Faculty of Science

School of Physics

PHYS1500: Astronomy - Discovering the Universe

Semester 2, 2019 | 6 Credit Points | Coordinator: Dr Helen Johnston (h.johnston@sydney.edu.au)

Download unit outline in PDF format

1 Introduction

Welcome to PHYS1500 Astronomy, a Junior course offered by the School of Physics at the University of Sydney.  The information presented here describes most aspects of the course so please read it carefully.

We hope you enjoy Astronomy and learn something about the universe around us and how science is done.

Who can do the course?

Astronomy is a 6 credit point unit of study offered in the July semester to all interested students from any Faculty. There is no assumed knowledge and no prerequisites. You will need to display an ability to think analytically, but the unit requires only a minimal level of mathematics.

The unit is stand-alone and does not require that you be enrolled in any other Physics unit of study. Of course you may take Astronomy in addition to other Physics units if you wish. However, it will not count towards the 12 credit points of Junior Physics required to continue into Intermediate Physics.  Details of other Junior Physics courses may be found in the Junior Physics Information for Students booklet or on the Junior Physics web pages at http://sydney.edu.au/science/physics/current/jpc.shtml.

If you want to continue your study of astronomy and astrophysics in greater depth, other astronomy courses are offered by the School of Physics, although these have a prerequisite of 12 credit points of Junior Physics (not including Astronomy). Intermediate Physics includes a Cosmology and Relativity unit and other courses, such as Astrophysics and High Energy Physics are offered as options in the Senior year. Projects with one of the Research Groups are offered to Advanced students in the Senior year and are a major component of the Honours Year.  Astronomy courses with no prerequisites are offered as part of the University’s Continuing Education Program.

This unit of study outline is not up-to-date. Please refer to the unit of study outline on Canvas.


1.1 Assumed Knowledge and Prohibitions

There is no assumed knowledge and no prerequisites.

2 Course Aims, Learning Objectives and Graduate Attributes

2.1 Course Aims

The focus of this unit is to introduce you to the key concepts of modern astronomy and an appreciation of the techniques used to gather astronomical data.  The unit is also designed to help you develop appropriate methods of study that will allow you to become an independent learner, capable of organising new information into a coherent conceptual framework, interpreting that information and applying it in both familiar and unfamiliar situations.

2.2 Learning Outcomes
A Lecture Outline and set of Specific Objectives related to the conteant of each lecture can be found as a separate file on the eLearning site for this unit.  In more general terms, after successfully completing this unit you should be able to demonstrate:

an appreciation and understanding of the methodology and techniques of astronomy, including

  • the importance of physical principles and physical thinking,
  • the relevance of other sciences (geology, chemistry,...),
  • the technology of astronomical observation,
  •  threats to astronomy such as pollution by light and radio. 
2.  an understanding of the contributions of astronomy to culture and the changing world view;

 a broad understanding of

  • the nature of the planets, stars and galaxies,
  • the scale, structure and diversity of the universe.

a qualitative knowledge and understanding of the following list of important concepts

  • how distance is measured - the distance ladder,
  • the make-up and age of the solar system,
  • the life cycle of a star,
  • the origin of the elements,
  • redshift and its significance,
  • the large scale structure of the universe,
  • universal expansion.
5.  the ability to find and analyse information and judge its reliability and significance;
6.  the ability to communicate scientific information appropriately, both orally and through written work;
7.  the ability to engage in team and group work for scientific investigations and for the process of learning;
8.  a sense of responsibility, ethical behaviour and independence as a learner and as a scientist.

