Astronomy 1L (Lab Class) Information
Astronomy Laboratory Syllabus
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     I recommend that the first time you read this, you read the whole syllabus, in order. Later on, if you are interested in checking a particular part of the syllabus, you can use the link table immediately below to jump to the desired topic.
Contact Information Textbook Information Course Content Pass / NoPass Grading
Auditing Recording Lectures Class Structure Classroom Behavior
Attendance Reinstatement Tools and Materials Graded Work
Withdrawals Incompletes Semester Grades Posting Grades

     The material below assumes that you are taking this class because (for whatever reason) you need to receive a passing grade and credit for the class. If you are only taking the class because you would like to learn more about astronomy, and don't care whether you pass the class, you can ignore most of what follows; but you will get more out of the class if you pay attention to the study suggestions on this and other pages of this website.

My Fiction
     I recently started writing fiction, and have published a collection of short stories (Short Shorts), and two novels, the historical romance Two Pigs and a Chicken,its sequel, The Maiden All Forlorn, and its sequel/companion, An Unsuitable Suit. None of these, nor any of the other novels and short stories I am working on, have anything to do with this class, so I will not discuss them in class save during a break, when I am willing to answer questions about almost any topic; but when there is news about one of my works, it is noted on this site for the benefit of those who are interested in such news. If you enjoy reading fiction, you may find such notes interesting, but otherwise you can safely ignore them, as they will not affect this class or your grade in any way.

Business Cards
     Business cards are available to help you find my website, or contact me. They are in business card holders at either end of the operator console in D326, on the table near the entry to the room, and at the bottom of the astronomy bulletin board opposite D326. You are welcome to take cards for yourself, or for acquaintances you think might be interested in them. An example of the most recent version of the cards is shown below (there is also an older version, which only shows my email address).
Courtney Seligman's astronomy business card Erindale Publishing's business card, showing the Erindale Liger, Kat's Bane
The astronomy (left) and publishing (right) sides of my business card

Textbooks and Web Pages
      The text for this course is the Peterson Field Guide, Stars and Planets by Jay Pasachoff. You can get the book in the ASB Bookstore, or order it online (click on the cover images to order online); but no matter where you get it, be sure to get the current edition of this book (the star to the right of the title should say "PLUTO FLYBY INCLUDED"). Older versions do NOT include current information.. Unlike some classes, where you might be able to borrow someone else's book, you will have to have your very own copy of the text no later than the fourth week of the semester, and your grade will suffer if you do not have an up-to-date copy of your own by that time. You must bring your copy of this book to every class, as I will be referring to it at almost every class meeting, and on every exam or pop quiz. There are also a substantial number of web pages explaining how to do the major projects. These should be read as thoroughly as if they were printed handouts.
      A critical task for this class is to learn how to identify stars and constellations, and The Stars by H. A. Rey provides an easy to understand introduction to the sky that many people prefer to the presentation in the required text. It is not a required text, and you do not need to bring it to class unless you have a question about its content; but I occasionally use illustrations from the book in class, so it wouldn't hurt to take a look at it and decide whether you need the extra instruction that it provides. Please note that even if you find it easier to use The Stars to learn how to identify the stars and constellations, there will be an exam near the end of the semester that will require you to use Stars and Planets for at least part of the exam; so that book is truly required, even if you buy a copy of the supplement.
Cover of Stars and Planets Cover of The Stars
Left above, the required text, "Stars and Planets"; right above, the supplementary text, "The Stars".
The current edition of "Stars and Planets" says "Pluto Flyby Included"
(Click on either cover for the latest edition of that book)
     Most recent editions of "The Stars" have a defect on page 516, in which the Greek-letter names (or "Bayer designations") of the stars, which should be shown at far left when the page is rotated so that the text reads properly, are replaced by empty vertical rectangles. The image below shows a correct version of the page from an earlier edition.
Corrected version of page 516 of 'Stars and Planets'
Course Content & Student Learning Outcomes
      This course covers traditional and observational astronomy, including the appearance and motions of the sky, the Sun, the Moon, and the planets. Unlike the lecture course, which is concerned with the physical characteristics of astronomical objects, this course is concerned with the appearance of things, and with methods and tools of observation.
      When taken in conjunction with the Astronomy 1 lecture class, this course satisfies a lab science requirement. If taken by itself, it provides two units towards graduation, but does not satisfy a science requirement. Some students think that since there is an hour of lecture at the start of the lab class, the lab class alone can satisfy the lab science requirement. That is wrong. To satisfy the lab science requirement, you have to take both classes. However, since there is only a slight overlap in the material covered in the two courses, they do not have to be taken during the same semester. The lecture class is offered throughout the year, but the lab course is only offered during the Spring and Fall semesters. For more information about the relationship between the two courses, refer to
General Course Information.
     The following Student Learning Outcomes are part of the current Astronomy 1L Course Outline. Students who successfully complete the course should be able to (1) use diagrams, tables, and models of celestial motions to predict the present and future locations of celestial objects; in particular, (2) use tables and diagrams to predict the position and appearance of the Moon at various dates and times; and to some extent, (3) estimate the probable validity of media reports of scientific news, in terms of the evidence used to support those reports. As in all things, how well a given student accomplishes these goals depends upon how they apply themselves during the course, and how often they use the skills after completing it; but most students who pass the class gain enough appreciation for and understanding of the material involved to change the way they look at the sky for the rest of their lives.

