8.282J | Spring 2006 | Undergraduate
Introduction to Astronomy


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 3 sessions / week, 1 hour / session


Topics include: planets, planet formation; stars, the Sun, “normal” stars, star formation; stellar evolution, supernovae, compact objects (white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes), plusars, binary X-ray sources; star clusters, globular and open clusters; interstellar medium, gas, dust, magnetic fields, cosmic rays; distance ladder; galaxies, normal and active galaxies, jets; gravitational lensing; large scaling structure; Newtonian cosmology, dynamical expansion and thermal history of the Universe; cosmic microwave background radiation; big-bang nucleosynthesis. No prior knowledge of astronomy is necessary.


Zeilik, Michael, and Stephen A. Gregory. Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics. 4th ed. Fort Worth, TX: Saunders College Publishing, 1997. ISBN: 9780030062285.


The course grade will be based on:

Weekly Problem Sets 20%
Two One-hour Quizzes (20% Each) 40%
Three-hour Final Exam 40%

Required Physics and Math

  1. Classical Mechanics at the 8.01 level.
  2. A few basic results from classical Electricity and Magnetism, Special Relativity, Statistical Mechanics, and Quantum Mechanics will be introduced without proof.
  3. Basic Calculus at the 18.01 level.
  4. A few elementary differential equations will be introduced - with explanation.

Optional Aspects of the Course

  1. We plan to hold a few informal observing sessions on the rooftop of an MIT building where we have some 8-inch telescopes. If there is sufficient interest we will also have a session at the Wallace Observatory in Westford, MA, where we have larger telescopes and darker skies. These sessions will begin after spring break. Any student desiring a weekly observational opportunity should consider taking 12.409 (Hands-On Astronomy: Observing Stars and Planets) as an additional course.
  2. We will provide each interested student with a simple spectrometer kit which he or she can put together in about 10 minutes. The spectrometer can be used to view spectral lines from common light sources as well as from the Sun.
  3. For those students who would like to learn something about computational astrophysics, there are a number of projects that we can provide you with.


1 Course Organization; Introduction
2 Greek Astronomy
3-4 Astronomy in the Era of Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo; Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion
5 Review of Classical Mechanics; Circular Orbits
6-7 Full Kepler Orbit Problem
8 Introduction to Electromagnetic Waves; Doppler Effect
9-10 Reflection, Refraction, and Optics
11-12 Optical, Radio, and X-Ray Telescopes
13-14 Distances and Magnitudes
15 Binary Systems
16-17 Hertzsprung-Russell Diagrams
18 Initial Mass Function; Olbert’s Paradox; Galaxy Rotation Curves
19-20 Measuring the Size and Rotation Curve of the Milky Way
21 Hydrostatic Equilibrium
22-23 Stellar Structure and Evolution
24 Nuclear Reactions in Stars
25 Star Formation; Virial Theorem
26 Fermi Pressure, White Dwarf Stars, and the Chandrasekhar Limit
27-28 Neutron Stars, Supernovae, and Black Holes
29 Cepheid Variables; Mass Transfer Binaries
30-31 Interstellar Medium
32 HII Regions; Galaxy Types
33 Masses of Galaxies and Galaxy Clusters; Distance Ladder
34 Age and Large Scale Structure of the Universe; Intergalactic Medium
35 Active Galactic Nuclei
36 Newtonian Cosmology
37 Thermal History of the Universe

Course Info
As Taught In
Spring 2006
Learning Resource Types
assignment_turned_in Problem Sets with Solutions
grading Exams