2.3 Graduate Attributes

Graduate Attributes are generic attributes that encompass not only technical knowledge but additional qualities that will equip students to be strong contributing members of professional and social communities in their future careers. The overarching graduate attributes identified by the University relate to a graduate’s attitude or stance towards knowledge, towards the world, and towards themselves. These are understood as a combination of five overlapping skills or abilities, the foundations of which are developed as part of specific disciplinary study. For further details please refer to the Science faculty website at: http://www.itl.usyd.edu.au/graduateAttributes/facultyGA.cfm?faculty=Science

Graduate AttributesLearning Outcomes

A Research and Inquiry
A1. Apply scientific knowledge and critical thinking to identify, define and analyse problems, create solutions, evaluate opinions, innovate and improve current practices. 1, 5, 8
A2. Gather, evaluate and deploy information relevant to a scientific problem. 1, 5, 8
A3. Design and conduct investigations, or the equivalent, and analyse and interpret the resulting data. 1, 5, 8
A4. Critically examine the truth and validity in scientific argument and discourse, and evaluate the relative importance of ideas. 1, 5, 8
A5. Disseminate new knowledge and engage in debate around scientific issues. 5, 6
A6. Value the importance of continual growth in knowledge and skills, and recognise the rapid, and sometimes major, changes in scientific knowledge and technology. 1, 2, 3, 8

B Information Literacy
B1. Use a range of searching tools (such as catalogues and databases) effectively and efficiently to find information. 5
B2. Access a range of information sources in the science disciplines, for example books, reports, research articles, patents and company standards. 5
B3. Critically evaluate the reliability and relevance of information in a scientific context. 1, 5
B4. Consider the economic, legal, social, ethical and cultural issues in the gathering and use of information. 8
B5. Use information technology to gather, process, and disseminate scientific information. 5

C Communication
C1. Explain and present ideas to different groups of people in plain English. 6
C2. Write and speak effectively in a range of contexts and for a variety of different audiences and purposes. 6
C3. Use symbolic and non-verbal communication, such as pictures, icons and symbols as well as body language and facial expressions, effectively. 5
C4. Present and interpret data or other scientific information using graphs, tables, figures and symbols. 5, 6
C5. Work as a member of a team, and take individual responsibility within the group for developing and achieving group goals. 7
C6. Take a leadership role in successfully influencing the activities of a group towards a common goal. 7, 8
C7. Actively seek, identify, and collaborate with others in a professional and social context. 6, 7, 8

D Ethical, Social and Professional Understanding
D1. Demonstrate an understanding of the significance and scope of ethical principles, both as a professional scientist and in the broader social context, and a commitment to apply these principles when making decisions. 8
D2. Appreciate the importance of sustainability and the impact of science within the broader economic, environmental and socio-cultural context. 8
D3. Demonstrate empathy with, and sensitivity towards, another's situation, feelings and motivation. 7, 8

E Personal and Intellectual Autonomy
E1. Evaluate personal performance and development, recognise gaps in knowledge and acquire new knowledge independently. 1, 5, 8
E2. Demonstrate flexibility in adapting to new situations and dealing with uncertainty. 5, 8
E3. Reflect on personal experiences, and consider their effect on personal actions and professional practice. 8
E4. Set achievable and realistic goals and monitor and evaluate progress towards these goals. 8
E5. Demonstrate openness and curiosity when applying scientific understanding in a wider context. 8

2.4 Threshold Learning Outcomes

The Threshold Learning Outcomes (LTOs) are the set of knowledge, skills and competencies that a person has acquired and is able to demonstrate after the completion of a bachelor degree program. The TLOs are not equally weighted across the degree program and the numbering does not imply a hierarchical order of importance.

Threshold Learning OutcomesLearning Outcomes

1 Understanding science
1.1 Articulating the methods of science and explaining why current scientific knowledge is both contestable and testable by further inquiry 1
1.2 Explaining the role and relevance of science in society 2

2 Scientific knowledge
2.1 Demonstrating well-developed knowledge in at least one disciplinary area 3, 4

3 Inquiry and problem solving
3.1 Gathering, synthesising and critically evaluating information from a range of sources 5
3.4 Collecting, accurately recording, interpreting and drawing conclusions from scientific data 5

4 Communication
4.1 Communicating scientific results, information or arguments, to a range of audiences, for a range of purposes, and using a variety of modes 6

5 Personal and professional responsibility
5.1 Being independent and self-directed learners 5, 8
5.2 Working effectively, responsibly and safely in an individual or team context 7

For further details on course learning outcomes see the Lecture Outline and Specific Objectives that can be found as a separate file on the eLearning site for this unit.