Pass/NoPass Grading
     This course may be taken on a pass/nopass (P/NP) basis; in fact, for most students, that is the most appropriate way to take the class.
     To take the class P/NP, go to Administration and fill out the appropriate paperwork on or before the deadline to do so. If you file for P/NP grading, a C-minus or better grade is recorded as a Pass and provides 2 units credit for taking the class, while a D-plus or worse grade is recorded as a NoPass and provides no credit for taking the class; either way, the grade does not affect your GPA. P/NP grades should be transferable to all other colleges with the same GPA basis (or lack thereof) as at LBCC.

     Although auditing classes is allowed in theory, it is strongly discouraged for budgetary reasons (namely, the school receives no state funds for auditors). I therefore do not allow students to officially audit my classes, and you MUST register for the class if you want to attend class meetings. However, you can effectively audit the class by registering for it, then withdrawing shortly before the drop deadline. You would end up with a W (Withdrawn) "grade" for the class, but for most purposes that is the same as if you never took it in the first place.

Registering for the Class
     You must be officially enrolled in the class to receive a grade or credit for the class. Any work received from a student who is not officially registered and listed on the class rollbook after the registration deadline will be discarded without being graded.

Recording Lectures vs. Taking Notes
     Students who are busy taking detailed class notes often miss what I am currently saying while writing down what I said a minute or two ago, and as a result, lose their place in the discussion. In addition, during lectures (particularly planetarium presentations) the room is partially or totally darkened, so taking notes is difficult or impossible. I therefore recommend that you take only the briefest of notes, and flesh them out from memory afterwards, or use a small tape or digital recorder to record the lectures, so you can pay full attention during class. Anyone registered for my class is hereby given permission to record my lectures, providing they make no commercial use of the recordings or their content. (You may make copies of tapes and sell them to other students at your cost, but if you make any profit you will owe me a royalty.) I do not want a forest of recorders on the operator console, or people forgetting to retrieve their recorders, so if you record the lectures, you must do so from your seat.
     If you have a laptop computer, you may use it to take notes during normal lectures; but as noted under Classroom Behavior (below), during full-dome planetarium presentations all computers and cell phones must be turned off or closed, as the light from their screens lights up the dome, and is distracting to other students.

