NATS 102 (The Physical Universe), Fall 2010

T/TH 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM, Steward Observatory, Room N210

Prof. Ann Zabludoff (Instructor), Mr. Alan Aversa (Teaching Assistant)

Office Phone: 626-2509 (Zabludoff), 260-8498 (Aversa)

Office Hours: T/TR 12:30 to 1:30 pm at Steward Observatory, Room T110 (Aversa) or by appointment in Room 312 (Zabludoff)


Web Page:



SPECIAL NOTE: The Writing Skills Improvement Program has designed a new special series of workshops on writing for students taking General Education courses. They are free and open to all students and will be held on Mondays from 4-5 PM (TBA) beginning September 13. Click here for more info.

This course satisfies the Natural Sciences Tier 1 requirement. We will focus on astronomy, the observational and theoretical study of objects in our Universe. This course is a broad survey intended for non-science majors and covers some of the questions that stumped astronomers of the past and that puzzle astronomers today. These questions include: What makes the Sun shine? Why are there seasons? What is dark matter? Do Black Holes exist? What is the origin of the Moon? Are we alone in the Universe? and Did the Big Bang occur? The physical principles necessary to understand why these questions are important, how astronomers have learned what they know, and what issues remain uncertain will be discussed in lecture. The emphasis of the course is on understanding, not on memorization.


No previous astronomy experience is necessary. You should be familiar with basic algebra, trigonometry, fractions, and scientific notation. The development of basic physical concepts as they relate to the detection and workings of astronomical objects will be a fundamental part of the course. A strong interest in the course material is the best prerequisite! You should have a small inexpensive calculator at your disposal (one that does powers, roots, and trigonometric functions). Please seek help when you encounter a concept that you do not understand. You are encouraged to get and to use a U of A computer account.


Your grade in this course will depend on your performance on the homework and laboratory exercises (40% in total), two in-class exams (20% in total), and the final exam (40%). Note that the final counts as two in-class exams. At the end of the term, the lower of your two in-class exam grades will be dropped. Your worst homework grade will also be discarded.

All exams are closed-note and no calculators are allowed. The in-class and final exams will consist of multiple-choice and short written answer questions. There is no course textbook -- so attend class!

Interactive Learning

For several Thursdays during the term, the class will be split into three groups of approximately 50 students each. One group will remain in the lecture room with the instructor, two groups will accompany the TA and another graduate student to other, smaller classrooms. The groups will then conduct hands-on astronomy lab exercises or a classroom debate concerning one of the topics discussed in class. Short write-ups of the labs or debates will be due as part of the homework assignment for the next week. Students will have the opportunity to work directly with the instructor and TA at least once during the semester.


Web Site

The course website includes the most recent course syllabus, schedule, lecture outlines, special announcements, and other course materials.

Check the website frequently for updates.