Course Introduction – Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTR 210)

Athabasca University’s Centre for Science has expanded its Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics with a new introductory course on the subject. This course, titled Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASTR 210), provides students with a ?general overview of everything in the universe, from a science student’s point of view,? says course coordinator and developer of AU’s Geophysical Observatory, Martin Connors. ASTR 210 also features an exciting home-lab component, carefully designed to give students night sky simulations despite non-traditional lab delivery. As well, the cover photos on ASTR 210 materials are straight from AU’s geophysical observatory!

ASTR 210 contains five units, each of which discusses a different galaxy phenomenon. The course opens with unit 1 discussing our relationship to the cosmos over the centuries. Then, students are introduced to the ?tools of the astronomer,? with emphasis on mathematical formulas. Dr. Connors indicated that ASTR 210 uses ?more sophisticated math than ASTR 205,? another AU astronomy course, which is for students wishing more generalized knowledge of the universe. The next three units in ASTR 210 outline the solar system, planets, and known galaxies. This part of the course is Dr. Connor’s favourite. ?Despite its not being my own research specialty,? he explained, ?I find this part . . . very interesting.?

A three-credit course in the sciences, ASTR 210 does not have any prerequisites. However, taking the combination of ASTR 205 and the new ASTR 210 is equivalent to the ?six credits of introductory astronomy at many outside institutions,? indicated Dr. Connors.

Unique to ASTR 210 is its lab component. Most first-level astronomy courses in traditional university settings have an associated lab component, and Athabasca University’s ASTR 210 course is no exception. Dr. Connors indicated that ASTR 210’s lab component, which consists of detailed labs, enables students to gain astronomy lab credits while studying independently. ?In many [traditional university] astronomy courses,? he remarked, ?the lab is a visit to the university telescope. We cannot easily do that,? he continued, ?. . . so we give quite detailed lab exercises.? AU’s home labs use sophisticated planetarium software that simulates the large telescope experience of night-sky viewing for students, giving them an experience similar to taking the course and associated lab component from a traditional institution.

Course coordinator Martin Connors is the Canada Research Chair in space science, instrumentation, and networking. He has broad space-related research interests, recently developing the AUGO, AU’s Geophysical Observatory, which enables visualization of auroras and ?other sky phenomena.? Although he has tutored AU courses in the past, his current interest lies in developing senior-level astronomy courses for the Centre for Science.

ASTR 210 course grades are determined through five quizzes, worth 3% each; five lab exercises (worth either 5% or 10% each, depending on the exercise); and a final exam, weighted at 40%.

For more information, visit the course syllabus.

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