Course Overview

    The course will give an introductory tour of the Universe. This will be the longest, farthest journey possible: through the Universe, and back in time 14 billion years to the Big Bang.

    We will focus on modern astronomy that describes the structure of the universe. You'll learn about physics laws that drive the evolution of the Universe, and you'll also come to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. The goal is twofold:

  • Becoming familiar with the fundamental contents of the Universe (galaxies, stars, gas, radiation, and possibly dark matter); and
  • Understanding how we know what we know, or how science works.

The course is organized into three sections:

  1. Observing the Universe and Tools of Astronomy
  2. Stars: Their birth, life, and death
  3. Galaxies and Cosmology: The origin, evolution and fate of the Universe
For more details, look at the course schedule


    Course material will be explored in lectures every week, in-class quizzes, readings from the text, homework, and exams (see Requirements and grades for more details). You are encouraged to ask questions in class and during office hours. 

    The Home Page for the course is at URL You are encouraged to print out Lecture notes , which  may be updated from time to time though, and bring them with you to class to use as a guide for the lectures and a framework for any additional notes you may wish to take. Various online resources are listed for you to explore.

Observing Opportunities:

  • Thursday evenings (typically 7:30-9:30) at the Orchard Hill Observatory, courtesy of UMass graduate students in astronomy. Call 7-4166 after 7pm to check on the observing status.
  • The Amherst Area Amateur Astronomy Association runs observatory and planetarium sessions on a regular schedule. Check the AAAAA website for more details. 

Why Should I Care?

    This course will cover larger topics -- measured by mass, size, age -- you name it! -- than any other class you will ever take. This is good. The concepts are actually not hard to grasp. More importantly, you are now living in a complex, modern society where science plays an ever-increasing role. It is crucial that you understand how science and scientists actually work, since you will find yourself voting on, reading newspaper articles about, and probably using the products of scientific research every day for the rest of your life. Perhaps this course will spark a life-long interest in science; perhaps not. In any event, the thought processes and reasoning skills you develop in this semester should benefit you far more than this single undergraduate 3-credit course.


Houjun Mo
Astronomy 100