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 target 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 Timetable.

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.


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 Projects, as scheduled on the Timetable.

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 Homework.

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, and then register your clicker online so that answers from your clicker can be credited to you.

Clicker questions will generally be of two kinds:

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, including 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, homework, clicker points, the midterm, and the final.

Extra Credit

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 Movies.

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.

Fiske Planetarium

CU's Fiske Planetarium has been reserved at the usual class time on the days listed in the Timetable. You should go directly to Fiske (Campus map) 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:


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:

Common Courtesy

I expect you: Please note that University policy forbids bringing food or drink into lecture halls.

You may expect me:

Academic Honesty

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:

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 the university's Disability Services.

 Black Hole silhouetted against the Milky Way Fall 2003 ASTR 2030 Homepage

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Updated 6 Nov 2003