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Undergraduate Course Descriptions

Courses Requiring High School Math Through Geometry

Astronomy 101: The Solar System and the Search for a new Earth

This course presents an introduction to the field of astronomy and astrophysics with an emphasis on the discoveries from space exploration. The first third of the course deals with understanding the history of astronomy, orbits, gravitation, optics, and the properties of light and matter. The rest of the course explores the properties, origin, and evolution of the major planets, asteroids, comets, the Sun, and other components of the Solar System with particular emphasis on comparative aspects with respect to the Earth. The origin and formation of the Solar System and the origin of life will also be discussed. This course is intended for non-science concentrators with a basic high school math and science background.

No credit for those who have completed or are enrolled in 115. (4 credits; NS, BS, QR/2*)

Astronomy 102: Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe

Discover the nature of stars, black holes, luminous nebulae, supernovae, galaxies, and other cosmic phenomena. In this concept-focused course you will learn what these objects are, how they formed, and what is ultimately in store for the universe. Explore the roles of light, energy, and gravity in astronomy.

No credit for those who have completed or are enrolled in 201 or 220. (4 credits; NS, BS, QR/2)

Astronomy 104: Alien Skies: A Tour Through the Universe

In this course, we shall be “traveling” through space and time to “visit” firsthand some of the remarkable features of our Universe. Our “spacecraft” will be built from our imagination, but its destinations will reflect what astronomy and physics have revealed about the nature of our Universe. We will see the Solar System from different planets, look back at the Sun from neighboring stars, and travel throughout our home Galaxy even as we prepare to embark to distant galaxies and beyond. As we travel extremely far from home, we will find that we also have to move back in time to see how the galaxies, stars, the Sun, and the Earth came about in the first place. The physical concepts that we require to understand what we see will be introduced as we go along, and some of these will be used many times during the course. Online notes will be available during the course of the term, though students may use any number of standard modern Astronomy textbooks to supplement these notes and the class lectures.

(3 credits; NS, BS, QR/2)

Astronomy 105: The Cosmos Through the Constellation

Tour the constellations visible this season, and explore topics in both basic and frontier astronomy by examining notable astronomical phenomena associated with these star patterns. We will explore: what these objects are; how they formed; and the roles of light, energy, and gravity. This course also relates mythology linked to the origin of the constellations and discusses celestial cartography. Includes lectures and discussion sessions; discussions meet weekly in planetarium.

(3 credits; NS, BS, QR/2)

Astronomy 106: Aliens

This mini-course discusses the on-going search for extra-terrestrial life.

  • Does ET exist?
  • Has he/she/it visited Earth?
  • Do we want to try to communicate and should we?

In this course, we will discuss the on-going search for extra-terrestrial life. We will place a strong focus on the scientific hurdles that lie in our understanding the development of life and for its potential evolution towards interstellar travel and communication. The framework of the course will be based upon the Drake Equation, first posed to estimate the total number of intelligent civilizations that might exist in the Galaxy at a given time. Thus we will take a census of the potential for life beyond Earth through an exploration of our own solar system. We will then survey beyond our own star system to the exciting search for “extra-solar” planets and their biological potential. We will end with a group activity where students and professors will try to estimate how many ET civilizations might exist and then move on to discuss our future potential to travel to the stars.

(1 credit mini-course; No credit granted to those who have completed or are enrolled in Astro 115; NS, BS)

Astronomy 107: The Dark Side of the Universe

We explore the dark components of the universe - those that we cannot directly see with our eyes - including Dark Energy, Dark Matter, and Black Holes. We find out how scientists infer their existence and measure their properties from observations of the visible parts of our Universe.

(1 credit; NS, BS) No credit granted to those who have completed or are enrolled in ASTRO 102, 104, 142, or 201.

Astronomy 115: Introductory Astrobiology

This course covers one of the most exciting areas of modern astronomy: understanding our own origins and the search for life elsewhere. First, we survey our understanding of life's origin on the Earth. Second, we apply this knowledge by exploring our own solar system and asking what planets or moons could potentially harbor life. Third, we move beyond our star system to outline the search for other planets in the Galaxy, speculate on the existence of life in the Universe, and consider the possibility of star travel sometime in the future.

No credit for those who have completed or are enrolled in 101. (3 credits; NS, BS, QR/2)

Astronomy 127: Naked Eye Astronomy

Students learn about the nature of the most common astronomical objects that can be observed by eye, such as the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, comets, and meteors. The motion of these objects in the sky is studied along with their influence on the Earth.

Meets two hours/week for half the semester.

