Astronomy 123


Class Discussion Page

Course Overview and Structure

This is a self-paced version of Astronomy 123 - Cosmology and the Origin of Life. The course is arranged as a series of modules with homework assignments specifically related to the content of the module. These assignments are due at specified times as shown in red in the modules below. They are meant to be an additional learning resource to the course material. Use regular email to answer to questions posed in any of the virtual lab exercises. In addition, while there is no textbook required for this class This text is quite relevant to much of the course

It is thus essential that your Web browser is able to run JAVA applets. It is highly recommended that you use either Internet Explorer 6.0 for this. If you are using an older browser, some of these interactive exercises might not work. I CAN'T EMPHASIZE THIS POINT ENOUGH. MAKE SURE THE JAVA CODE CAN RUN ON YOUR MACHINE.

As a test CLICK HERE If you can't see two digital population growth clocks then your browser is not JAVA aware and your going to need to upgrade your browser. The easiest way to do this is to go to and click the yellow button that says "Get It Now". This will also install the Web Start environment on your machine which we will use later in the course.

This course is designed to be an exploration of the process by which the Universe grows to a state of self-awareness, as defined by the emergence of intelligence which asks questions and seeks information about that very Universe. More specifically, it is a study in the evolution of ideas, based on observations, and the development of a non-unique evolutionary model that describes the origin of the Universe and the development of life. Since the model proceeds on the basis of human perception of external events, it is highly imperfect and flawed because of the intrinsic uncertainty associated with observation. Thus, we will consider the question of "How do we know, what we know?" as well as emphasizing that which we do not know. In the end we hope to arrive at a consistent evolutionary model for understanding the existence of intelligence and then explore the implications of that model in terms of the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence. In this way this course is designed to ascertain if our species qualifies as an intelligent one.

The main goals of this class are to:

  • To gain an understanding of the basic behavior of the early Universe as energy is converted to matter.

  • To appreciate the complexity of the atmospheric, geological and biologial evolution of the Earth in its effort to promote and sustain life.

  • To provide a broader framework for assessing our role in the Cosmos.



Homework is graded on a level of effort scale as the assignments are open ended (to some extent) and will allow you to research a topic at the level of depth you want to. The goal here is for you to access multiple sources of information and then synthesize a coherent point of view in responding to a particular question. The goal is here not for you to simply cut and paste information from some Web site. This will easily be detected and will detract from your grade. Each homework assignment is worth 25 points and there are 5 of them for this course. Small deductions may be made for late homework so try to get it in by the indicated due date. Homework is weighted equally with the exams in this course and its worth your time, if you want a decent grade, to do well on the homework. Preferred modes of homework submission are either a)plain text or b) a Microsoft word document. Please try to avoid using Microsoft Works .

Course grades will be given on the basis of your cumulative point total, which can be looked up via this link . The points are as follows:

  • 5 Homework assignments = 125 points
  • Midterm exam = 135 points
  • Optional Final exam = 140 points

The final is optional in the sense that if you choose not to take it, you will be given the equivalent points based on your percentage points earned on the homework + midterm. For example, suppose that your combined homework and midterm points were 70% of the total. If you opt out of the final you would then be given 98 points (e.g. 70% of 140) for your grade on the final. I have implemented this system to simplify your obtaining your target or acceptable grade for this course. Note that its probably not possible to earn an A in this course without taking the final.

The point thresholds that correspond to letter grades are as follows:

  • 350 points and above A
  • 330 - 350 A-
  • 310 - 330 B+
  • 290 - 310 B
  • 270 - 290 B-
  • 250 - 270 C+
  • 220 - 250 C
  • 180 - 220 C-

Principle Internet Resources

Module #1: Historical Models of the Universe:

Module #2: The Very Early Universe

Module #3: Structure in the Universe


Module #4: Evolution on the Earth

Module #5: Our Place in the Cosmos

Final Exam now Available