PL201, Intro Philosophy

Syllabus CRN 34468 (3 credits) Humanities

AS101, AS101D, & AS101L, Introductory Astronomy

Syllabus CRN 33978, 33979, and 33980 (4 credits) Lab  Science

A Learning Community (3+4=7 credits)

"Does the Universe have a Philosophy?"


for winter/SPRING semester January 22 through May 13, 2007
this file is at

mailto:anthony.d'  Philosophy professor Astronomy professor

Montgomery College at Takoma Park, Maryland, USA, Planet Earth, (the third major planet) around the star Sol in the Milky Way Galaxy in the Local Group in the universe where the fine-structure constant is currently approximately 7.297352533(27)x10-3
[240]-567-1463 Planetarium, attached to Science South

Class Meetings Times: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday 1-3:45PM in the Planetarium, Science South 130 at Montgomery College on the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus.

Catalogue Description: Elementary descriptive astronomy emphasizing appreciation of the earth's relationship to the universe. Information collection and data analysis techniques utilized in astronomy. Lecture discussions cover the basic laws of physics, the solar system, stars, nebulae, and galaxies; the origin and evolution of the universe; the possibility of life throughout the universe. Laboratory exercises in the use of celestial coordinates; the determination of time and position, studies of stellar photographs and spectra. Field trips to area observatories and occasional evening assignments for observation. 4 semester hours

My Description: During this course we shall look up at the stars and answer the question, twinkle twinkle little star how I wonder what you are. We will also find out where to look for what in the sky and why some things are more easily seen in certain parts of the sky than others.  We shall assemble a celestial sphere. Since almost everything we know about the cosmos comes from observing electromagnetic radiation (light), we shall spend some time studying and observing the properties of light. Many of these properties are outside everyday experience. We shall see how spectroscopes are used to break light apart by wavelengths and how different gases have unique light signatures (spectra) when excited. We shall assemble a spectroscope.  We shall assemble a simple telescope of the same quality as Galileo used in 1610 to revolutionize our understanding of the universe. We will learn how to use an ancient astronomical calculating machine called an astrolabe, the earliest personal computer. With this we can predict the position in the sky of stars and the sun. We will measure the brightness and color of an open star cluster by running a computer program that is a virtual reality. We will measure the period of the orbits of the four bright moons of Jupiter by running a computer program that is a virtual reality. We will measure the orbital period of the planet Mercury by running a computer program that simulates bouncing a radio pulse sent from a radio telescope from Earth to Mercury and back. We shall see how and with what precision distances to planets, stars, galactic star clusters, globular star clusters, galaxies, metagalaxies, and super galactic clusters are determined. We shall see how color, temperature, mass, brightness, chemical composition, and age all affect stars. We shall have fun while doing this.

Clientel: Anyone who wants to understand the bigger universe outside of this planet.

Prerequisite: Willingness to read, think, and communicate.

Course Materials

Stuff You Have to Buy at the Bookstore

  1. Philosophy the Power of Ideas 6th edition Moore and Bruder as primary philosophy text.
  2.  The Cosmic Perspective 4th edition Media update with e-book, Voyager, and Mastering Astronomy by Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, and Voit as primary astronomy text.
  3. The College Astronomy Kit by William Luzaderas the laboratory manual.  The college astronomy kit includes: besides a laboratory manual,
  4. Janus Personal Astrolabe---Modern Edition by James Morrison. This astrolabe is the best astrolabe made in the last 400 years and is an equal to the best ancient instruments. It also comes with an extensive 40 plus page manual. The Janus Personal Astrolabe first used by college students at Montgomery College at Takoma Park/Silver Spring.  All well educated people in the middle ages knew how to use astrolabes.  Of course, in the middle ages there were probably no more than a few hundred well educated people at any one time alive, now there are millions.
Course Goals