No credit for those who have completed or are enrolled in 105. (1 credit mini-course; NS, BS)

Astronomy 142: From the Big Bang to the Milky Way

This course will trace our progress in understanding the nature of the Universe from the early Greeks to today, with emphasis on our current understanding based on Einstein's relativity. The Big Bang Theory will be presented and origin of matter will be traced from the formation of atoms, to the formation of the first stars, to the build-up of galaxies such as the Milky Way. Dark energy and the ultimate fate of the universe will also be discussed in the context of the recent results from space satellites concerning the cosmic microwave background radiation that fills the universe and the large scale distribution of galaxies that form the cosmic web

No credit for those who have completed or are enrolled in Astro 102, 104, or 201; or Physics 112. (3 credits; NS, BS, QR/2)

Astronomy 182: Interdisciplinary Topics in Astronomy

How do science and science fiction help to shape our ideas about who we are, the function of our bodies, our relation to the nonhuman, our place to the universe, and our engagements with the environment? To what extent are works of science fiction anchored in real science, and what are the implications of their divergences from the scientifically possible? This course will give students the opportunity to explore these questions in an interdisciplinary context.

Since its emergence, science fiction has encouraged us to imagine possible futures toward which technological innovation might lead. The genre, initially given shape by Romantic critiques of Enlightenment thinking, has helped us to explore the imaginative possibilities enabled by science and the ethical implications of new technologies. This course shares the attitudes of exploration and critique embodied by its double subject matter.

In this class, students will learn about the history of science fiction and will track historical trends and movements within the genre as they relate to the history of science and to concepts and problems in contemporary science. Students will also study how science fiction has brought into everyday language terms and tropes derived from the discourse of science—black holes and wormholes, warp speed and hyperspace, cloning and cryogenics, teleportation and terra-forming, cyborgs and androids, hive minds and the multiverse. The class gives students the opportunity to investigate the scientific roots and meanings of such concepts, while looking at the ways that these ideas are elucidated and challenged in science fiction, and considering how science fiction explores their ethical and practical implications.

(3 Credits; ID)

For Students with More Math and Science Background

Astronomy 183: Introduction to Space Weather

“Space weather” is an emerging discipline of space science that studies the conditions in space that impact society and Earth’s technological systems. Space weather is a consequence of the behavior of the sun, the nature of Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, and our location in the solar system.

(3 credits; NS, BS)

Astronomy 201: Introduction to Astrophysics

Discover the extraordinary nature of astronomy, e.g. stars, black holes, galaxies, dark matter, and the universe. This course uncovers the astrophysics behind the most important and common astronomical phenomena in our universe. A major topic is stars and their lives, which can end violently through supernova explosions, leaving behind black holes or neutron stars. This is followed by the study of the Milky Way and its content, other galaxies, and how unseen "dark" matter shapes the universe we see today. We conclude with the origin of the universe and the limitations of looking back in time.

Advisory Prerequisites: high-school calculus and physics or Math 115 plus prior or current enrollment in Physics 140. (4 credits; NS, BS, QR/1)

Astronomy 204 / Earth 204 / AOSS 204: The Planets – Their Geology and Climates

  • Examines the structure, composition, and evolutionary history of the surfaces and atmospheres of the planets and their satellites.
  • Special emphasis on comparative aspects of geology and climatology.

Prerequisites: high-school math through plane geometry and trigonometry. Those with credit for Earth 113 may only elect Astro 204 for 2 credits. (3 credits; NS)

Astronomy 205: Exploring the X-Ray Universe

  • Since the 1970s X-ray telescopes have revealed a high-energy universe including solar flares, black holes and supernovae, and active galaxies and clusters.
  • Introduces the history, observational techniques, and underlying physics of X-ray emission and propagation.
  • Explores the stellar, galactic, and cosmic sites probed by this radiation.

Prerequisites: Math 115 plus any 100-level Astro or 200-level Physics course. (3 credits; NS, BS, QR/1)

Astronomy 206: Black Holes: The Triumph of Gravity

Black holes are among the most fascinating concepts in Astronomy. A natural prediction of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, they can be described as a gravitational singularity inducing infinite curvature into the fabric of space-time. Thus, the relation between time and space gets warped near these objects, generating some of the strangest phenomena in the universe. Although black holes do not emit light directly, their presence can be inferred via extreme effects on their environment. Paradoxically, black holes turn out to be the brightest sources of radiation across the entire universe. Even more surprisingly, black holes can convert infalling matter into bipolar jets that accelerate up to a substantial fraction of the speed of light. In turn, these jets can profoundly alter the properties of the black hole environment on large scales. Supermassive black holes are thought to play a crucial role regulating the evolution and overall properties of their host galaxies – akin to an object the size of a coin dictating the growth of a city the size of Detroit. This class addresses the most basic questions about the nature of black holes, their formation, observational appearance and ultimate fate.