Class Structure / Study Habits
      We will always meet in the classroom (D326), but on most clear nights we will spend part of the evening outdoors, so ALWAYS WEAR OR BRING WARM CLOTHING. Although we always meet in the classroom, if there is something which I want to show you in the sky which can only be seen early in the evening (e.g., a crescent moon), we may spend part of the first hour outside, so if you arrive late and no one is in the classroom, be sure to check the outdoor observation area (usually, this means the rooftop observation area).
      When we are outdoors, we are still in our "classroom", so NO SMOKING, EATING, OR DRINKING are allowed.
      I usually lecture from 6 to about 7:15, followed by a 15-minute break (on some evenings I will grade papers during the break, in which case I will announce that the break will last for some particular time; but unless you hear me say otherwise, you should assume the break is only 15 minutes). Afterwards, there may be more lecture, or lab work outdoors or in the classroom, depending upon the weather and the time of the year. Most of the lectures are background information which you need to do your lab projects, but early in the semester I will be discussing the motions and positions of the stars and planets, and how to use the text to learn to identify and follow celestial bodies, and late in the semester I will be discussing topics which will be covered on the midterm exam (mostly, how to use the book to find out things about celestial bodies).
      I do not usually schedule breaks during the second part of class, but you may take breaks whenever it is convenient to do so between lab work.
      If we are doing work which HAS to be done in class, we will probably be here until after 9:30 on clear nights, and until around 9 on cloudy nights (most cloudy nights I lecture for 3 hours, so we have more time for observations when it is clear). If we are doing something which you could finish on your own, you may be allowed to leave early. If you do, make sure that you know EXACTLY what you are supposed to do between class meetings, or you may have to repeat the work (failure to make sure you know what you are doing is the main reason for students doing poorly).
      You will probably need to spend 4 to 6 hours per week outside of class reading the text, working on your projects, or studying background materials for your projects (more some weeks and less others, but that's about the average). If you do not understand what you are doing, you may need far more time to successfully complete your work.

Classroom Behavior
     The College Schedule of Classes contains a long discussion of what is considered reasonable and proper student behavior. Basically, everyone in the class is expected to behave as an adult, and to treat the instructor and the other students with respect. If your behavior is disruptive, you will be asked to modify it; failure to do so may subject you to penalties up to and including expulsion from the College (see
Long Beach City College Student Policies for more information). The following suggestions, if followed, should provide an environment conducive to learning without being overly restrictive.
     If you come in late or leave early, you should sit as close to the entry as possible, and be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible on your way in or out, to minimize class disruption. During lab class planetarium presentations, the entry doors will be closed, but unlocked. If you have to enter the room at such a time, pull on the entry door handle (turning it accomplishes nothing) and enter the room, but wait behind the blackout curtains until the door has closed, and you have become accustomed to the relative darkness in the room. After passing through the blackout curtains, take the nearest empty seat; do not try to stagger through the darkened room to your original seat. WARNING: The building's air conditioning system was altered over the summer, and air pressure in the hallways may be considerably greater than in the classroom. As a result, the door has a tendency to shut with some force. If you have to open or close the door take care in doing so to minimize the risk of injury, and of ear-shattering door slamming.
     All cell phones and other electronic devices should be turned off or put into silent mode during class time. If you are waiting for an emergency call, follow the rules above for leaving class early, in case that proves necessary.
     Absolute darkness is required during planetarium presentations. This means that all laptops and other devices which produce any light must be closed or turned off. During non-planetarium instruction, absolute darkness is not required, and laptops may be used for note-taking, as discussed above.
     No food or drink of any sort are allowed in the planetarium classroom, save for bottled water.
     If trash is left in the room, I have to clean it up before leaving; as a result, when you leave the room, I expect you to check the area around your seat to make sure that (1) you have not left any of your things behind and (2) all trash is picked up and removed from the room, whether it is yours or not. If everyone spends a few moments making sure the room is neat and clean, it will save me a lot of time. If students fail to help with this, it will cost you a lot of time, as I will start requiring students to clean the room before allowing them to leave (if necessary, I can enforce this by having an extra roll call at the end of class, and docking students who left early; obviously, none of us wants that, so do what you can to make it unlikely).
     While I am talking, or other students are asking questions, you are expected to pay attention. If you wish to visit with friends, you should do so before or after class, out of consideration for students who are trying to pay attention. I do not want to discourage occasional comments, or natural reactions (such as laughter or groans) to the material I am discussing; but continual chattering which makes it difficult for other students to hear me will not be tolerated.
     Occasionally, one person will monopolize the class discussion by asking question after question. I am willing to answer questions within reason, but if necessary, I may require such individuals to see me after class.
     You are expected to have any materials required for class when you arrive. You should have an ample supply of pens, pencils, and writing materials, and pencils should be sharpened before class or during the break, not during class. (If you need to sharpen a pencil during an exam you may do so, but it would be better to have several pencils and just switch as needed.)

