ASTR 10, Descriptive Astronomy (V0076)
Spring Semester, 2004
Instructor: Dr. Korpela

Welcome to Astronomy 10!

This course provides an introductory look at the past, present, and future of the universe and its contents: stars, planets, galaxies, and we humans who seek to understand them. Astronomy has repeatedly challenged human thought, from the Copernican revolution to the recent discovery that the universe may be not only expanding, but also accelerating. Spacecraft have visited all of the planets except Pluto, and powerful telescopes take us even farther out in space and back in time. Through this course, I hope that you will gain some sense of the excitement that astronomers feel when they study the sky. Before long, you will be able to amaze your friends with the real story on black holes, the Big Bang, and the search for extraterrestrial life.

COURSE GOALS: Gain an appreciation of our place in the universe, and encourage a sense of awe about the night sky as well as topics in modern astrophysics. Understand what science is and is not, with particular attention to the scientific method as it applies to astronomy. Develop critical thinking and reasoning skills that can be applied to popular science literature.

Contact Info


Important Announcements:


If you haven't been to the website before now, an introduction to its important features can be found in the notes for the first lectures, in the Archive of Administrative Notes. As I said in class, those that can download materials from this site should do so, in order to save on photocopying (and the weight of what I carry!).

The Sky:

Details on Upcoming Dates:

Homework #3 is due Mar 18.

Upcoming exams:

Last Thursday Night's Lecture:

Find out what the goals of last night's lecture were in the What Was Important notes. Some more details are found below.

The lecture notes for this section may be found here (powerpoint) or here (html).

Last week, the lecture covered the ways that planetary surfaces have changed over time. We began with a presentation on Giant Impacts in the Solar System. Notice the various evidence for previous impacts of various sizes, on Earth and elsewhere in the Solar System. We discussed the consequences of a large impact, and the matching evidence that indicates such an impact occurred at the approximately the same time as the dinosaur extinction. We also talked out how often such impacts are expected to occur, whether we'd see it coming, and what we could do if we did.

We then discussed other forces that shape the planets. Many of these forces are driven by heat flow and convection. Convection in the Earth's mantle moves the continents and creates mountains. Convection in the atmosphere creates winds and powers storms that wears down mountains. Convection in the oceans creates ocean currents that transport heat from the equatorial regions towards the poles. He also discussed how the water cycle is related to atmospheric convection.

Finally, we talked about the carbonate-silicate cycle, and how it helps to maintain the temperature of the earth at a comfortable level. He also discussed how this cycle failed on Venus, which resulted in a run-away greenhouse effect. He also describe how it is possible for the cycles to fail in another way to cause a planet to freeze.


You may have trouble parking some Thursdays because of the basketball games. Men's games create the most difficulty The schedule for CAL sports may be found here.

If you don't yet have the text, much of the material required for Homework #1 is contained in the handouts, and the remainder can be found in the (different) online textbook at

If you are a little confused, don't panic. It is not my intention to fail students who attend the classes and seriously work on all the homeworks and assignments


This website will be invaluable during this course. Detailed announcements about the course will be posted throughout the semester. If you're interested in the flavour of the course, explore the FUN STUFF below! General information and expectations are available in the Course Syllabus and Policies (see below). You should also note the guideline expected study times contained in Hints on How to Succeed in a College Class.

Course Syllabus


Click the Reload Button on each page for The Latest Updates

TEXT will be The Essential Cosmic Perspective, 2nd College Edition, by Bennett et al.
This should be available from Ned's Campus Textbook Exchange on Bancroft Avenue. You may find a better bargain on line at or


Homework Assignments


Weekly "What Was Important"

In-Class Exercises

Archive of Administrative Notes

Sky and Telescope's Observing Page

Web Resources for Each Chapter

Local Astronomy

Vista Home Page


In addition to the FUN STUFF section below:

Here's a neat online version of The Powers of 10 to remind you of the awesome vastness of space!

Good and Bad Astronomy in Movies Includes "Signs" and "Men In Black II" among others.

If you're interested in the search for planets around other stars, try going here.

The exciting Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence! For more information on the SETI projects, go to the SETI at UC Berkeley website .


Bad Astronomy in the Media (News, Movies, TV!)

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Universe Today (Current Space News from the Internet)

Astronomy Cafe (Website for the Astronomically Disadvantaged)

Take a Virtual Voyage Through the Milky Way

Exploratorium Home Page

Morrison Planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences

NASA Home Page

This page was last updated on Address questions or comments to