PHYS 131

Survey of the Universe

Spring 2022

Instructor: Professor Gordon Richards  Lecture: TTh 12:30-1:50pm; Room: Randell 326
Office: 812 Disque Hall Phone: 215-895-2713
e-mail: gtr25 at Drexel domain (subj: PHYS131) Office Hours: W 3:30-4:30pm, R 2-3pm
Text: Astronomy: The Universe at a Glance (1st Ed.), Chaisson & McMillan

Course Description:
The course description, credit hours, and enrollment restrictions can be found at this link.

Purpose and Learning Goals:
Students will be exposed to a broad brush of topics in astronomy with a focus on what has been learned from cutting-edge research in the past decade. Students will become familiar with the night sky, astronomical instruments/measurements, our solar system, the evolution of stars and galaxies, and the history/future of the Universe itself.

We will be using: "Astronomy: The Universe at a Glance". It is a very abbreviated version of "Astronomy: A Beginner's Guide to the Universe (9th Ed.)" by the same authors. Note that we will be using the version that comes with the Modified Mastering Astronomy software. You should probably NOT buy it from Amazon as that will either come with no Mastering Astronomy access code or a code that is out of date, in which case you'll need to spend more money to get the access code. I recommend following these instructions.

Students are strongly encouraged to at least skim through the readings for each lecture before class in addition to reading the material in detail after the lecture.

In class, we will make use of Prather et al.'s Lecture Tutorials for Introductory Astronomy (3rd Ed.), but it is NOT required.

Mastering Astronomy:
Please Read. Even if you have not bought the book yet, I need you to have acccess to Mastering Astronomy from Day 1. You will be provided some time in class to do so if you haven't done it already. Access is free for the first 14 days, so don't worry if you aren't sure whether or not you are going to stay in the class. As with purchasing the eText, you will follow these instructions. After you have registered your account (free for 2 weeks) or logged in to an existing account, at the bottom of the page it says "Get temporary access". Click on that and you will be ready to go.

After your initial setup, to access Mastering, please see this link. The Course ID is "richards49271". You will need access to this weekly.

We will meet for lecture twice a week for 1 1/2 hours. Lectures will consist primarily of information based on the readings. In-class activities (1-2 per lecture) during the lecture will be part of your participation grade (and will count 5% of your final grade). To receive credit for attendance and class participation we will be using Socrative. Please make yourself an account (free) before the first lecture. The classroom ID will be RICHARDS. Logging in from home or for another person will result in a 0 class participation grade for the quarter. However, you will be allowed to miss 2 lectures without any penalty.

Office Hours:
Tentatively set for W 3:30-4:30pm and R 2-3pm. I may have to adjust these after the first week of classes. For those that cannot make those days/times, I can arrange for some online office hours in the evening if there is enough demand.

Homework & Quizzes:
Homework will be given each week on the Mastering Astronomy site (course ID: "richards49271"). The Homework should be done completely on your own as it is meant to prepare you for the Quizzes (and Final Exam). Weekly Quizzes on the previous week's material (reading, lectures, and homework) will be given in the first 5 minutes of lecture every Tuesday. Quizzes will be mostly multiple choice, labeling, matching, true/false, etc. There will be ~9 quizzes during the quarter. I will drop your lowest quiz grade; no make-up quizzes will be given, so don't be late (even by 2-3 minutes) for class on Tuesdays. Homework will be available online from Thursday afternoon until the start of class on Tuesdays.

Currently no midterm is planned. A (comprehensive) final exam will be given during a time/date to be decided during the exam week. It will be mostly multiple choice, T/F, etc. questions with a few short answer and drawing problems. For the multiple choice and T/F part, your score will be the average of your own score and that of your group. I'll explain more about this in class.

10 point scale (90=A-, 80=B-, 70=C-, etc.) using the following weighting:

Students are responsible to monitoring their progress using the online gradebook in Drexel Learn (and not in Mastering Astronomy). It is your responsibility to let me know (in a timely fashion) if I am missing any grades for you.


Acadmic Policies:
Students are expected to be familiar with Drexel's policies on
Academic Integrity, Plagiarism, Dishonesty and Cheating:,
Course Adding/Dropping:,
Course Withdrawal:,
Incomplete Grades:, and
Grade Appeals:

Students may not copy one another's exams or homeworks. All of these are considered cheating and will be dealt with in the following manner. The first infraction will result in a zero for all parties involved. The second infraction will result in an F for the course and a report to the office of academic affairs.