3 Study Commitment

Students enrolled in any 6-credit point unit of study offered by the Faculty of Science should consider spending up to 12 hours per week on that unit during the 13 teaching weeks and the study vacation. In PHYS 1500 this involves: 

  • 38 one-hour Lectures divided into several lecture modules:



(2 lectures)

Overview and basics of the sky


Solar System 

(10 lectures)

Formation and evolution,Terrestrial planets,Ginat planets, Rings and moons, Small bodies


(1 lecture1)

General principles, Effects of the atmosphere, Astronomical instrumentation


(11 lectures)

Analysis of starlight, Spectra of stars, Properties of stars, Structure of stars, Evolution of stars, Stellar deaths

Mid-semester test

(1 lecture)

Multiple choice test held in a lecture

The Milky Way

(4 lectures)

Multiwavelength astronomy, Star formation, Galactic structure, Galactic evolution, Galactic centre, Galaxies

Extra-galactic Astronomy

(9 lectures)

Galaxy Clustering, Distance scale, Active Galactic Nuclei, Gamma-ray bursts, Cosmology, Dark matter, Dark Energy

 The lectures are intended to guide you in your study of the textbook;

  • 10 one-hour Tutorials where you will work in small teams to look at real-world astronomy issues. The topics are chosen to parallel the lecture content, but broad enough to encourage wide-ranging discussions, for example the implications of an asteroid colliding with Earth and ‘Astronomy in the Movies’. After the tutorial you will receive a summary of the main points on the topic.  Some tutorial material will appear in the final examination and you will be expected to be familiar with the main points and be able to write a short summary of the topics.  One session will be devoted to observing the Sun using a specially equipped telescope.
  • 5 two-week Laboratory sessions, each of two hours. Since it is impractical to ask you to conduct extensive observations using real telescopes, computer simulations in a lab provide a useful alternative. These directly support the lectures by illustrating the observing techniques required to gather the astronomical knowledge presented in lectures using CLEA software (Contemporary Laboratory Experiences in Astronomy). No special computing knowledge is required.
  • 1 two-hour Night Sky Viewing session.  This meets the need for any astronomy unit to provide an opportunity to observe the night sky.  The School of Physics has a computerised Meade 30 cm (12-inch) LX-200 Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope and a 20 cm (8-inch) Dobsonian-mounted Newtonian telescope that are used for scheduled observing sessions. The University's location near the centre of Sydney is certainly not the best place to observe the sky, but the telescope does remarkably well on many objects and appropriate filters can help penetrate the light pollution.  The objective is to develop some basic familiarity with the sky and let you see some of the objects discussed during the course.
  • 4 web-based MasteringAstronomy sets of Tutorial/Assignment questions. Working with you individually, MasteringAstronomy provides questions that use a “Socratic dialogue” - when you get stuck in answering a problem it offers a simpler problem and provides feedback tailored to your answers. It offers the opportunity to develop your understanding of concepts and your problem solving ability through compulsory assignment questions and optional extra questions. The four assignments roughly correspond to the four main subject areas of the Unit. ‘Introduction to MasteringAstronomy is an extra, short assignment illustrating the features of the system (compulsory even if you are familiar with MasteringPhysics).
  • Up to 6 hours per week of independent study. You are expected to use this time to read through and understand the relevant sections of the textbook, to attempt the various MasteringPhysics questions, and to study for the laboratory test and the final examination.
  • All students must complete an on-line exercise describing Plagiarism and academic honesty before the end of Week 4 of semester. This exercise is located at http://www.library.usyd.edu.au/skills/elearning/learn/plagiarism/index.php).  A digital certificate of completion should be saved after completing the exercise but there will also be an electronic reord of completion that we will check.