  1. That you read the assigned portions of the text and take notes that will go into your Portfolio.
  2. That you will ask questions on the text and any assignments that you didn't understand to your professors so we can discuss it in class.  If you did not understand it you can be sure that other students did not understand it either.  You will be helping other students as well as yourself by asking questions in class.
  3. That you will complete a number of astronomy labs that may be done as small group activities or solo if you wish to work alone.
  4. That you will keep your Portfolio up to date so you can use it on the astronomy exams.
  5. That you will take a number of exams in philosophy and astronomy seperately and complete some joint philosophy and astronomy projects.
  6. That you will appreciate our place in the universe and have discovered your own answer to the question of how the universe reveals knowledge and wisdom.
Grading Policies

How Your Grade is Determined in Astronomy

  1. Take three test, which will each count 10% of your total grade.  Test 1: on February 19, Test 2 (Midterm) on March 19, and Test 3 on April 13.  These three tests will count 30% of your final grade.
  2. Final test given on Monday, May 7, 2007 from 2:45-4:45PM in class, will count 30%.
  3. Participation in discussion and asking question in class will count 7%.
  4. Miniquizes at the start of class right after question time will count 3%.
  5. Laboratory exercises will 30%. Obviously these labs are very, very important!
Course Journal or Portfolio
What is your AS101 Electronic Portfolio?

Montgomery College has a policy of encouraging writing across all curricula.  The AS101 Electronic Portfolio a written record of your AS101 study and learning. Keeping this electronic portfolio will help you learn astronomy and keeping a portfolio in any class will help you understand and remember the course material. It will also help you get a substantially higher grade in the course. It will consist of several parts. Your portfolio will be organized in chapters similar to the chapters in the book and it will have the following subsections in each chapter.  If you are still "old school" or not yet prosperous and do not own a laptop or palm computer you may want to make you AS101 Portfolio on paper in a 3 ring binder.  Many students in past semesters have made an A using 3 ring binders.   Some students have made an A with their AS101 portfolio on a laptop.  You may even take the exams midterm and final on your laptop or on paper the way most people still do.  I write the test as a Microsoft Word file. USB keys, diskettes, zip disks, and wireless Internet connections are all possible ways of getting the test on your machine in the planetarium. One student has made an A with his electronic portfolio on a Siemens SX-56 pocket pc phone.  I think he did the writing on a regular laptop and just downloaded the files in Word to his phone.  He did take the midterm and final on paper, though.  I am technologically savvy and opened to creative students figuring out other possibilities, too.  Spiral bound notebooks are not suitable as AS101 portfolio, because you can not rearrange things!

1. Notes in outline form of the chapter. You should also include questions in here about things that you didn't understand when you read the text. These questions you will ask me in our threaded discussions.  I like to answer questions. Make me happy. Everything, definitions and all, should be expressed in your own words. You need to make astronomy real to yourself. Writing about it will help you do this. You have to organize your thoughts to write about them. Write as you read, please. Do not read an entire chapter in the text before summarizing it. Summarize subsections before going on to the next subsection.  If you have never studied this way before, please start doing it this way.  You will lean more, remember more, and understand more.  You will even work less for the same letter grade!

2. Vocabulary words defined in your own words. Most of the vocabulary words will be in bold face type the first time they are used in the text.  Do not copy the definition out of the glossary. I will consider that plagiarism.  You may want to look in the glossary to see if you have captured the essence of the word. For you to really understand the meaning of astronomy's words and terms you must express it in your own words--have faith in your own expression.  Your expression of a definition will be better for you when done right than Dr. Seeds (the textbook author) definition in the glossary, which is after all best for him not you; but it can be used as a  check to see if you have got it approximately right.

3. Laboratory exercises that you do. Always make a copy of your labs before you email me a copy.

4. A recapitulation or synthesis of all of the important ideas summarized  in the chapter. You do this only after items 1--3 are finished. You should use this to study for test taking.

Besides items 1--4, which are done on each chapter in the text, the journal will contain laboratory exercises from The College Astronomy Kit, and all other labs like the CLEA, Contemporary Exercises in Astronomy, that you will install and run on your computer.   But you don't own a computer, don't worry, all of the CLEA labs that we will do are installed on computers in the Math/Science Learning Center in Science North. The Math/Science Learning Center is opened 6 days a week!  Some of the most interesting things we will do all semester will be in these laboratory exercises done on a computer.

