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 target Fall 2009 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, although course material and homeworks 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 2010.

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.

The Statement of Expectations for Natural Sciences Core Curriculum Courses (pdf) states that all Natural Science Core courses should involve the exercise of quantitative reasoning and mathematical skills, and this course is no different. In particular, most of the homeworks apply mathematics to solve intriguing questions about black holes.


The overarching goal of any college course, especially a science course, should be for you to learn how to think, reason, and argue – using logic, observation, and evidence. The homework assignments and group projects are intended to give you an opportunity to practice those scientific skills. The text will describe to you several examples of how scientists battle their way towards the truth.

The goals of this course are:


There will be two midterm exams, which will take place in class on Th Sep 17 and Th Oct 22, and one final exam on Sat Dec 12, as scheduled on the Timetable.

Each midterm is to be completed during the first 45 minutes of class. The last 30 minutes of class will be devoted to discussing the answers to the midterm.

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 Sep 17 midterm will be on Special Relativity. The Oct 22 midterm will be on General Relativity and Black Holes. The final will cover all material covered cumulatively during the semester up to and including Dec 1, with some emphasis on material covered since the Oct 22 midterm. No testable new material will be introduced during the last week of the semester, week 16.

In class group Projects

There will be 5 in class group Projects, as scheduled on the Timetable.

The principal goal of the projects is to get you to think and argue logically with your peers. The projects are not intended to be chug-and-plug exercises.

Projects will take place during the class period. For the project, you will assemble into groups of 3 or 4. You should immediately assign one of your group to be the "Scribe". The group should discuss and solve the project together.

Projects are to be completed during the first 45 minutes of class. The last 30 minutes of class will be devoted to discussing the "answers" to the project.

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 3 best of your 5 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 4 homework sets, which will be handed out in class, and which will also be downloadable from Homework. The homeworks are due as scheduled on the Timetable.

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 4 free clicker days, meaning that we will omit the worst scoring 4 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 Prasanna Madhusudhanan will be looking after the clicker system, and any questions regarding clickers should be addressed to him.


Grading will be based on clicker points, the in class group projects, homework, the midterms, and the final.

If you add that up, it comes to 120%. To bring it to 100%, I will drop your worst midterm, or 2/3 of your final, if that is worse.

Extra Credit

You can gain up to 2% extra credit by advising me of any science fiction novel or short story, or movie or TV episode, that involves Black Holes or Wormholes (but not just time travel) that is not already listed at Black Hole Books, Movies.

In past years, students have gained extra credit by advising me of a movie or TV episode that involves Black Holes or Wormholes. Thanks to the efforts of previous generations of students, the list of movies and TV episodes has become fairly extensive. For this class, therefore, I am broadening the scope to include works of science fiction, including both novels and short stories.

To gain the full extra credit, you must name a specific work of science fiction, you must have read the work yourself, and you must include a short review of the work (don't forget the quotes rule). Preferably you should provide a link to a place on the web where further information about the work can be found.

Extra credits are first come first served. You can submit an extra credit any time during the semester, and, if approved, I will add it to the website. After that, another student may not use the same novel, short story, or movie for extra credit.

On line grades through CULearn

I plan to make grades available on line through CULearn. TA Prasanna Madhusudhanan will be taking care of on line grades, and any questions about the system should be addressed to him.


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: If you are interested in screenwriting, I recommend (but do not require):


We will make extensive use of two websites that I developed for this and similar classes at CU:

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.

Do not assume that wikipaedia is a reliable source!

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 2009 ASTR 2030 Homepage

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Updated 2009 Aug 26