CHS/CCU Astronomy Syllabus

Astronomy Syllabus

PHY 209 Astronomy I – 4 CCU credit hours (1 DCSD science credit)


COURSE DESCRIPTION: The intent of this course is to give the student a brief survey of astronomy with an emphasis on origins, constellations and identification thereof, and space exploration. Lesser topics include but are not limited to the history of astronomy, astronomers of past and present, the solar system and beyond. Includes lab.


CLASS LOCATION AND TIMES: This class meets during either period 1 or 2, Monday through Friday in room 207 at Chaparral High School.


DUAL CREDIT OPTION: Colorado Christian University (CCU) Enrollment. All courses cost $200 (this includes one transcript). The Fall semester registration deadline is October 15th. The Spring semester registration deadline is February 28th. CCU registration will take place online and Ms. Purcell is your Counseling representative.  Students must receive a C or better (72.50%) to earn college credit for the class. This course will award 4 college credits. The last day to drop this class with no grade shown on your CCU transcript and no cost to you is October 15 (Fall) or February 28 (Spring). The last day to withdraw from this class (not refund) with a “W” on your transcript is November 1 (Fall) or March 21 (Spring). After that date you will receive the grade determined by the points you have accumulated and that grade will appear on your transcript. (CCU link for official information and FAQs, as it may change)


INSTRUCTOR: Scott Babcock


OFFICE HOURS: Tuesday and Thursday (3:15-3:45 pm) in room 515U, and during Homeroom in room 515U. I am often called into meetings so please make an appointment to be sure I will be there.


COMMUNICATION: My DCSD email is I will answer all of those emails within 48 hours. Be sure your school email account ( is set up and either check it daily or have it forwarded to a personal email that gets to you right away.


REQUIRED TEXTS: Astronomy: The Evolving Universe by Michael Zeilik, 9th edition. You may purchase the textbook through Amazon or any other book retailer.  You may purchase new, used or rent the textbook.  I recommend having your own edition of the textbook so that you may mark it up with notes.


REQUIRED MATERIALS: Internet access. This course relies heavily on online content and homework. You will need to have a reliable internet connection. If you do not use the internet outside of school, please feel free to use the school’s computers.


RECOMMENDED: “Astronomy” or “Sky and Telescope” magazine


ATTENDANCE – In order to benefit from your educational experience you must attend class. I will take roll every class and follow DCSD policies regarding late and unexcused (UNX) absences.


WORK REQUIREMENTS – All work must be done on standard size, clean-edged paper. Try to write as if you would like me to understand, i.e. clear and legible using standard English. Use full sentences whenever possible for conceptual questions and show all work for computational problems. Your full name should appear at the top right. If there is more than one page it is to be stapled at the top left (no binders, paper clips or folds). Work turned in without meeting these specifications will be returned to you for resubmission.


CLASSROOM BEHAVIOR -Students are expected to conduct themselves in class in accordance with the accepted standards of behavior set forth by the CHS and DCSD policies as set forth in your CHS student handbook and me. I may take away any number of your daily participation points  or require you to leave a class, either temporarily or on a permanent basis if your behavior is such that it interferes with my ability to teach or other students’ ability to learn. Specific activities which may result in your losing points or expulsion include but are not limited to:

  1. Abusive language or harassment of anyone.
  2. Bringing food, candy or gum to class.
  3. Interruption of class by leaving your seat.
  4. Using any electronic device; cell phone, smart phone,  pager, iPod, computer, etc. unless specifically instructed to do so for class purposes.


ACADEMIC INTEGRITY – CHS and CCU is committed to academic honesty and scholarly integrity. All members of the College community are expected and encouraged to contribute to such an environment by observing all accepted principles of academic honesty. Academic dishonesty includes but is not limited to: plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, grade tampering, misuse of computers and other electronic technology, and facilitating academic dishonesty. Plagiarism is the act of claiming credit for knowledge which is not your own. This is a common mistake made by many students and you will be trained on how to avoid the problem. Those found in violation of the academic integrity policy may be subject to disciplinary actions up to and including a grade of zero for the particular assignment, temporary removal from the class with the loss of all daily points, assignment of a final grade of “F” for the class and more serious sanctions under the DCSD code of conduct and CCU Code of Conduct.