Prerequisites: PHYSICS 135, 139, 140, or 160. (3 credits; NS, BS, QR/1)

Astronomy 210: The Universe Through the Eyes of Magellan

  • U-M is a major partner in the Magellan Observatory, which consists of two 6.5-meter diameter telescopes at the Las Campanas Observatory in Northern Chile.
  • Provides a detailed look at this unique and powerful tool for studying the universe and the science being carried out here by U-M researchers.

Prerequisites: Astro 101, 102, 201, or any 300- or 400- level Astro course. (3 credits; NS, QR/2)

Astronomy 220: New Discoveries in Astronomy

This is a topics course centered on professional visitors hosted by the weekly Astronomy Department Colloquium Series. Each week, a different invited speaker visits the class and gives a simplified, 15-minute talk about his/her research. The students will have time for questions and discussion with the visitor. There will be both preparatory and follow-up discussion before and after the visit so that students gain a complete understanding of the context, motivation, methodology, and scientific discoveries associated with each project presented. Theoretical uncertainties and experimental limits will also be discussed. In summary, students in this course will essentially participate in a real colloquium experience, but at a slower pace compared to the faculty experience. The Astronomy Department Colloquium series is traditionally on Thursday afternoon, and the classes must be scheduled to coincide on the same day as the Colloquium Series.

Prerequisites: Any one of: PHYSICS 112, ASTRO 101, 102, 104, 105, 115, 142, or 201. May take 220 followed by 420 for up to six credits. (3 credits; NS, BS, QR/2)

Astronomy 261 / NAVSCI 301: Navigation

The purpose of this course is to educate students in all aspects of marine navigation, from getting a vessel underway from port through open ocean navigation using both celestial and electronic means. The content of the course is divided into three major areas. The first section focuses on piloting, emphasizing the safe navigation of vessels in coastal waters. This section provides an introduction to navigational instruments and aids to navigation. The second section concerns celestial navigation, the ability to determine position through observation of celestial bodies. Students learn how to determine position based on the use of the sextant and various almanacs and mathematical tables. The third section of the course considers electronic navigation.

(3 credits; BS)

Astronomy 300/HIST 300: The Beginning and The End-A History of Cosmology

  • Addresses the development of modern cosmology, both observational and theoretical, since the late eighteenth century.

(3 credits; ID)

Astronomy 301 / HIST 301: Discovery of the Universe

  • Covers the growth of our knowledge of the history, present structure, and future of the universe as astronomers, physicists, and mathematicians have uncovered it in the last four or five generations.

(3 credits; ID)

Astronomy 305: Astronomy in the Community

  • Experiential course in which students gain experience in education and public outreach by organizing and participating in activities such as astronomy open houses, telescope viewing, planetarium shows, tutoring, and peer coaching.
  • Students work with faculty and staff, while expanding their own understanding of astronomy and learning to communicate scientific principles and discoveries to the public.

Prerequisites: 3 credits of Astro and instructor’s permission. May be repeated for credit. (1-3 credits)

Astronomy 361: Astronomical Techniques

  • Topics include astronomical instrumentation, techniques for obtaining observational data, and data reduction and analysis.
  • Emphasis on astrometry, photometry, radio astronomy, interferometry and spectroscopy.
  • One lecture and four hours of laboratory work weekly.

Prerequisites: ASTRO 201 and one of SI 106, EECS 183, PHYSICS 160/161, or an equivalent python programming experience approved by the Astronomy department advisor. (4 credits; BS)

Astronomy 389: Independent Studies in Astronomy

Individual reading and study in astronomy under instructor’s guidance.

Requires instructor’s permission. May be repeated for credit. (1-3 credits)

Astronomy 399: Introduction to Research

For students in astronomy who are prepared to undertake a limited research project under the guidance of a member of the staff of the Department of Astronomy. Open to qualified students in other departments subject to approval by concentration advisors and members of the staff of the Department of Astronomy.

Requires instructor’s permission. May be repeated for credit. Continuing Course. Y grade can be reported at end of the first term to indicate work in progress. At the end of the second term, the final grade is posted for both terms. (1-3 credits)

Astronomy 401: Exoplanets

"Exoplanets" are planets found outside of our Solar System, orbiting stars other than the Sun. This course gives an overview of exoplanet science: the physics underlying topics within planet discovery and characterization; major and recent scientific results; and how these findings put our Solar System in context with and inform astrobiology.

Prerequisites: MATH 215, 255 or 285, and prior or concurrent enrollment in PHYSICS 340 or PHYSICS 360, or graduate standing. (3 credits; BS)

Astronomy 402: Stellar Astrophysics

This course examines the appearance, structure, and evolution of stars. We examine the basic physical processes that cause stars to have their observed structures; a study of the energy generation through nucleosynthesis; the basic physical laws that lead to the structure of stars; the transfer of radiation through the outer parts of the star; how spectroscopic information informs us as to the composition and motion of stars; and an in-depth look at the late stages of stellar evolution and stellar death.

