Fall 2003 ASTR 2030 Homepage
Fall 2003 ASTR 2030 Black Holes: Syllabus
This is a lower division course intended to introduce non-science students
to the predicted properties of black holes,
and to the astronomical evidence for their existence.
Along the way we will study
modern ideas about the nature of space, time, and gravity.
For more details, see the
This course is approved for the Natural Sciences Core Curriculum.
There are no prerequisites.
This course will emphasize visualization and conceptual understanding,
not mathematics, although
course material will involve high school math and science.
If you are a science major,
or if you would prefer a more mathematically oriented course,
then you should consider taking
ASTR 3740 Relativity and Cosmology in Spring 2004.
This course will not be an easy A.
The concepts of relativity are strange and non-intuitive,
and it will require hard work on your part to begin to grasp them.
Although there will be little math, the course is still `hard science'.
Part of my goal is to try to fulfill your goals for this course,
within the constraints set by the subject and nature of the course.
To help me do this, I will ask you
to fill in and submit this
goals statement (pdf)
at the beginning, middle, and end of the semester.
The goals statement is yours,
and you should hang on to it after I return it to you.
Who should take this course?
Learn how draw relativistically
Writers, movie makers
Learn the truth about Black Holes
Every kid wants to know about Black Holes
Black Holes sell
Why do Black Holes fascinate?
Can BHs be used for spacetime travel?
Learn the phenomenology before climbing the math mountain
What are your goals?
There will be one midterm exam, which will take place in class on Th Oct 9,
and one final exam at 7:30-10:30am in the MORNING of T Dec 16.
The exams will cover material discussed in class and in the assigned reading,
and will consist largely of multiple choice and short-answer questions.
The midterm will cover all material covered up to the Fall break (Oct 2).
The final will cover all material covered cumulatively during the semester,
with an emphasis on material covered since the Fall break.
In class group Projects
There will be six in class group
as scheduled on the
The projects are intended to engender thought and discussion;
they are not just chug-and-plug exercises.
Each project is intended to take approximately 1/2 an hour,
and will take place during the class period.
For the project, you will assemble into groups of 4
(or 3 where a group of 4 is not possible).
You should immediately assign one of your group to be the "Scribe".
The group should discuss and solve the project together.
It is the Scribe's responsibility to write up the results
obtained by the group, and to submit them at the end of class.
I will accept only one submission from each group.
The write-up must include the name of the Scribe,
and the names of all the other members of the group.
To simplify the logistics,
the groups will be informal, probably consisting of your nearest neighbors.
You do not have to stay in the same group,
and indeed I encourage you to rotate into other groups.
If possible, you should rotate the role of Scribe.
Make a goal that you personally should be Scribe
for at least one group project during the semester.
Only the 4 best of your 6 group projects will count for grade.
Thus you may omit 2 group projects without penalty.
This includes cases where you cannot be in class for a project
for reasons beyond your control.
There will be four homework sets,
which will be handed out in class,
and which will also be downloadable from
Only the 3 best of your 4 homeworks will count for grade.
Thus you may omit 1 homework without penalty.
There will be a tendency for Homework problems
to be more mathematical than group projects or exams.
We will be using clickers, and clicker points will contribute to your grade.
You must purchase a clicker at the CU Bookstore,
register your clicker online
so that answers from your clicker can be credited to you.
Clicker questions will generally be of two kinds:
- Questions at the beginning of class on the assigned reading,
or on the topic of the previous class;
- Concept questions arising in class.
You win clicker points as follows:
In some cases there will be more than one correct answer to a question.
However, clickers allow you to give only one answer to a question.
Every person gets 5 free clicker days,
meaning that we will omit the worst scoring 5 days
from your clicker score.
These free clicker days include all eventualities,
days when your clicker fails to work,
days when you forgot your clicker,
days when you have a personal or family emergency,
days when you have to be elsewhere to represent your team or club or University,
and days when you go skiing.
It is strictly forbidden to operate someone else's clicker for them.
If you are discovered doing this,
then both you and the person whose clicker you operated will receive an F.
If you see a classmate operating two or more clickers,
please bring it immediately to my attention.
TA Kevin Heng will be looking after the clicker system,
and any questions regarding clickers should be addressed to him.
Grading will be based on
the in class group projects,
and the final.
You can gain 2% extra credit by advising me of any
movie or TV episode that involves Black Holes or Wormholes
(but not just time travel),
that is not already listed at
To gain the full extra credit,
you must name a specific movie or episode
(not a general series like Deep Space 9),
you must have SEEN the movie/episode yourself,
and you must include a short review of the movie/episode
(don't forget the quotes rule).
Preferably you should provide a link to a place on the web
where further information about the movie/episode can be found.
On line grades at WebCT
Grades will be available on line through the WebCT system.
All the information you need about how this works can be found at the
CU WebCT website.
TA Kevin Heng will be taking care of WebCT grades,
and any questions about the system should be addressed to him.
CU's Fiske Planetarium has been reserved
at the usual class time on the days listed in the
You should go directly to Fiske
on the listed days.
The required text is:
If you want to go beyond this course and learn more about
special and general relativity,
I recommend (but do not require) the following texts:
Kip S. Thorne, Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy
(W.W. Norton, paperback, 1994).
This is a model of how a science book aimed non-scientists should be written.
Although presented as a popular book,
it is written with all the rigor of a scientific text,
with comprehensive notes and references.
A delightful blend of history, science, and personal anecdote
put together by one of the leading practitioners in the field.
Edwin F. Taylor and John A. Wheeler, Spacetime Physics
This is a wonderfully written and text on special relativity,
aimed at beginning undergraduate scientists.
Edwin F. Taylor and John A. Wheeler, Exploring Black Holes
(Addison Wesley 2000).
This is an equally wonderfully written text on general relativity,
with an emphasis on black holes,
aimed again at beginning undergraduate scientists.
James B. Hartle, Gravity, An Introduction to Einstein's General Relativity
(Addison Wesley 2003).
A more advanced but still accessible up to date text on general relativity.
We will make extensive use of two websites that I developed
for this and similar classes at CU:
The authoritative site that tells you about all the good sites on Relativity
on the web is:
As a site containing solid relativity science, but aimed at non-scientists,
I recommend in particular:
I expect you:
Please note that University policy forbids bringing food or drink
into lecture halls.
To give the class your full attention;
Not to leave class early,
and not to rustle papers in preparation for leaving class.
You may expect me:
To treat you as an intelligent adult;
To finish lectures on time.
You are encouraged to form study groups and to discuss the course material
with your classmates, but anything that you submit for grade must be your own work.
We remind you that a
Student Honor Code system
has been implemented throughout CU.
I have a very simple rule regarding the quoting or use of material
obtained through the web or elsewhere:
Anything that is not your own work should be in quotes, as in
"this is a sentence that I copied" (cite X)
and should preferably be accompanied by an appropriate citation
of the source. Violation of the quotes rule will earn you an F.
Students with Disabilities
The law requires us to make reasonable accomodations to students
with learning or physical disabilities.
If you need such accomodations,
then you should tell me about them in a timely manner.
Normally, you should have obtained supporting documentation from
Fall 2003 ASTR 2030 Homepage
Updated 6 Nov 2003