Choosing a First Course

Choosing a First Course in Astronomy

All of our introductory courses are open to any student who has passed the Basic Skills component of the QR requirement. Neither high school physics nor calculus is required. Students who might pursue a major or minor should elect the laboratory along with the course. Astronomy labs are held at night.

The following introductory courses are offered every semester and may be taken in any order:

ASTR 100 Life in the Universe

This course investigates the origin of life on Earth and the prospects for finding life elsewhere in the cosmos, and begins with an overview of Earth's place in the solar system and the universe. The course examines the early history of Earth and the development of life, changes in the Sun that affect Earth, characteristics of the other objects in our solar system and their potential for supporting life, the detection of planets around stars other than the Sun, and the search for extraterrestrial life. Satisfies NPS requirement.

Astronomy 108 Darkroom

ASTR 101 Introduction to Stars, Galaxies and Cosmology

This course examines the life stories of stars, from birth in clouds of gas and dust, through placid middle age, to violent explosive demise, leaving white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes. It also explores the makeup and structure of galaxies, which contain billions of stars and are racing away from each other as part of the overall expansion of the universe. Finally, it presents modern cosmological models for the origin and ultimate fate of the universe. The course emphasizes the interaction of observations and the mathematical models developed from these data. Satisfies MM or NPS requirements.

Astronomy 101 LabASTR 102 satisfies the laboratory requirement.

The Astronomy Laboratory must be taken in conjunction with ASTR 100 or 101.  The weekly hands-on astronomy laboratory introduces visual observing and astronomical imaging, including both historical (visual, film astrophotography, darkroom) and modern (electronic imaging) equipment and techniques.

ASTR 103 The Story of Mars (FYS)

This First Year Seminar may be offered in the Fall of 2015.  Students will learn about Mars through the history of the science that mapped its surface and revealed its remote watery past.  We'll consider the early debate about a doomed Martian civilization, and the state of knowledge about Mars at the dawn of the space age.  Then we'll examine the picture of the red planet that emerged through the golden era of space exploration (1960s-1970s), through to the recent findings by rovers Opportunity, Spirit, and Curiosity.  In parallel, we'll read and discuss popular notions of Mars in science fiction literature, from the fantasy stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs to the hard science fiction of Kim Stanley-Robinson.  Students will learn about how science works from exploring how the modern portrait of Mars was pieced together.

First Year Seminars from past years include:

ASTR 104/PHIL 104 Stars and the Sages: Philosophy and the Cosmos

The quintessential transdisiplinary introduction to a liberal arts education. Satisfies Epistemology requirement.

ASTR 107 Extrasolar Planet Research with Laboratory

Intended for science majors. Use our telescopes for real research.

ASTR 108 Discovering Our Universe with Laboratory

Intended for students from all disciplines. A project-based course that includes use of our telescopes.

See the main curriculum page for a complete list of courses and descriptions.

To ensure a safe environment for astronomy work at Whitin, the driveway and circle to the Observatory are closed to all motor vehicles from sunset until sunrise.Make sure that you attend the first class meeting of a subject which you intend to take, or hope to take if space is available. Generally speaking, registered or not, attending the first class meeting of the semester is required in order to be able to take the class.


Contact Us

Contact Us

Wellesley College Astronomy Department
Whitin Observatory 
Wellesley College
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481

Tel: 781.283.2726 
Fax (in Science Center Office): 781.283.3642


Non-lab observing notices will be posted here.