ASTRO 2201       The History of the Universe       Spring 2018
Lecture #1     --     TR 10:10-11:25     --     SSB 105     --     Dr. Chatterjee

Professor: Shami Chatterjee 524 Space Sci 255-0612; sc99 Office hours: Tue Wed 2-3 PM;
other times by appointment
T.A: Cristóbal Armaza 619 Space Sci ca455 Office hours in SSB 111:
Mon 1-3 PM, Fri 1-2 PM
other times by appointment

Email:     We can be reached via electronic mail to or, for example, to arrange appointments at other times.

Web Site:   See to find useful information, the assignments, etc., especially since we're not going to be passing them out.

Course content:   A general discussion of our relation to the physical universe and a survey of the fundamental issues of modern astrophysics. Four themes are covered over the course of the semester: (1) our view of the heavens from ancient times to the modern age, (2) how astronomers explore the cosmos, (3) the nature of black holes and evidence for them, and (4) the origin, evolution and fate of the universe. The course is designed for non-scientists who are intrigued about astronomy, cosmology and how the universe works.

Prerequisites:   Curiosity about the universe, how it works and how we know that.

Assignments:   This course is being taught under the John S. Knight Writing in the Majors Program. Most of the graded assignments will be in the form of short essays and papers as well as regular contributions to the required portfolio. The emphasis will be on verbal, rather than mathematical, description of scientific subjects. No formal writing instruction will be given in class, but individualized comments on the organization, content and style of your writing, especially as it illuminates your understanding of the subject, will be given. You are also encouraged to use the Knight Institute Writing Centers tutorial service.

Assignments will include:

  1. 4 short papers (300-500 words each);
  2. 2 longer essays (700-1000 words);
  3. 5 short assignments, of which only 4 are required; if 5 are turned in, the lowest grade of the 5 will be dropped (similar to in-class activities); and
  4. A final paper (~1200 words).
In addition, students are required to keep a portfolio of their ideas, questions and work, including all in-class activities and assignments; be sure to bring your portfolio to class with you. There is no final exam; the final paper is due by on the date to be assigned by the University (stay tuned for the date).

What's fair and what's not:   Each student in this course is expected to abide by the Cornell University Code of Academic Integrity; check it out. Any work submitted by a student in this course for academic credit will be the student's own work or by clearly declared collaborative work, as per the assignment. And remember, most sources found on the web are not scholarly (if not simply unreliable!), so be judicious in your use of citations to web sites; note also that journalists get fired for plagiarism! If you have any questions about collaborating with other students, citation of sources or similar issues, ask us.

Grading policy:   The final grades will be based on a weighted combination of the writing assignments and class activities/participation:
  1. Short papers: 4 x 5% = 20%,
  2. Longer essays: 2 x 10% = 20%,
  3. Assignments: Best 4 x 5% = 20%,
  4. Final paper: 20%,
  5. Portfolio: 20%.
Work handed in late will be penalized in proportion to their lateness (10% of the grade will be deducted for each day of delay in submission) except in emergencies or for important reasons for which alternative arrangements are made at least 24 hours in advance. Because of the nature of the course, attendance is required (in-class activities cannot be made up!) and will be considered in assigning the final grade.

Readings:   Regular reading assignments will be made in the textbook "Discovering the Cosmos" (Second Edition) by Robert C. Bless. A copy is on reserve in the Math Library located in Malott Hall. Note: We use the 2013 edition; an older 1995 version is grossly out of date; our understanding of the history of the universe is very different from our understanding 20 years ago!

Note: Astro 2201 is NOT a freshman writing seminar and it does NOT count towards the A&S HA-AS distribution requirement. But is does count towards the A&S PBS requirement!