Attendance / Making Up Missed Classes
      I take roll at the start of each class, and there may be additional roll calls later in the evening, to see if people arrived late or left early. To encourage good attendance, I award 5 points towards your semester grade for each night of lab class attendance, and on many nights, may assign an additional 5 or so points of in-class work, which cannot be made up outside of class. If you arrive late or leave early you may lose some of these points, and if you are not here at all, you will lose all of them. I do not call the names of students who are not on the rollbook. If you have to petition the class, the note you give me as part of that process will also give you credit for attendance that night. But I cannot give you credit for attending any subsequent class, until your name shows up on the rollbook.
      Because I realize that there may be occasional problems in attending class even for students who are trying their best to be here, I allow students who miss a class to "make up" an absence by coming to another lab class. I have lab classes on Monday and Tuesday, both in D326 from 6 to 10 pm, and I keep the two sections as close together as possible. If you attend a meeting of the other lab class that is before your next class, you can erase the absence and earn full credit for the roll call which you missed. (Depending on the weather, you may lose credit for lab work which was done in your class and not in the other class, or receive extra credit for lab work done in the other class which was not done in your class.)
      Since poor attendance could lower your grade, be sure to let me know if you forget to answer roll. Also, if you are attending one lab class to make up for an absence in the other lab class, be sure to let me know you are here when I take roll. You must do this before you leave for the evening, as I will not take your word for it after I leave class.
      In addition to any point loss due to missing classes, if you miss three classes in a row (without making one up by coming to the other lab class) you will be dropped (if it is prior to the drop deadline), or receive a failing grade (if it is after the drop deadline). There will be no exceptions to this rule, for any reason whatsoever. If you miss two classes in a row, you MUST attend the next class, or suffer the penalty.
      If I am unable to attend class there should be an "official" sign-up sheet on one or both classroom doors (be sure to check both doors, in case a sheet is posted on only one of them; but you only need to sign one sheet, even if there are two). If there is no such sheet, you must wait until at least 6:15, in case I am just running late. If I am not here by then, you may assume that I am not coming, and someone should start a sign-up sheet. Be sure to LEGIBLY sign this sheet, as I don't count signatures I can't read. Once everyone who is present at the time the sign-up sheet is started has signed it, it should be taped to the door or placed in the plastic hanger outside my old office (D350), and students who arrive late and do not find anyone in the room or on the roof should check both classroom doors and my office for a sign-up sheet. Whether there is a sign-up sheet on the door or not, be sure to check Recent Announcements for any special arrangements caused by my absence. If I know in advance that I cannot attend class, I will post a note on Recent Announcements that afternoon, so you can save yourself a trip to school by checking before you leave home (in such a case, you can also 'sign-in' by email).

     I will not reinstate dropped students unless dropping them was a clerical error on my part.

Tools and Materials
      You will need to obtain some inexpensive items for general use and for use with specific lab projects. I will discuss these materials as the need arises, but to start, you need a small flashlight or penlight for use outdoors. You should paint the light with red nail polish or cover it with red cellophane, so the light is just a faint red glow (you could use a cellphone, but a red covering is still required). The light should be bright enough to allow you to see what you are writing or drawing in the dark, but not bright enough to disturb your "dark" eyesight or that of your fellow students. You should bring this light to every class, starting no later than two or three weeks after the first class meeting. You will also need to bring blank paper (preferably 8 1/2 by 11 instead of some odd size which is likely to be lost or misplaced) and one or more pencils, as any observational work will involve turning in a written report and drawings before you leave for the night. Any work turned in should have your name and the date the work was done in the upper right corner of every sheet, and all work done for this class should be in pencil or erasable ink, as you will occasionally need to correct mistakes.
      The skies in our area are very bright, and it is difficult to see any but the brightest stars without optical aid. Grading of observational projects will take this into account, but you might find it useful to get a pair of binoculars to help you observe the sky. It is not required that you do so, so those on Financial Aid will not be able to justify such a purchase, but I can discuss what you should look for, if you do want to purchase a pair of binoculars.

