Berkeley Astronomy 7A: Syllabus

Astronomy 7A

Introduction to Astrophysics

Fall 2012

Instructor: Eugene Chiang
Office: Hearst Field Annex D29B
Phone: 701-5996 (email is preferable)
E-mail: echiang{at}

Class Time and Place:  Tue/Thur 12:30-2:00 in 160 Kroeber

Graduate Student Instructors:
Discussion Sections:

Office Hours:

TALC = The Astronomy Learning Center:  This is a large, collaborative "office hour" where students work on their homework assignments in an informal, group setting.  TALC is staffed by GSIs who serve as guides, rather than tutors, in helping students with their homework problems. In addition to supervised group work, students may discuss difficulties in their conceptual understanding of lecture and reading topics with their peers and the GSIs.

TALC is held Wed 5-7 PM in 264 Evans starting Wed Aug 29.

Historically, students who attend TALC regularly do better in the course. However, it is crucial that you actively participate in TALC, and not just copy or passively absorb the answers to HW questions from others. Towards this end, you must start the HW problems before you come to TALC.

Class Home Page:

Homeworks, solutions and other course material will be posted on the website regularly.

Text: Choose one (or both) of the following:

Optional Text:
  • THE PHYSICAL UNIVERSE by Shu: Less mathematical than CO, though often conceptually more difficult. Portions are elegantly written. On sale at campus bookstore and Ned's. Also on reserve at Physics Library (1 day loan).

Class Overview:   This course provides an introduction to astrophysics,
                                emphasizing the application of basic physics to the
                                understanding of astronomical objects. We treat
                                astronomical measurements; the interaction of matter with radiation;
                                orbital dynamics; and thermodynamics. We conclude with stars:
                                their formation, structure, and evolution. We also study
                                how stars "die" and are transformed into compact objects:
                                white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes.

                            Lecture topics (see below) will follow some of the text by RP and CO,
                            but will sometimes diverge. The presentation will differ
                            from the textbook.

Prerequisites:    Physics 7A & 7B (7B may be taken concurrently). 
                            This course uses calculus, vectors, and scientific
                            notation (10nx10m=10m+n). If you think you would
                            prefer a less mathematical introduction to astronomy,
                            consider taking Astro 10.

FIELD TRIP:   There will be a field trip on SUNDAY SEP 23 to Lick Observatory on nearby Mt. Hamilton.  This facility contains a number of telescopes used by UC astronomers in their research, including a 3m diameter telescope and a fully robotic telescope.  PLEASE EMAIL NICK AND EVE IF YOU CAN PROVIDE TRANSPORTATION TO MOUNT HAMILTON!


  • Homework:  40%
  • 2 Midterms:  15% each
  • Final:  30%
The Astronomy Department's Policy on Academic Misconduct is here.

Homework is due at 11:30 am Thursday starting Aug 30. It should be placed in the special boxes inside Hearst Field Annex Building B, in the front office (walk to your left upon entering). The boxes will be marked Astro 7A with the appropriate sections. Do not place your homework in any of the other boxes which are for Astro 10. The homework will be picked up by the grader soon after 11:30 am Thursday. Late homework will not be accepted.

Write your name and section (and date & time) on each homework and please staple your sheets together.

Please start the homework questions yourself, independently of other students.
If, after serious effort, you remain unsure of how to proceed, you are welcome to discuss the homework with classmates or instructors. Under all circumstances, the answers must be written up individually.

If you miss an exam you will receive zero credit for that portion of the course grade.  No make-up exams will be given.  If you miss the final exam for a good and well-documented reason, your grade will be an Incomplete.

Exam Dates (midterms are held in class unless otherwise noted):

  • Midterm #1: Thursday Oct 4
  • Midterm #2: Thursday Nov 8
  • Final: Friday Dec. 14, 8:00-11:00 am, 160 Kroeber
  • You will be given a "cheat sheet" containing equations and physical constants for the exams
Please let one of the instructors know immediately if you cannot attend one of the exams.

Course Topics:

  • Introduction to Astronomy:  a Tour from the Solar System to the Universe at Large; Orders of Magnitude; Units
  • Essential Physics: Gravity, Mechanics, & Light (RP Ch. 3, 5-6; CO Ch. 1-6)
  • Measuring Masses: Binary Stars and Extrasolar Planets (RP Ch. 12, 13; CO Ch. 7, 23)
  • Overview of a Star: The Sun (RP Ch. 7; CO Ch. 11)
  • The Atmospheres and Spectra of Stars (RP Ch. 14; CO Ch. 8 & 9)
  • The Interiors of Stars (RP Ch. 15; CO Ch. 10)
  • Star Formation (RP Ch. 17; CO Ch. 12)
  • Stellar Evolution (RP Ch. 17-18; CO Ch. 13 & 15)
  • Stellar Death and the Birth of Compact Objects (RP Ch. 18; CO Ch. 16-18)
Note:  Not all of the material in each of the assigned chapters can or will be covered in lecture. Nevertheless you are responsible for all of the assigned readings.  They may prove useful for the homework problems.
Last modified: Tue Aug 21 13:32:34 PDT 2012