TEAM TASKS – You will be working on teams with 4 or 5 people for several Team Tasks. These will often require a power point presentation and you will contribute to the images as well the presentations. These tasks will be given due dates listed in the Schedule. The dates in the Schedule are tentative and may have to be adjusted. If you are late or absent and miss the presentation for any reason you may receive a partial grade for the assignment. Missing these activities could reduce your total possible points for this work and have an effect on your final grade. Your team is a very valuable support system. In addition to the required tasks, you are encouraged to do your homework with your team, study with the team and generally help each other. You are, of course, responsible for your own work. Do not copy from anyone, even a fellow team member. That is a serious Academic Integrity offense and can result in disciplinary action as explained above.


GRADES – Quarter grades are calculated as follows:

  • 60% tests and quizzes
  • 40% daily homework

The semester grade is calculated as: Quarter 1 and Quarter 2 grades are worth 80% and the final exam is worth 20%.

Grading scale:

  • A: 90-100%
  • B: 80-89%
  • C: 70-79%
  • D: 60-69%

Extra credit = up to 4% for star-party attendance (2% for each attendance). One star watch per semester will be scheduled, weather permitting.


DUE DATE POLICY – All assignments are assigned a due date. Work turned within five school days late will have a maximum score of 70 percent.  If you have an excused absence on the day of a lab, quiz, or exam, you need to DO the lab or take the quiz/exam (Chaparral Testing Center – 424L) within five school days of the date of the activity. Turn your work in early to avoid penalties!


TEST DATES – Exam dates will be announced at least one week in advance. Any dates announced prior to that are to be treated as tentative. Due to unforeseen circumstances or special events an exam may have to be rescheduled.


EXAMS – Exams consist of true/false, multiple choice, photo recognition, calculation, and essay. The questions are derived from both the material covered in class, as well as the material covered in the text (with much overlap). You cannot score well on these exams unless you have thoroughly read the assigned textbook sections AND attended lecture periods. Either one by itself will not earn you a good test score. You must have both! If there is material in the text which you do not understand, then you are encouraged to ask about it in class. Otherwise you may not find out how important it is until you take the exam.


This is a broad outline of the class. We may not cover these topics in this exact order or in equal amounts of detail. Additional, supplemental topics may also be introduced.

  1. Discovering the Universe (Weeks 1-3)
  • Astronomy vs. Astrology
  • The motions of the Moon and the Sun
    • Ecliptic & Zodiac Constellations
    • Phases of the Moon
  • The motion of the visible planets
    • Prograde
    • Retrograde
  • The Celestial Sphere
    • Right Ascension and Declination
    • Poles, Equator, etc.
    • Motion Stars
  • The Calendar and the Seasons
    • Equinoxes and Solstices
  1. Clockwork Universe (Weeks 4-6)
  • Pre-Copernican
    • Ptolemy
  • Copernicus, Galileo, Brahe, Kepler, and Newton
    • Universal Law of Gravitation
    • Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion
    • Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion
  • Parallax
  • Constellations & Identification
  1. Telescopes (Weeks 7 & 8)
  • Geometrical Optics
    • Light Gathering Power
    • Magnification
  • Refracting Telescopes
    • Refraction
    • Aberration – Spherical & Chromatic
  • Reflecting Telescopes
    • Newtonian, Cassegrain, & Primary Focus
    • Adaptive Optics
  • Space Telescopes
    • Hubble, Chandra, etc.
  • Introduction to Light
    • Electromagnetic Spectrum – in terms of type, energy, frequency, & wavelength
    • Spectroscopy

Midterm #1 – Units 1-3

  1. Formation of the Solar System (Weeks 9 – 11)
  • Structure
  • Scale of Solar System
  • Properties
  • Cosmogony or Formation
    • Solar Nebula Theory

5 & 6. The Planets – Terrestrials & Jovians (Weeks 12-15)

  • Physical Properties
    • Mass, Radius, gravity, density, escape velocity, rotational & orbital periods, etc
  • Interior Structure
    • Composition
  • Surface Features
  • Atmospheres
    • Composition
  • Satellites and Rings
    • Formation and Composition
  • The Moon – Luna
    • Origin of the Moon
    • The Structure of the Moon
    • The Apollo Findings

Midterm #2 – Units 4-6 are covered

  1. The Sun – Sol (Weeks 16-18)
  • Composition
    • Layers, Surface Features, & Atmosphere
  • Energy Production
    • Fusion reaction and energy release
    • E=mc2
  • Solar Activity
    • Differential Rotation
    • Solar Cycle
    • Sunspots, Solar Flares, & Coronal Mass Ejections
  1. Dwarf Planets & Minor Bodies of the Solar System *content is mixed in throughout other units (i.e. Formation of the Solar System & Planets units), but more depth is achieved as time permits
  • Dwarf Planets
  • Belts of the Solar System
    • Asteroid Belt, Kuiper Belt, & Oort Cloud
  • Comets
  • Asteroids
  • Meteoroids

