Practical Astronomy

I.     Course Prefix/Number: PHY 120

       Course Name: Practical Astronomy

       Credits: 4 (3 lecture; 3 lab)

II.    Prerequisite

MAT 070 with grade of P.

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. Laboratory activities include operation of telescopes, observation of solar system and deep sky objects, sky charts, and use of computer based planetarium software. 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.
  14. Use a small telescope to locate and track various astronomical objects.
  15. Explain the use of star charts and the meaning of their symbols and be able to use star charts to locate celestial objects.
  16. Use computer based observatories to describe celestial events from the past and into the future.
  17. Outline which constellations are visible each season and which deep-sky objects are found within these constellations.

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

Laboratory Exercises

Laboratory exercises should include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Observations of constellations.
  2. Introduction to telescopes and celestial coordinates.
  3. Observations of planets and the moon.
  4. Observations of binary and variable stars.
  5. Observations of star clusters.
  6. Observations of emission and reflection nebulae.
  7. Observations of galaxies.
  8. Introduction to sky charts and their symbols.
  9. Introduction to computer based planetarium software.
  10. Observing the sky many years from now.
  11. Astrophotography.

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

  1. The required readings will include the textbook, laboratory manual, and selected material supplied by the instructor.
  2. Mathematics and problem solving will be used. Basic algebra will be used throughout the course. A review of these skills may be necessary. Students should be aware that such a review might be needed and should seek appropriate assistance. Students will be expected to use a hand‑held scientific calculator throughout the course.
  3. Laboratory practice includes correct setup of the apparatus, performing the experiment, collecting and analyzing the data, and submitting a write-up as required by the instructor. Students are required to locate, retrieve and replace all needed lab equipment at designated places and clean up the work area before leaving.
  4. Students will be expected to write at least six laboratory reports. The instructor will determine the experiments that will be written up.
  5. Team work is encouraged and needed for efficient lab work.
  6. Safe work practices, as established by the instructor, must be strictly followed by all students.

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.

Laboratory Manual: similar to Basic Astronomy Labs by Jay Huebner.

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

Electronic video and/or audio recording is not permitted during class unless the student obtains written permission from the instructor. In cases where recordings are allowed, such content is restricted to personal use only. Any distribution of such recordings is strictly prohibited. Personal use is defined as use by an individual student for the purpose of studying or completing course assignments.

For students who have been approved for audio and/or video recording of lectures and other classroom activities as a reasonable accommodation by Oakton’s Access Disabilities Resource Center (ADRC), applicable federal law requires instructors to permit those recordings. Such recordings are also limited to personal use. Any distribution of such recordings is strictly prohibited.

Violation of this policy will result in disciplinary action through the Code of Student Conduct.