Ay 1 Course Information

Introduction | Requirements | Policies | People | Lectures | Texts | Website

M 13 - Hercules Cluster
M 13 cluster

One of the images taken by the Ay 1 2007 class with the Palomar 60" telescope during their field trip. Image processed by Fabio Altenbach.


Ay 1 is offered as a menu course. It is intended to provide a background to astrophysics and to discuss in detail a few of the big astronomical questions and hot/new discoveries.

Examples include:

Ideas, methodology, and deductive processes will be emphasized. The goal of the course is a stimulating and interactive experience, emphasizing current and future discoveries rather than a complete survey of the field.

An important part of the course will be the recitation sections with subsets of the students led by a TA. Each recitation section will form a discussion/debate group to focus on 1-2 specific topics of their choice — at the end of the term, each group will provide an in-class presentation of their ideas to the main class. The topics will be sufficiently 'loose' to stimulate creative ideas on the part of the students. For example, suppose our solar system happened to be located near the center of the Galaxy, how would our perception of the universe be different? Another section might discuss cataclysmic events which could occur near the Earth — e.g. a supernova 10 light-years away or the passage of another star through the solar system — what would be the consequences?

A couple guest lectures will be given by other Caltech faculty on recent discoveries in their area. There will be an optional field trip to the Palomar Observatory and possibly Griffith Observatory. Students will have access to on-campus telescopes for their observing exercises and for viewing pleasure.


Written assignments turned in up to one week after the due date will be accepted only if OK'ed by the TA in advance.

Course Policies

Unless mentioned otherwise in a homework assignment, the following policies apply:




The text for the course is "Universe" by Freedman and Kaufmann. Other equivalent books that you might find useful are "The Universe Revealed" by Impey and Hartmann and Chaisson and McMillan's "Astronomy Today".


Much of the course material will be available in digital form through this website. Also, we will frequently refer to other web resources during the course, which will be tabulated on our Ay 1 links page.

Site last updated March 30, 2011.

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