Remember this is ultimately a portfolio for you. You can use your AS101 portfolio on the tests! This means that my test do not require you to memorize crap that you will forget at the end of the class. This does mean that I can ask you really hard questions on the final exam like: "Compare and contrast the atmospheres of  Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars."  To answer this question you have to know the composition (what is in the atmosphere, they are not all the same) and the pressure and temperature of each of these four planet's atmospheres.  Who remembers details like that?  I don't, (and I have spent more than half a lifetime studying this stuff) but I know how to use it when it is in a clear table that I wrote or you wrote in an AS101 portfolio.  This is real science, not just memorizing temporarily a few cute facts that will soon be forgotten.  It should be clear and neat enough so that not only another student can understand what you are doing, but that you can understand what you did when you look at it ten years from now.  A follow up question based upon the previous question is: What three properties of a planet and what two physical laws make a planets atmosphere
Portfolio Resources:
763 web pages from the Horizons by Michael Seeds
HTML and PPT files from Horizons by Michael Seeds
PowerPoint Lectures from a former text 9th edition Horizons: Exploring the Universe by Michael Seeds modified by your  instructor
Even though we have changed text these previous resouces from the old text are fine.
New PowerPoint Lectures from your current text now password protected as the textbook publisher requires LINK.

What this course is not:

This course is not Introductory Astrophysics, that is a three hundred level course that you could take at the University of Maryland at College Park as a Junior.   This course is Introductory Astronomy a one hundred level course designed for nonphysical science majors.  Physical Science majors and mathematicians may take the course, but it may not count in their curriculum at a transfer school for your B.S. degree.  It does count at Montgomery College as a transferable lab science in the Natural Sciences Distribution for you AA degree, Associates of Arts.  In fact, it will count at the University of Maryland and all other in state public universities to satisfy your general studies distribution lab science and at many private colleges even out of state.  If you are transferring to Harvard in physics, you probably should talk to a Harvard councilor, as this course may not transfer or if it does it will not transfer as Introductory Astrophysics, because that is not what this course is.   But what you learn in this course, if you transfer to Harvard as physics major, will help you understand that junior level course at Harvard that is Introductory Astrophysics, or the same course at the University of Maryland at College Park.  In fact, you will be able to do better than all of those other Harvard juniors who have not had Introductory Astronomy, really!

 Mathematics requirements in AS101 are modest, the student must be able to add, subtract, multiple, and divide and substitute numbers into a simple formula.  No algebra is required to make an A in the course, students do not have to know how to solve for an unknown variable in a simple linear equation like Ax+B=C. If students are given the formula x=(C-B)/A in some astrophysical context and are given A=2, C=9, and B=5, they should be able to calculate that x=2Get out a calculator right now and see if  you can do this.  Hey, I bet you can do this even without a calculator.  Looks like you have the ability to make and A in this course if you do the work!  AS101 students will have to use a scientific calculator on three CLEA, Contemporary Laboratory Exercises in Astronomy,  lab projects to add, subtract, multiple, and divide.  There is a  TI scientific calculator chained down in the Math/Science Learning Center in Science North Room 100 in case you forgot to bring your calculator when you need it.  I know, I put it there several years ago, and I occasionally change the batteries so it continues to work.  On tests AS101 students will not have to do arithmetic more complicated than to multiple an integer time itself four time, like 3^4=3•3•3•3=81 (for Wien’s law, how much brighter is one star than another star if it is three times hotter in absolute temperature and the same physical size?), or to calculate a simple reciprocal like 1/(1/3)=3 (for understanding how to calculate parallax distances from arc seconds into distance in parsecs, what is the distance in parsecs if the parallax of a star is observed to be 1/3 of an arc second?).  Any physical principles (physics) that they need to understand the material in AS101 are taught in the course.  Physics is  not a prerequisite, so knowing some physics before you take the course is not  required to make an A.  Of course if  you know some  physics  it will not  hurt you either.   You  will  actually learn  a  little  physics  in  a fun  non threatening  way  in  AS101.