Prerequisites: Math 215, 255, or 285 plus prior or current enrollment in Physics 340 or 360 or graduate standing. (3 credits)

Astronomy 403: Astrophysics of the Interstellar Medium

  • Explores the interstellar medium (the gas between stars) — a wide variety of material that interacts closely, and often violently, with individual stars and the host galaxy.
  • Examines underlying atomic and molecular physics, including how gas is ionized by hot stars and supernova remnants.
  • Includes analysis of the cold atomic and molecular gas in the galaxy — how it often lies in spiral arms and why giant molecular clouds are the most active sites of star formation.
  • Highlights recent discoveries.

Prerequisites: Math 216 plus prior or current enrollment in Physics 340 and 390, or instructor’s permission. (3 credits)

Astronomy 404: Galaxies and the Universe

  • Examines the properties of galaxies, large-scale structure in the universe, and cosmological models. The basic aspects of galaxies are explained, orbital theory, spiral arms, the missing mass in galaxies, galaxy evolution, and the starburst phenomenon. The clustering of galaxies, the hot intracluster medium and the dynamical evolution of clusters. Expansion of the universe, the cosmic microwave background, the inflationary universe, Big Bang nucleosynthesis, and the origin and growth of structure in the universe.

Prerequisites: Math 215, 255, or 285 plus prior or current enrollment in Physics 340 and 390; or graduate standing. (3 credits)

Astronomy 405: High-Energy Astrophysics

  • Examines the underlying astrophysics of violent astronomical phenomena that produce energetic particles under exotic circumstances.
  • Covers high-energy radiation processes and basic fluid mechanics. The physics are applied to accretion onto black holes and other compact objects and the astronomical phenomena that result.
  • Includes study of supernovae, the origin of X-ray and Gamma-ray background radiation fields, Gamma-ray bursts, and cosmic rays.

Prerequisites: Math 216 plus prior or current enrollment in Physics340 and 390; or instructor’s permission. (3 credits)

Astronomy 406: Computational Astrophysics

Computational Astrophysics develops practical working knowledge of the numerical methods most widely used in current research. For each method we briefly discuss the underlying theory and then put it into practice by coding and using numerical routines for specific research applications. All coding is done in python, using interactive IPython notebooks. We first cover most common scientific methods, such as interpolation, integration, differentiation, and statistical description of data. We then study in depth data modeling and parameter fitting, using both maximum likelihood and Bayesian methods. For a particularly common task of linear regression, we compare these direct methods with Markov Chain Monte Carlo sampling. We apply various machine learning methods to analyze and classify complex datasets. We also consider illustrative examples of solving systems of ordinary and partial differential equations. The course concludes with student projects, where these methods are used for real-life research applications. 

Advisory Prerequisites: Math 216, 256, or 286, plus prior or current enrollment in Physics 235, 240, or260, and some knowledge of programming; or instructor’s permission. (3 credits)

Astronomy 420: New Discoveries in Astronomy for Advanced Students

  • Advanced version of Astro 220.
  • Presents the latest discoveries in astronomy by leading scientists from around the country.
  • Weekly guest speakers discuss their research in an accessible way. Students have the opportunity to probe both the visitor and instructor.
  • Includes both preparatory and follow-up discussion so students gain a complete understanding of each presentation’s motivation, methodology, and significance in the context of the professional scientific literature.

Prerequisites: Astro 201 plus Physics 140 or equivalent. May take 220 followed by 420 for up to six credits. (3 credits)

Astronomy 429: Scientific Writing and Communication in Astronomy

  • Students are taught approaches for writing abstracts, papers, proposals, meeting posters, policy documents, as well as oral presentation techniques. This procedure includes analyzing the audience and purpose for the writing, selecting and organizing material, constructing an argument, and preparing and editing the text itself. There is a strong emphasis on practice in both writing and oral communications.
  • Course satisfies upper level writing requirement for the Department of Astronomy. 

Prerequisites: Astro 201, or department permission. (3 credits)

Astronomy 461: Ground-Based Observatories

  • Immersion course that takes place in residence at Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona.
  • Discusses the scientific, technical, and political aspects of ground-based research observatories.
  • Students study a variety of instrumentation and telescope properties, and use MDM telescopes to carry out science projects.
  • Course examines observatories in the context of their natural and sociopolitical environment, and their relationship to local communities.

Please apply with the Department to enroll. Astro 461 is offered in the Spring of odd-numbered years (2017). Prerequisite: Astro 201; Advisory Prerequisite: Astro 361. (3 credits)

*Fulfills the following requirements: NS = Natural Sciences;
BS = Bachelor of Science; QR/1 or 2 = Quantitative Reasoning 1 or 2; ID = Interdisciplinary

For more information, see the LSA course catalog. You can check for open sections using wolverineaccess.