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PHYX 104: Descriptive Astronomy (Fall 2014)

Astronomy is the most observational of all the physical sciences, and astronomers rarely have the opportunity to manipulate the objects we study because they lie so far away from us. Given this limitation, how have we managed to learn so much about the universe that surrounds us? In this class, we will provide you with an overview of our understanding of the universe, with an emphasis on understanding concepts rather than memorizing facts. We'll begin in the solar system, studying the Moon, the Sun, and the planets, and learning how to trace the motions of objects through the sky. We'll explore the evolution of stars like the Sun within our own Milky Way galaxy, and then take a grand step outward and observe the multitude of other galaxies which make up the universe.

This course meets the college core science requirement within the HSU general education requirements and the CNRS college requirements. It is valued at 4.0 credits, and is a single semester in length. It addresses directly the skills outlined in the first three areas of the general education common core competencies: communications, mathematics, and laboratory sciences.

Quick Facts

Here are the basic details on communicating with your instructors, as well as information regarding your primary texts and the dates for your two exams. Be sure to read through the class policies for more details.

Instructor: Ryan Campbell
Contact: (707) 826-3251, Ryan.Campbell [at]
Office Hours:  M-F(1:00-2:00), Science A #468AI
Grader:  TBA
Textbook: Understanding Our Universe, by Stacy Palen
Lab Manual: For ASTR104, (required)
Critical Dates:   Midterm examination,Monday, October 20
Final examination, Monday, December 15,


No previous astronomy experience is required. It will be assumed that you are familiar with basic algebra, fractions, and scientific notation. There will be considerable emphasis on the physical processes believed to be operating in our universe, and the development of basic physical concepts will be a fundamental part of the course. You should have a small inexpensive calculator at your disposal (one that computes powers, roots, and trigonometric functions such as sine and cosine). A strong interest in the course material is the best prerequisite!


Performance will be judged on the basis of the homework assignments, quizzes, laboratory exercises, and exams.

Homework and quizzes     30%
Laboratory work 20%
Activity Participation 10%
Midterm examination 20%
Final examination 20%