AS101 students need to be able to read a text book with some understanding, and to be bold enough to ask questions in class about anything they did not understand in the text; or to have a friend in the class who is bold enough to ask the question for them.  Students are not required to memorize crap, portfolios with notes the student have written, with diagrams and graphs from the text that the student deems important,  vocabulary words defined by the student, and completed labs may be used on the tests.  The portfolio may be in a bound form like a three ring binder and written by hand or typed; or it may be on a computer organized by chapter in the text organized by the student.  Portfolios are part of the writing across the curriculum taken seriously in AS101.  Students with all types of the afore mentioned portfolios have gotten As in the class, since they have answered the questions on the exam mostly correctly.  The questions on the exam are not always simple identifications of crap easily memorized and forgotten the next term.  "Education is a permanent alteration in behavior" and this course alters behavior of successful students, which is the majority of the class.  Not reading the text always leads to failure as the instructor does not read the text to students, but expects them to read the assigned portions before coming to class; and to have understood it before the exams, which does take some time.   Some exam questions require a few sentences to answer or a labeled diagram to be sketched.  No great artistry in diagrams is required and spelling and grammar are not graded as long as the instructor can understand the sentence or phrase. 

This course can be great fun for anyone who wants to understand something about where and when and how they fit into the larger universe.  Artist, accounting majors, business majors, computer science and computer application majors, history majors, future teachers (AAT=Associate Arts in Teaching), and practically any other type of person can do well in this course if they study some and try and figure things out with the help of their fellow students and the professor some things about the way the universe works.  Studying in groups is encouraged, but not mandated.  The CLEA lab projects may be done in groups as large as three persons using a computer in the Math Science Learning Center, but don't let your partner do all of the work, or they will understand everything about the lab, and you will not, and you will make a low grade, and your partner will make a high grade.  

Schedule of Textbook Reading Assignments, extra reading assignments, laboratory assignments, and tests

Class Schedule time line

Reading Assignment
Lecture Resource
Power Point Presentations and/or Streaming Videos

Week 1
Jan. 22, 24, 26
Ch.1  Our Place in the Universe & Ch. 2 Discovering the Universe for Yourself
1. The Scale of the Cosmos 
2. The Sky
  • What Sign of the Zodiac are you really? 
  • Scale of the Cosmos 
Week 2
Jan.  29, 31, & Feb. 2
Ch. 3 The Science of Astronomy & Ch. S1 Celestial Timekeeping and Navigation
3. Cycles of the Sky 
4. The Origin of Astronomy
What Sign Are You Really?
Sighting Protractor
Small Angle Formula
Astronomical Coordinate Sytstems
Latitude and Longitude on the Earth
The Celestial Sphere Lab ExerciseCelestial Sphere: Lab Quiz activity done on WebCT.
Install CLEA software labs on your computer if you have one.
  • Cycles in the Sky 
  • Eclipses 
  • Other Occultations 
  • Origins of Astronomy 
  • Newtonian Gravity 
Week 3
Feb. 5, 7, 9
Ch. 4 Making Sense of the Universe, Understanding Motion, Energy, and Gravity &
Ch. 5 Light and Matter Reading Messages from the Cosmos
CLEA Lab "Moons of Jupiter" done on a computer the executable.Understanding Astronomical Coordinate Systems  Using the Celestial Sphere: Lab Quiz activity done on WebCT. Four Different Astronomical Coordinate Systems.

Week 4
Feb. 12, 14, 16
Ch. 6 Telescopes Portals of Discovery
Assemble the Telescope and Spectroscope and turn in telescopic and spectroscopic observations..  All Labs up to this point should be turned in before the first TEST.

