Appraise the significance of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram and its uses for analyzing the properties of stars and star clusters. (CO-4)
  • Compare and contrast the evolutionary paths of stars of different masses, from star birth through their time on the main sequence to star death. (CO-5)
  • Analyze the structure and history of the Milky Way galaxy. (CO-6)
  • Examine the consequences of Hubble's Law and what it tells us about galactic distances and the expansion of the universe. (CO-7)
  • Evaluate what can be learned by looking back through time to the history of galaxies, including quasars and active galactic nuclei. (CO-8)
  • Examine the evidence for dark matter and dark energy and their relation to the structure and evolution of the universe. (CO-9)
  • Deconstruct the evidence for the Big Bang and inflation. (CO-10)
  • Evaluate the search for life beyond the earth. (CO-11)

The grading will be based on homework assignments on, forum assignments, lab assignments, a midterm exam and a final exam.

1. Most of the assignments in this class will be on the Mastering Astronomy web site. See the Mastering Astronomy guide in the week 1 lesson for instructions. The Course ID that you will need for enrollment is in the announcement area on the first day of class. The assignments on Mastering Astronomy have been designed to increase student understanding and retention of this material. They include tutorials, ranking tasks, quiz-type questions, and short answer questions. There will be a Mastering Astronomy assignment for each chapter that we are covering in The Cosmic Perspective, for a total of 14. Each one is worth 3% of your course grade.

2. You will be completing four practical laboratory-type assignments (all software-based). Details will be posted in the lesson packets. For the first three, the software is Windows only, so you will need access to a Windows PC (or a Windows emulator on a Mac) to run these labs. You will do a formal write-up of your results. Each of these will be worth 4% of your course grade.

3. There will be twelve forum assignments during the course (including the introductions forum). Details for each discussion will be in the applicable lesson.

With the exception of formal extensions, forum assignments will not be accepted more than a week late. The reason for this is that they are intended to be an interactive exercise, and after a week your classmates will all have moved on to the next topic of discussion. In the case of formal extensions (read my late assignment and extension policy, available in the first week's lesson), the interactive portion of the grade (for the responses and replies to questions) will not be available. If you do need to request a formal extension, I would highly suggest getting the forum assignments done on time (or within a week), and use the extension for the other assignments.

Any direct quotations or paraphrasing must be properly cited, using the Turabian format. I suggest you write your posts in a word processor and then copy and paste to the forum. This way, you can use whatever proofreading tools you have. You all have spelling and grammar checkers, use them...but don't rely on them exclusively, make sure you read through your assignments to check for clarity and mistakes the computer can't catch, such as their/there/they're, to/too (and one of my personal favorites: definitely/defiantly). Writing in a word processor instead of the online classroom also prevents losing your post if the website hiccups.

The responses need to be substantive, and include the items listed above, not simply saying "good post" or "I agree." Each discussion will count for 2% of the final grade (for a total of 16% of your course grade).

Please try not to post at the last minute, as this hinders your classmates' ability to do their work on time, and reduces the overall quality of the class discussion.

4. There will be a midterm and a final exam in this course, which will account for 12% and 13% of your course grade, respectively. This will be a combination of types of questions, and will be timed. For short answer questions you are to answer the exam questions in your own words, not those of the book.

You must complete all assigned tasks to pass the course. Reading assignments for the semester are listed below. Your knowledge of the reading is reflected in your quiz scores and your ability to actively participate in the discussions. Each week's assignments and other information is contained in the "Lessons" area of the classroom. The lesson will step you through the materials for that week.

NameGrade %
Introductions Forum 1.00 %
Introductions Forum 1.00 %
Mastering Astronomy 42.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter S2 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter S3 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter S4 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 14 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 15 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 16 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 17 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 18 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 19 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 20 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 21 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 22 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 23 3.00 %
Mastering Astronomy: Chapter 24 3.00 %
Forums 16.00 %
Week 2 Forum 1.07 %
Week 3 Forum 1.07 %
Week 4 Forum 1.07 %
Week 5 Forum 1.07 %
Week 6 Forum 1.07 %
Week 7 Forum 1.07 %
Week 8 Forum 1.07 %
Week 9 Forum 1.07 %
Week 10 Forum 1.07 %
Week 11 Forum 1.07 %
Week 12 Forum 1.07 %
Week 13 Forum 1.07 %
Week 14 Forum 1.07 %
Week 15 Forum 1.07 %
Week 16 Forum 1.07 %
Labs 16.00 %
CLEA Lab 1 4.00 %
CLEA Lab 2 4.00 %
CLEA Lab 3 4.00 %
Zooniverse Lab 4.00 %
Midterm Exam 12.00 %
Midterm Exam 12.00 %
Final Exam 13.00 %
Final Exam 13.00 %

Required Course Textbooks

Bennett, Jeffrey, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, and Mark Voit. 2013. The Cosmic Perspective, Seventh Edition. San Francisco: Pearson Addison-Wesley. (If you already have the sixth edition from a previous class, that will work, too.)

Mastering Astronomy. Online Materials (Student Access Kit comes with textbook). Access at

Required Readings

Additional lecture material in the form of PowerPoint files is located online in the classroom in each week’s lesson.

Additional Resources

Laboratory materials are provided online in the classroom.

Book Title:If you purchase a used copy or a text that does not include the access card, students can purchase access through this site:
Book Title:Cosmic Perspective Plus MasteringAstronomy with eText -- Access Card Package, 8th ed. (If you previously purchased the 7th ed. for SPST630, you do not need to purchase the 8th ed.)
Publication Info:Pearson
Author:Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit
Unit Cost:$142.10

Previous Syllabi

Not current for future courses.