Class: T/Th 2:30 - 4:00 in Observatory or INSC H110
Office Hours: TBD
Instructors: Beth Willman and Ross Fadely
INSC L108 and L107
bwillman or rfadely at haverford dot edu
Spring 2011 ASTR 342

Links to Class Tools
Links to Class Work
Links to Class Lectures

Class Description:

Modern Galactic Astronomy is a course that will focus topically on a global view of the Milky Way as a galaxy and on untangling its formation history. Although just one galaxy of billions in the Universe, the singular detail with which only the Milky Way can be studied makes it the necessary stepping stone to interpret and understand observations of galaxies throughout the Universe. After we investigate and apply several approaches to mapping our Galaxy, we will question whether the picture painted by the panoply of existing Milky Way observations makes sense within the current paradigm of structure formation in the Universe. This field lies at the intersection of stellar astronomy, extragalactic astronomy, and cosmology - making Astronomy 342 an appropriate course for upper-level physics/astro students with a range of interests.

The primary goals of this class are: i) to teach you about our Galaxy, with emphasis on exciting recent developments and ii) to make you better scientists. To achieve these goals, you will develop expertise in publically available tools and quantitative methods, and apply these tools to a phenomenological study of the Milky Way that is similar to the approach used by astronomers today. The cornerstone of your work in this course will be an in-depth research project.

Class Requirements:

There is no textbook for this course. We will instead rely on sections and chapters from a handful of books, combined with papers from recent literature. Because we will often be covering material not found in a textbook, attendance is required. You must contact me in advance if you will miss a class for any absence not owing to illness or a Dean's excuse.

We will meet in both the Observatory and in INSC H110.

Astronomy 205/206 is a prerequisite, or prior consent of instructor. You will also be required to write computer programs and produce computer generated figures in this class, for both project sets and for your research project. You are permitted do this in any language with which you can achieve the necessary results. However, I will provide training and substantial support for IDL (Interactive Data Language), a high-level and user friendly language that can be used to seamlessly read, manipulate, and visualize both observational and simulated astronomical data. I will spend one class session going over Unix and IDL programming basics, and will also offer at least one tutorial outside of class for students who have no programming experience or would like a refresher.

Assignments and Grading:

30% - Homework sets; there will be four. Late work is docked 10% per late day, without prior approval.

40% - Individual research project.

10% - Class participation. This includes participation during class and coming prepared to discuss and hand in calculations that are assigned outside of the homework sets. These calculations will be graded for thoughtfulness and completeness, rather than accuracy.

20% - Test. This test will be given 9 weeks into the course, at the end of the lecture component.

Course Outline (tentative):

These dates and topics will change, but reasonably reflect what you can expect for this semester. The online syllabus will be updated as appropriate.

Week 1 Jan 18, 20
Meet the Milky Way, Stellar Populations as a tool to study the Galaxy

Week 2 Jan 25, 27
Mapping the smooth and lumpy components of the Galaxy

Week 3 Feb 1, 3
Mapping wrap-up, Chemical Evolution
deadline: Thursday Feb 1 - Project Set 1

Week 4 Feb 8, 10
Potential theory, Kinetic Theory

Week 5 Feb 15, 17
Galactic Dynamics
deadline: Thursday Feb 15 - Project Set 2

Week 6 Feb 22, 24
Galactic dynamics- the Galactic center.

Week 7 March 1, 3
Hypervelocity stars, Topic TBD

Week 8 March 15, 17
deadline: Tuesday March 15 - Project Set 3; Thursday March 17 - research project proposal.

Week 9 March 22, 24
Milky Way in a Cosmological Context

Week 10 March 29, 31
Deadline: Tuesday March 29 - Project Set 4; Friday April 1 - Exam.

Week 11 Apr 5, 7

Week 12 Apr 12, 14

Week 13 Apr 19, 21

Week 14 Apr 26, 28
Final Project Presentations

Honor Code Issues:

The important guiding principle of academic honesty is that you must never represent the work of another as your own. Please request clarification of the following if you find yourself in any doubtful situations: Discussion and collaboration with other students on homework sets and research projects is encouraged. However, all submitted work must be your own. While working together is permitted and even expected and therefore does not need to be acknowledged, merely copying the work of another student (whether a calculation or piece of computer code) without indicating that you have done so is clearly a representation of his or her work as your own and so is a violation of the code.


Students who think they may need accommodations in this course because of the impact of a disability are encouraged to meet with me privately early in the semester. Students should also contact Rick Webb, Coordinator, Office of Disabilities Services (, 610-896-1290) to verify their eligibility for reasonable accommodations as soon as possible. Early contact will help to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and delays.