Week 5
Feb. 19, 21, 23
Ch. 7 Our Plantary System & Ch. 8 Formation of the Solar System
Take Test1: Realm of Geometry and the Physical Laws on Feb. . 19, covering Ch. 1-6.  CLEA Lab "Radar Rotation of Mercury: what you turn in"
PowerPoint presentation on Mercury Lab done on a computer the executable.   The CLEA Lab "Radar Rotation of Mercury" should be truned in  before the Midterm

Week 6
Feb. 26, 28, Mar. 2
Ch. 9 Planetary Geology: Earth and the  Other Terrestrial Worlds & Ch. 10 PlanetaryAtmosphers: Earth and the Other Terrestrial Worlds

Week 7
Mar. 5, 7, 9
Ch. 11 Jovian Planet Systems & Ch. 12  Remnants of rock and Ice: Asteroids, Comets, and the Kuiper Belt & Ch. 13 Other Planetary Systems: The New Science of Distant Worlds

Week 8
Mar. 19, 21, 23
Ch. S2 Space and Time & Ch.  S3 Spacetime and Gravity & Ch. S4 Building Blocks of the Universe

Take Midterm exam Test 2: Mar. 19, covering Ch. 1-13

Week 9
Mar. 26, 28, 30
Ch. 14 Our Star & Ch. 15 Surveying the Stars & Ch. 16 Star Birth
CLEA Lab, "Photometry of the Pleiades" done on a computer the executable.  This CLEA Lab "Photometry of the Pleiades" need to be turned in before the next exam.

Week 10
Apr. 2, 4, 6
Ch. 17  Star Stuff  &  Ch.  18  The Bizarre Stellar Graveyard 
Getting better with astrolabes.

Week 11
Apr. 9, 11, 13
Ch. 19 Our Galaxy & Ch. 20 Galaxies and the Foundation of Modern Cosmology & Ch. 21 Galaxy Evolution
Finishing up astrolabes
Take Test 3: April, 13 covering Ch. 1-19 & Astrolabes

Week 12
Apr. 16, 18, 20
Ch. 22 Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Fate of the  Universe & Ch. 23 The Beginning of Time

Week 13
Apr. 23, 25, 27
Ch. 24 Life in the Universe

Week 14
Apr. 30, May 2, 4

 Finish up any lab not already done,  because you will be tested over it on the final exam!

Week 15
Final Exam Week

Take Astronomy Final exam Test 4: Realm of the Universe on Monday, May 7 at 2:45PM.
Take Philosophy Final Exam on Wednesday, May 9 at 12:30PM.

Extra Credit Opportunities
The Washington Metro area is currently the naval of the planet earth (the capital of the only remaining superpower) and is culturally and scientifically one of the richest places. Write at least one page (around 250 words) about what you learned during an astronomy lecture or a clear night viewing through a telescope at an observatory. Please draw a sketch of anything that you saw though a telescope. Send me a copy, but keep one for yourself as it belongs in your journal.

Power Point Presentations done by the four AS101HM students in the winter/Spring 2005 class!

Math Science Learning Center at Takoma Park/Silver Spring, SN101
As you may need some assistance in understanding some labs and as three labs are done on the computer the Math Science Learning Center, MSLC, in Science North Room 101 has the computer astronomy labs already installed on at least 20 computers.  There is also a "Learning Technologies" assembled celestial sphere, assembled telescope, and assembled spectroscope and other helpful aids in the MSLC to help you study for the exams and to do the labs.  For MSLC hours see  The MSLC hours will most likely be Monday through Thursday: 8:30am-7:00 pm, Friday: 8:30 am - 3:00 pm, Saturday: 10:00 am-4:00 pm, and Sunday: closed.  Check the web for possible changes in hours of operation.  Nice computers and nice people, but do not expect them to know enough astronomy particularly the details of the CLEA labs to help you do more than find the icon to click on the computer.  Be courteous and be finished before they close and have to tell you to leave.  They have a life to just like you.

Student Technology Center, ST304
Another computer lab that has computers for you to do the CLEA labs on.  They are even open on Sundays on the third floor of the new Student Services building. Monday through Thrusday 8am-10pm, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday: 8am-5pm.  Nice computers and nice people, but do not expect them to know enough astronomy particularly the details of the CLEA labs to help you do more than find the icon to click on the computer.  Be courteous and be finished before they close and have to tell you to leave.  They have a life to just like you.

Changed last on January 9, 2007 at 11:38AM by Dr. Harold Alden Williams.