Astronomy 150 - Black Holes in the Universe

Course Syllabus - Spring 2013

Classroom: Van Vleck B135

Class Times:
Monday 3:30-4:20 PM
Wednesday 3:30-4:20 PM

Dr. Brian Morsony
4546 Sterling Hall

Office Hours:
Monday 4:30-5:30 PM
Wednesday 4:30-5:30 PM
or by appointment

Exam Schedule:
Exam 1: Wed. Feb. 27, in class
Exam 2: Wed. April 10, in class
Final: Sun., May 12, 7:45 AM

The goal of this course is to introduce students to the physics of black holes, and the observation and interpretation of real black holes and related. We will also explore unanswered questions in physics and astronomy related to black holes, and see how researchers go about tackling these questions.
By the end of this course, you should be able to blow up a star, turn your classmates into spaghetti, wipe out life on Earth, and travel through time. You should also be able to estimate properly, carry out though exercises, and critically evaluate information.

Topic to be covered in this course include:
Special relativity and light
Gravity and general relativity
(Predicted) properties of black holes
Stellar evolution and making black holes
Finding black holes and evidence they exist
Stellar mass black holes
Supermassive black holes, AGN and galaxies
Jets from AGN and GRBs, spinning black holes, and feedback
Hawking Radiation
Micro black holes, evaporation and the LHC
Inside of black holes: worm holes, time travel and other Universes

Astro 100, 103, 104 or consent of the instructor. This course will be taught at a level appropriate for undergraduate non-science majors. However, familiarity with elementary algebra, geometry, and scientific notation are assumed. If these present any difficulties for you, the instructor is ready and willing to help. Make use of office hours to clarify any questions you have about the basic math and reasoning skills required to complete this course. The homework sets and exams will involve making quantitative arguments.

Web site:
The website for this course will be
Copies of course materials, including syllabus, schedule, slides and homework, will be posted to this site.

The two textbooks for this course are "Gravity's Fatal Attraction", 2nd Edition, Mitch Begelman and Martin Rees and "Black Holes and Time Warps", 1st Edition, Kip S. Thorne. A timeline for reading assignments are given in the course schedule, but note that these are subject to change

Office Hours:
Dr. Morsony's office hours are after class, Monday and Wednesday 4:30-5:30 PM in his office, 4546 Sterling Hall, or by appointment. Please don’t hesitate to make other appointments if these times don’t work. Office hours are an excellent way to make sure you get the most out of this class.

Study Groups:
You are urged to join a study group within which you may work on homework together, study for exams, etc. Evaluate the effectiveness of your group frequently; if its not working for you, join another or take charge to improve the effectiveness of your study group. Note: even though you are encouraged to work together, you must write up any assignments independently - in words, and using your own calculations where necessary (do not copy text or numbers from somebody else).

The goal of learning assessment is to ensure that important concepts are understood and to improve teaching. The primary way of assessment will be in-class questions and discussions. In addition, homeworks, exams, and office hours will help me in assessing where further explanation is needed and where concepts need more discussion.

All class activities will contribute to your grade. Although the grading scale is subject to change at any time, the probable relative contributions are shown below:

Class Participation: 10%
Homework: 30% (the lowest score will be dropped)
1st exam: 20% (50 minutes, in class)
2nd exam: 20% (50 minutes, in class)
Final exam: 20% (50 minutes, 05/12, 7:45AM, location TBA)

Class participation includes asking and answering questions, participating in small groups discussions, and working on in-class activities.

Homework assignments must be written up on 8.5x11" paper, one-sided, and written neatly (if in doubt, please type up your homework). Late homework will be accepted up to two days after the due date, with 20% of the points taken off for each day the homework is late. Note that the lowest homework score will be dropped, so missing a homework will not affect your score if you hand in all other homework solutions. Each homework is worth the same number of points.

Academic honesty:
While you are encouraged to study and work on homework together, you must write up your own homework, in your own words. If you copy or quote text from another source, you must give proper reference. Failure to do so will be considered academic misconduct and can lead to serious consequences, including failing the class and being reported to the academic dean.

Please let me know ahead of time, either during office hours or by email (, if you need additional assistance in taking exams or attending class.