PHYS 160 - Spring Term 2015

Topics in Astronomy: Cosmos



Professor:                            Phone              E-mail

Dr. Tyler Nordgren                 x8660    

Office: Appleton 126


Class Website:


Class Time & Location:


MW 1:00 – 2:30, AHON 117




“Cosmos” by Carl Sagan (ISBN 0394715969) Trade Paper or Hardcover edition. Do not be fooled into getting the small paperback version (you want all the pretty color pictures). $29.95 on





In 1980, the astronomer Carl Sagan launched a wildly successful TV show, and companion-book, aimed at bringing astronomy to the general audience. In 2014, the astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson launched an updated Cosmos TV series, that was similarly popular.


Why were these TV programs popular? For many, the image of a scientist is one of a lone white-haired man toiling in some sterile laboratory or remote mountain-top, working on a complicated project of no consequence to one’s daily life. Even on college campuses, home of the ivory tower, science is separated from the humanities. It is the college of arts and sciences. There is the Hall of Letters and Appleton Hall of Numbers. Frequent is the lament, “I am not a science person.” Carl Sagan, through his books (and TV series) was the preeminent popularizer of science and astronomy of the 1970s and ‘80s. He reached this fame in part by connecting science (and the results derived from it) to the rest of humanity.


We will read Sagan’s Cosmos book and watch Tyson’s Cosmos series. From them, we will learn about the history and future of our understanding of the universe in which we live. The book and TV show encompass an enormous range of topics: from evolution to astrology, from ancient philosophers of the Mediterranean to the prospects of interstellar travel, from ancient archeoastronomy to the fate of the universe. Along the way we will touch on topics such as religion, global warming, public policy, and the future of our planet and species. While we will start from the stand point of science, by the end of the semester our discussions will have touched on nearly every single one of the other Liberal Arts Foundation categories at the University of Redlands.

Since the publication of Cosmos in 1979, our world and our understanding of the universe have continued to change. We will add to our Cosmos reading with lectures and possible outside articles that bring the various subjects up to date. Since science is a process, it can be informative to see how progress is (or is not) made in a field over the course of a quarter century.


Organization: There are 13 chapters in Sagan’s Cosmos, 13 episodes of Tyson’s Cosmos, and 13 weeks in the semester. Each week will cover a different chapter and episode. Each week will be a combination of class discussions and short lectures. Because we have only two class periods each week, you will need to watch the Tyson Cosmos TV show outside of class time.


Weekly Assignments: Each day we discuss a chapter there will be a Homework Assignment due by email to me before 9:00am. These questions will be based on the reading. They will tend to be short answer questions. Many will be about facts you read, some will be asking you to draw conclusions based on those facts. Class Discussions will be based off of these more elaborate questions. The more you read and think about your answers to these questions, the better prepared you will be for class participation.


All homework assignments are ONLY available on the class website. They will not be handed out after Week 1. After week 1 all homework will be due to me by 9:00am in the form of an email. Any homework arriving after 9:00am is late and will not be graded.


Class participation: Since the class will be geared towards discussion, participation from all students is crucial, both to your intellectual development and to the development of your peers. Accordingly, class participation will count for a significant percentage of your grade. Our discussions will be guided by the essay questions on the discussion guide, so keep them in mind as you read the chapters. Participation means actively participating and not simply stating something you liked in the reading. If you consistently read the assigned material ahead of time and review your notes before class your participation grade should take care of itself. Remember, simply showing is not considered participation.


Exams: There will be a midterm exam the week before spring break and a final exam during exam week.


Grading: Grades depend upon six things.

1.      Participation in class discussion: (40%)

2.      Homework Assignments: (20%)

3.    Midterm exam: (20%)

4.    Final Exam: (20%).




Spring 2015 Semester Calendar:



Week 1


Mon 1/5

Hand out syllabus. Watch Tyson Ep. #1 in class.


Hand out HW#1 Due Wednesday.

Wed. 1/7

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 1 – The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.


Scale Model Solar System


HW#1 Due.


Watch Tyson Ep. #2 on own before 1/12

Week 2


Mon. 1/12

Astrology/Scientific Method Lecture

Wed. 1/14

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 2 – One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue


HW#2 Due.


Watch Tyson Ep. #3 on own before 1/19

Week 3


Mon. 1/19

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 3 – The Harmony of Worlds


HW#3 Due.

Wed. 1/21

Lecture on Light and Thermal Radiation


Watch Tyson Ep. #12 on own before 1/26

Week 4


Mon. 1/26

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 4 – Heaven and Hell


Global Warming mini-lecture


HW#4 Due.

Wed. 1/28

Watch Tyson Ep. #7 in class

Week 5


Mon. 2/2

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 5 – Blues for a Red Planet


HW#5 Due.

Wed. 2/4

Watch Roving Mars movie


Watch Tyson Ep. #6 on own before 2/9


For Monday: Turn in list of 3 things about the solar system you want to know more about based on Sagan Chapter 6 reading.

Week 6


Mon. 2/9

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 6 – Traveler's Tails


HW#6 Due.

Wed. 2/11

Solar System Update Lecture

Week 7


Mon. 2/16

Review for Exam #1

Wed. 2/18

Exam #1


Watch Tyson Ep. #4 on own before 3/2



Week 8


Mon. 3/2

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 8 – Travels in Space and Time


HW#7 Due.

Wed. 3/4

Relativity Lecture


Watch Tyson Ep. #8 on own before 3/9

Week 9


Mon. 3/9

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 9 – The Lives of the Stars


HW#8 Due.

Wed. 3/11

Star Lecture

Week 10


Week 11


Mon. 3/23

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 7 – The Backbone of Night


HW#9 Due

Wed. 3/25

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 10 – The Edge of Forever


HW#10 Due.


Watch Tyson Ep. #11 on own before 3/23

Week 12


Mon. 3/30

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 12 – The Encyclopaedia Galactica


HW#11 Due.

Wed. 4/1

Drake Equation and FTL travel Lecture


Watch Tyson Ep. #13 on own before 4/6

Week 13


Mon. 4/6

Discuss Cosmos Chapter 13 – Who Speaks for Earth?


HW#12 Due.

Wed. 4/8

Review for Final Exam



Tues. 4/14 noon

Final Exam