Graded Work
      There are several ways in which you earn points towards your grade.
      (1) As already discussed, to encourage good attendance, each evening's roll calls will count 5 points toward the semester grade. Despite this, IF YOU ARE SICK, PLEASE DO NOT COME TO CLASS (UNLESS IT WOULD BE YOUR THIRD ABSENCE IN A ROW) AND RISK INFECTING EVERYONE ELSE. It would be far preferable for you to do some kind of extra-credit work to make up for the absence.
      (2) There will be several in-class lab projects, mostly involving observations of the sky with or without a telescope. These are intended as practice for major projects, as a way of enjoying the experience of taking an astronomy lab, and as a way of accumulating extra points toward the semester grade. As with attendance, each night's work will usually be worth about 5 points, so please do not come to class if you are sick, just for the points; just be sure to come as often as possible, so you know what you are supposed to be doing.
      (3) There may be some short-term out-of-class observational projects, often based on work started in class, which can be finished with a relatively small number of outside observations. As an example, you might be asked to follow the motions of any planets which happen to be visible, to see how they change their positions among the stars during the course of the semester, or to observe a solar or lunar eclipse (which cannot be counted on to occur during class hours), or a meteor shower (which are always best observed well after midnight).
      (4) There are four major projects which require extensive observations or data analysis. I will go over these projects in great detail in coming weeks, but there is a short summary of each of them on the
Lab Projects Summary page. These projects will be the main determinant of your grade for the class, as they comprise almost 2/3 of the total points assigned toward your grade.
      Most of the work for these projects will be done on your own time, outside of class, but I will spend a lot of time covering background information which is related to them. You will have most of the semester to complete these projects, so poor weather during a given week, or even a given month, should not cause problems; but if you put off doing the observational projects until just before they are due, a week or two of bad weather could be disastrous, so you should try to complete them the best part of a month before the end of the semester. When students do poorly in or fail this class, the #2 reason they do so is failure to complete the four major projects in full and on time (the #1 reason is discussed under "Withdrawals", below).
      (5) The above projects are considered "required" projects because they require no special equipment, location or mathematical abilities. I will also discuss various kinds of extra-credit projects. In general, these require special tools (such as binoculars or a small telescope), travel to a dark-sky location, or mathematical abilities beyond basic arithmetic; no student is expected to have such tools, have the time or desire to travel to a dark-sky location, or have advanced mathematical abilities. That is why projects which require such things are "extra-credit". However, if you would like to do such projects, you are welcome to do so; the one thing I would ask is that you discuss them with me in advance, so I can advise you how to do whatever observations or reports are involved, to receive the maximum amount of extra credit for the minimum amount of effort. However, the most common way that students earn extra credit is simply to do the required projects better than is expected of them, so that they receive a higher than "perfect" score.
      (6) There will be an open-book open-note midterm the week before the Final exam date, covering the text, lab class web pages, class discussions and projects, to see how well you learned the skills you are supposed to master. You will be forbidden to use any electronic aids during the midterm, as part of its purpose is to see whether you have learned to identify stars and constellations without such aids. Although I have no objection to your using such aids while you are first learning how to identify stars and constellations, one of the major goals of this class is for you to learn how to do so without such aids. If your midterm shows that you are unable to identify the stars on your own (even using the text to help you), and your star projects seem to show that you were able to identify the stars, I will require a convincing explanation of how you managed to do that, and barring a satisfactory explanation, will assume that you cheated on the observational projects, and lower your grade accordingly. It is therefore extremely important that you learn how to identify the stars on your own, and to show that you can truly do that, on the midterm.