Comprehensive Final Exam – All units


Discovering the Universe (Weeks 1-3)

  • Describe the differences between Astronomy and Astrology
  • Describe the daily motions of the sun, moon, planets, and stars relative to the horizon.
  • Describe the seasonal positions of the sun – at sunrise, noon, and sunset – relative to the horizon.
  • Describe the motions of the sun, moon, and planets relative to the stars of the zodiac.
  • Understand the astronomical conditions necessary for solar and lunar eclipses.
  • Define the ecliptic and tell how to find its approximate position in the sky.
  • Describe the essential aspects of a scientific model and evaluate cosmological models in the context of scientific model making.

Clockwork Universe (Weeks 4-6)

  • Describe the difference between a sun-centered model and an earth-centered one with respect to annual stellar parallax.
  • List the assumptions and arguments that Copernicus used to support his model and refute the Ptolemaic one.
  • Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Copernican model compared to the Ptolemaic one.
  • Describe the important geometric properties of ellipses and apply these to planetary orbits.
  • State Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion and apply them to appropriate astronomical situations.

Telescopes (Weeks 7 & 8)

  • Outline the main functions of a telescope (light-gathering power, resolution, and magnifying power) and relate each to a telescope’s design.
  • Compare and contrast reflecting and refracting telescopes; include a sketch of the optical layout of each in your comparison.
  • Compare a radio telescope to an optical telescope in terms of functions, design, and use.
  • Cite a key drawback of a radio telescope compared with an optical telescope.
  • Describe what is meant by the term invisible astronomy.
  • Contrast an infrared telescope to an optical telescope in terms of functions, design, and use.
  • Discuss at least two important advantages a space telescope in earth orbit has over a ground-based telescope.

Formation of the Solar System (Weeks 9-11)

  • Identify at least two dynamic and two chemical properties of the solar system that any model of origin must explain. Describe briefly the chemical condensation model.
  • Describe the concepts of angular momentum and the conservation of angular momentum. Know how this relates to accretion disks.
  • Describe the role of accretion in the formation and initial heating of the planets and the role of impacts in the subsequent intense bombardment early in the solar system’s life.
  • Describe the process of cratering of planetary surfaces and tell how craters can be used to infer the relative ages of the surfaces.
  • Present the unique characteristics of Pluto that make it neither a Jovian nor a terrestrial planet.

Terrestrial Planets (Weeks 12 & 13)

  • Describe the process of cratering of planetary surfaces and tell how craters can be used to infer the relative ages of the surfaces.
  • Compare and contrast the geology of the four terrestrial planets.
  • Compare and contrast the weather systems of the four terrestrial planets.
  • List the major surface features on each planet and describe how they were formed.
  • Understand the roles of cratering, volcanism, and tectonics in the shaping of the planets’ surfaces.
  • Apply the concept of the greenhouse effect to the atmospheres of Earth and Venus.

Jovian Planets (Weeks 14 & 15)

  • Compare and contrast the Jovian planets as a group to the terrestrial planets
  • Contrast the Jovian planets to each other in terms of density, atmosphere, and unique features.
  • Understand ring formation and compare the Jovian rings system to each other.
  • Compare and contrast the general characteristics of the major Jovian moons.

Sun (Weeks 16-18)

  • Describe the composition of the Sun.
  • Describe how energy is produced by the Sun and it’s flow outward to us.
  • Describe the effects of differential rotation on Sun’s appearance and behavior.

Laboratories & Activities

  • Zodiac Investigation – students research their zodialogical sign, report attributes, and discuss how well the attributes pertain to them. The purpose is to establish a clear deviation between Astrology and Astronomy
  • Constellation Activity – students research and orally report on a constellation, including the appearance, location, mythology, etc
  • Nighttime Observations – constellation location and identification.
  • Scaling Activity – Scale the solar system (actual and fictitious) to random lengths, as well as a football field
  • Retrograde Motion Lab – students graph data for the location of Mars during a prograde-retrograde-prograde cycle
  • Moon on a Stick – students use lights to simulate the Sun, their head as Earth, and a styrofoam ball on a stick as the moon. Used to observe the motion and resulting phases of the moon.
  • Orbits I – physical comparison of circular and elliptical orbits, using string to draw orbits to identify what ellipses are and what are foci.
  • Orbits II – students observe Kepler’s Laws of Planetary Motion by using a Phet orbit simulator
  • Spectral Analysis – identification of elements using spectroscopy.


To acknowledge that you have read and understood the terms and conditions of the CHS/CCU Astronomy syllabus, click here.