Descriptive Astronomy

I.     Course Prefix/Number: PHY 115

       Course Name: Descriptive Astronomy

       Credits: 3 (3 lecture; 0 lab)

II.    Prerequisite

NONE (MAT 070, or higher MAT course, is recommended.)

III.   Course (Catalog) Description

Course introduces astronomy. Content includes historical development of astronomy, solar system and planetary motion, physics of motion, electromagnetic radiation and astronomical instruments, stars and stellar evolution, galaxies, the big bang, and cosmology. Credit cannot be received in both PHY 120 and PHY 115.

IV.   Learning Objectives

After successful completion of this course, students should be able to do the following:

  1. Explain basic mathematics used in astronomy including the metric system, exponents and angular measure.
  2. Describe how scientists evaluate hypotheses and develop theories.
  3. Illustrate how the scientific method works and how it relates to observation and experimentation.
  4. Outline the historical development of astronomy and its relationship to the advancement of civilization.
  5. Describe the structure and use of telescopes and other astronomical instruments.
  6. Explain the differences between emission and absorption spectra and how each can be used to determine properties of astronomical objects.
  7. Describe the geology of the planets and the moon and compare them with Earth.
  8. Explain the general theories of the origin and evolution of the solar system.
  9. Describe the basic methods involved in determining the distances, masses and sizes of stars.
  10. Explain the internal structure of stars, how this structure depends on stellar mass, and how a star’s structure changes as it approaches death.
  11. Describe the structure, organization and evolution of the galaxies.
  12. Explain the theories of the origin of the universe and the tests for these theories.
  13. Discuss the meaning of relativity, cosmology, the Big Bang, and the expanding universe.

General Education Learning Outcomes:

  1. Think Critically – identify, define, analyze, interpret, and evaluate ideas, concepts, information, problems, solutions, and consequences. This includes the ability to compute and comprehend quantitative information and to engage in the scientific process.

V.    Academic Integrity and Student Conduct

Students and employees at Oakton Community College are required to demonstrate academic integrity and follow Oakton's Code of Academic Conduct. This code prohibits:

• cheating,
• plagiarism (turning in work not written by you, or lacking proper citation),
• falsification and fabrication (lying or distorting the truth),
• helping others to cheat,
• unauthorized changes on official documents,
• pretending to be someone else or having someone else pretend to be you,
• making or accepting bribes, special favors, or threats, and
• any other behavior that violates academic integrity.

There are serious consequences to violations of the academic integrity policy. Oakton's policies and procedures provide students a fair hearing if a complaint is made against you. If you are found to have violated the policy, the minimum penalty is failure on the assignment and, a disciplinary record will be established and kept on file in the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs for a period of 3 years.

Please review the Code of Academic Conduct and the Code of Student Conduct, both located online at

VI.   Sequence of Topics

  1. Motions in the Sky
    1. Motions of the stars
    2. Motions of the planets, the sun and the moon
    3. The seasons
  2. The history of astronomy
    1. Aristotle
    2. Ptolemy
    3. Copernicus
    4. Tycho Brahe
    5. Kepler
    6. Galileo
    7. Newton
  3. Light and its properties
    1. Electromagnetic radiation
    2. Emission and absorption spectra
    3. Telescopes and other instruments
  4. Exploring our Solar System
    1. The origin of the Solar System
    2. Earth as a Planet
    3. The Moon
    4. Mercury, Venus and Mars
    5. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune
    6. Pluto
    7. Comets, Meteors, Asteroids & Meteorites
  5. Stellar Evolution
    1. The Sun
    2. Measuring the Basic Properties of Stars
    3. H/R Diagram
    4. Stellar Evolution I - Birth & Middle Age
    5. Stellar Evolution II - Death
    6. Interstellar Atoms, Dust & Nebulae
    7. Companions to Stars; Binaries, Multiples and Planetary Systems
    8. Star Clusters and Associations
  6. Galaxies
    1. The Milky Way Galaxy
    2. The Local Galaxies
    3. Galaxies and the Expanding Universe
  7. Cosmology
    1. Size and Structure of the Universe
    2. Origin and Evolution of the Universe

VII.  Methods of Instruction

Lecture, demonstration, problem solving, cooperative learning, and discussion methods will be used throughout the course. In addition, laboratory demonstrations and hands-on activities will be performed, and selected videos may be shown.

Course may be taught as face-to-face, hybrid or online course.

VIII. Course Practices Required

The required readings will include the textbook, websites, and selected material supplied by the instructor.

IX.   Instructional Materials

Note: Current textbook information for each course and section is available on Oakton's Schedule of Classes.

Text similar to Horizons, Exploring the Universe by Michael Seeds, or The Cosmic Perspective by Jeffrey Bennett.

Calculator: Any Scientific Calculator.

X.    Methods of Evaluating Student Progress

This may vary by instructor. In general, methods of evaluation will include tests and quizzes that include an opportunity for students to demonstrate basic problem solving ability and conceptual understanding of the material. Homework will be assigned, but its inclusion in the student’s grade may vary by instructor.

XI.   Other Course Information

Reading the text, or other required materials, ahead of the class session is expected.

Attendance policy is determined by the instructor.

Tutoring services are available through the Learning Center.

If you have a documented learning, psychological, or physical disability you may be entitled to reasonable academic accommodations or services. To request accommodations or services, contact the Access and Disability Resource Center at the Des Plaines or Skokie campus. All students are expected to fulfill essential course requirements. The College will not waive any essential skill or requirement of a course or degree program.

Oakton Community College is committed to maintaining a campus environment emphasizing the dignity and worth of all members of the community, and complies with all federal and state Title IX requirements.

Resources and support for
  • pregnancy-related and parenting accommodations; and
  • victims of sexual misconduct
can be found at

Resources and support for LGBTQ+ students can be found at