     I don't want to encourage students to withdraw from my course, but if you are not doing well, you may need to consider that possibility as the drop deadline approaches. You should assess how you have been doing in the class, and if personal circumstances have made it difficult for you to do well, whether you can expect a change in those circumstances which will allow you to successfully complete the course. I believe that any student who has the time and energy to do the projects can pass this class; but if you feel it would be best to withdraw from the course and retake it when you have more time to devote to it, I will neither criticize your decision, nor think any the less of you.
     Although as noted under Attendance, I drop students who have missed three classes in a row, if you attend any of the last three classes prior to the drop deadline, I would have no reason to drop you. Under such circumstances, if you decide to drop the class you must do so on your own prior to the drop deadline, or you will receive a grade for the class. Not dropping the class, then failing to complete it, is the #1 reason students fail the class.
     Some students who are on Financial Aid have the impression that if withdraw from the class they will lose their Aid, but if they fail the class, they will not lose their Aid. That is incorrect. The LBCC Financial Aid office treats a failing grade the same as a withdrawal. So you should only continue with the class if you believe you can earn at least a D or P grade.

     I do not allow Incomplete grades, for any reason whatsoever. I have done so in the past, but not one student has ever successfully completed the class after requesting an Incomplete grade, so offering that option has been a waste of my time, and worse yet, a disservice to the students. For if they had known that they would fail the class if they took an Incomplete, they might have dropped the class while they still had a chance to do so. And in fact, the number of students failing the class has substantially decreased since I stopped allowing Incompletes, because students who had no chance of passing have chosen to drop, instead of hanging on until the last moment and guaranteeing that they would fail.

Semester Grades
      Semester grades are based on a total point score for the various items listed above. The grade scale shown below is not the grade scale for this class. There are always fewer or more points possible for each of the items shown, than the numbers posted there. The only reason for using the numbers shown there is as an example, and to yield a total which is a nice, round number. The actual grade scale may be similar to the one shown here, but is usually adjusted downwards slightly for poor weather or other problems (e.g., if I miss some classes and don't have time to cover all of the material that should be tested on the midterm examination, I wouldn't test you in the same way as if I had covered the material more thoroughly). As a result, the actual total points possible can be as low as 365, or as high as 465 (and usually runs in the low 400's).
120 to 130 points: In-class projects and attendance
   10 to 20 points: Short-term out-of-class projects
135 points: Mercury project (actually, at the moment, the total is only 122)
135 points: Major observational projects (if done as specified, but no better)
   40 points: Midterm exam
     0 points: Extra credit (since extra-credit, not included in the "standard" total)
450 points: Total points (remember, this is only an example)
      This only shows "required" work, so no extra-credit points are shown, but points for extra-credit work count toward the semester grade the same as any other points.
      The semester grade is based on a percentage of the total point score. Although the total points possible may be considerably different than shown above, the percentage required for a given grade is always the same. Presuming the scale shown above was accurate, the semester grade scale would be:
A = 90% = 415 or more points
B = 80% = 370 to 414 points
C = 70% = 325 to 369 points
D = 60% = 280 to 324 points
F = less than 60%
          or miss three classes in a row too late to be dropped
     Remember: Although the total point score for the semester might be adjusted up or down, the percentages shown for each letter grade would be essentially as shown.

"Posting" Grades
      I do not post grades, in the normal sense of the phrase. I simply post them to the school server as I record them in the final gradebook. You should be able to access them within a few days after I post a Recent Announcement stating that I have finished posting grades.
      If you need written proof of your grade, you may give me a stamped, self-addressed postcard or envelope at either of the last two class meetings, and I will mail your results ASAP. Alternatively, you may receive electronic confirmation of your grade by sending me an email. Whether asking for your grade with a grade card or an email, you must indicate your student ID (although not in a way that would be visible to others when I post my reply). This is the only time during the semester that I need to see your student ID.