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.

We offer two flavors of survey course: 100 and 107. ASTR 107 includes a laboratory and is the place to start if you wish to major in astronomy or astrophysics; it is the more mathematically-intensive course, and involves more physics.  ASTR 100 is mostly taken by junior and senior nonmajors. 

ASTR 100 Life in the Universe

This course investigates the origin of life on the 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 the Earth and the development of life, changes in the sun that affect the 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. Our exploration of our place in the Universe will include some nighttime observing at our on-campus observatory. This course is a good starting place for nonmajors or those without strong high school preparation in physical sciences. Satisfies NPS requirement.

Astronomy 108 DarkroomASTR 107 Exploring the Cosmos: Introductory Astronomy w/Lab

This course provides an overview of the Universe through the lens of the physical principles that help us to probe it from right here on our puny planetary perch. Topics include stars and their planetary companions, the lives and deaths of stars, black holes, galaxies, and the origin and fate of the Universe. Regularly-scheduled weekly daytime laboratories cover both naked-eye astronomy (e.g., the motions of the Sun and stars) and techniques of modern astronomy (e.g., digital imagery). Additional required nighttime sessions (scheduled according to the weather) guide students through their own observations of the sky with both naked eyes and the historic and modern telescopes of Whitin Observatory. This course serves as a gateway to more advanced courses in our astronomy curriculum, and is a good starting place for those interested in refining their ability to solve physics-based problems using mathematical reasoning. Open only to first year and sophomore students. Satisfies NPS, MM, and Lab requirements.

ARTH/ASTR 112 (FYS) The Art of Science since the Scientific Revolution

How have the visual arts advanced the sciences? And how, in turn, have artistic representations been informed by scientific knowledge? This seminar examines the intersection of art and science as it relates to astronomy, cartography, botany, and anatomy, among several other fields, from the scientific revolution to the present day.  Additionally, we will consider how scientific observations have been visually classified and described through images and data visualization. Along with readings and class discussion, we will make extensive use of rare illustrated manuscripts in the Special Collections department, take several field trips to art and science collections in the Boston area, and perform our own experiments (and looking through telescopes!) to investigate the technologies that have historically facilitated the close correspondence between the visual arts and scientific discovery. (This is a First-Year Seminar (FYS) offered in Fall 2019 only.) Satisfies NPS requirement.