Student with disabilities requesting accommodations and services at Drexel University need to present a current accommodation verification letter (AVL) to faculty before accommodations can be made. AVL's are issued by the Office of Disability Resources. For additional information, see

For Health and Counseling needs, students can find further information at

Classroom Etiquette:
At this time, Drexel University requires everyone to wear a mask in all on-campus public and shared spaces, regardless of the vaccination status. Eating is not permitted in the classroom. If the student needs to remove their mask (to drink water etc.), they may step outside the class to do so and then return to class. Please, remember to always bring your mask to avoid class disruption.

Appropriate Use of Course Materials:
It is important to recognize that some or all of the course materials provided to you may be the intellectual property of Drexel University, the course instructor, or others. Use of this intellectual property is governed by Drexel University policies, including the IT-1 Policy.

Briefly, this policy states that all course materials including recordings provided by the course instructor may not be copied, reproduced, distributed or re-posted. Doing so may be considered a breach of this policy and will be investigated and addressed as possible academic dishonesty, among other potential violations. Improper use of such materials may also constitute a violation of the University's Code of Conduct and will be investigated as such.

Finally, changes to the parameters of the course may need to be made during the quarter. In the case of such events, students will be notified by the instructor through their official Drexel e-mail.

If you have read this far, please send the instructor an e-mail (prior to the first lecture) for one unit of extra credit. Please indicate that you are aware that you need both the book and acccess to Mastering Astronomy, that you should only follow the links above to get to Mastering Astronomy (then bookmark it), that the gradebook is on Learn and not in Mastring Astronomy, and that I don't allow make-up quizzes or exams (and that, despite all these rules, it will be a fun and interesting course!).

Topics to be Covered

Week Subject Chapter(s) Reading Learning Outcomes
1 Introduction & Constellations Chapter 1, Appendix 1.1-1.3,1.6, Appendix 2 (9 pages) 1-L02, 1-L06
2 Earthly Phenomena:
Seasons, Lunar Phases, Eclipses, Tides
Chapter 1, Chapter 4 1.3-1.5, 4.2 (8 pages) 1-L03, 1-L04, 1-L05, 5-L02
3 Gravity, Light, Cameras, Telescopes Chapters 2 2.1-2.3, 2.6, [2.7-2.8] (~12 pages) 2-L01, 2-L02, 2-L03, 2-L06
4 Solar System Intro:
Killer Asteroids & Pluto's Exit
Chapters 6 & 7 6.7-6.8, 7.1-7.2, 7.4-7.5,7.6b (~14 pages) 6-L07, 6-L08; 7-L02, 7-L04, 7-L05
5 The Planets Chapters 3, 4, 5 & 6 3.7a,c; 4.4b, 4.6-7; 5.1-5.5, 6.1-6.3, 6.5-6 (~26 pages) 6-L01,L02,L05; 5-L01,L02,L03,L04,L05
6 Stars & Stellar Evolution
We are Stardust
Chapters 8, 9 & 10 8.1,8.2a,8.3c,8.4-8.7, 9.1,9.2a,9.5, 10.4-5 (22 pages) 8-L04,L05,L06,L07; 9-L02,L03,L04,L05; 10-L04,L05,L06
7 Black Holes Chapters 10, 11, & 12 10.6; 11.2-5,7; 12.1-6 (24 pages) 11-L01,L02,L04,L05; 12-L01-L06
8 Galaxies
Ours and Others
Chapters 13 & 14 13.1-5,7; 14.1-2,4 (18 pages) 13-L01-L07;14-L01,L04
9 Clusters, Quasars, and "Dark Matter" Chapters 13 & 14 13.6; 14.3,5-8; 15.1 (14 pages) 14-L02,L03,L05-L08
10 Cosmology
The Age of the Universe
Chapter 15 15.1-4,6,7 (12 pages) 15-L01-L04,L06,L07

Final Exam:
Tuesday 7 June, 15:30-17:30pm, Disque 108 (bring a charged computer to use for the online portion)


Astronomy Picture of the Day
BAD Astronomy
How to Buy a Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope Images
James Webb Space Telescope Images
Chandra X-ray Observatory Images

Observing Information

Drexel's Joseph R. Lynch Observatory (our 16 inch Meade telescope)
Heavens Above (for viewing satellites)
Sky & Telescope (the premier astronomy magazine)

Sky Charts
Spring Sky Chart
Summer Sky Chart
Autumn Sky Chart
Winter Sky Chart
Northern Stars Planetarium Observing Resources

Philly-area Public Observing Nights

Note: These are weather dependent events and may be canceled in case of rain or significant cloud cover.

Last Modified: 23 March 2022