In class activitiesHours
Lectures (38 @ 1 hr each) 38
Tutorials (10 @ 1 hr each) 10
Laboratory sessions (5 @ 2 week x 2 hrs each) 20
Night Viewing Session (2 hrs) 2


Independent StudyHours
4 web-based MasteringAstronomy sets (4 @ 3 hr each) 12
Reading of text for lectures ( 38 @ 0.5 hr each) 19
Reading of lecture notes after lectures (38 @ 0.25 hr each) 9.5
Revision and self-assessment (1 hr each week) 13
Preparation for Laboratory sessions (0.5 hr each) 2.5
Preparation for mid-semester test 3
Preparation for laboratory test 3
Library on-line Plagiarism exercise 0.5



Study Tips


You are now in control of your own study strategy, and as an adult learner it is up to you to devise a study plan that best suits you.  If you attend classes regularly and involve yourself in all of these learning experiences, you will gain a good understanding of the course work. This will have a considerable impact on your exam preparation and performance.

Good study habits are also very important - we offer some suggestions on our Learning Physics web page (http://sydney.edu.au/science/physics/current/learningphysics.shtml).


4 Learning and Teaching Activities


You will be scheduled into one lecture stream, with three regular one-hour lectures per week.  Lectures start in the first week of semester.

Where When

Messel Lecture Theatre (SNH Lecture Theatre 4002)

(this is in the Sydney Nanoscience Hub Building)

Monday 2pm

Tuesday 1pm

Thursday 3pm

Note that your University Timetable may pick out Tuesday as a 'Special' Lecture.  This relfects the unit in earlier years and is no longer relevant - all lectures are equivalent.  All lectures are also recorded and available from the Canvas site for this unit.

An outline of each lecture and a set of Specific Objectives related to the content of each lecture can be found in the Lecture Outline and Specific Objectives file linked from the Canvas site for this unit.  The order is as currently expected, but may change, or may slip slightly, as lecturers present the material and availability of guest lecturers changes.


You should also attend a single one-hour tutorial per week. Tutorials start in the second week of semester, with the final tutorial in week 12.

Where When

SNH Large Seminar Room (4001)

(this is in the Sydney Nanoscience Hub Building)

Monday        9 am

Monday        12 noon

Wednesday  12 noon

Wednesday    2 pm

Thursday      12 noon

Friday           10 am









You should also attend a single two-hour laboratory per week. Laboratory sessions start in the second week of semester.  The final laboratory sessions will be the lab exam in week 13.

Where When

SNH Learning Studio (4003)

(this is in the Sydney Nanoscience Hub Building)

Monday         3 pm

Tuesday      10 am

Wednesday   3 pm

Thursday       9 am

Friday            9 am










You should also attend a single Night Sky Viewing session. They will start at around 6:00pm (depending on the date) and finish within approximately 2 hours.  Sessions will begin on an evening in week 4, with as many further dates scheduled as required to have everyone attend (consistent with appropriate phases of the Moon).  You will need to sign-up for one of the nights on the sheet that will be available during your lecture or computer lab sessions. To avoid overcrowding it is essential that you only turn up on your selected night. If your night is cloudy it will be rescheduled to the same day in a following week. At 4.30pm each day we check the weather and decide whether or not to proceed with the night. An email will then be sent to all students to let you know if the observing is on or off.  For more information see http://sydney.edu.au/science/physics/current/jphys/astro1500_observing.shtml.

Note: there will be no lecture or tutorial classes during the mid-semester break and Labour Day Holiday (Monday 24 September to Monday 1 October inclusive). There are no tutorials or labs on some weeks (the Unit timetable at http://sydney.edu.au/science/physics/pdfs/current/jphys/PHYS1500_timetable.pdf for details).


5 Teaching Staff and Contact Details

Unit CoordinatorEmail
Dr Helen Johnston h.johnston@sydney.edu.au
Teaching Staff Email Room Phone Note
Dr Helen Johnston h.Johnston@sydney.edu.au Physics building, Room 213A 9036 9259 Tutorials, Labs, Unit Coordinator
Prof. Peter Tuthill p.tuthill@sydney.edu.au Physics building, Room 360A 9351 3679 Lectures
Dr. Nic Scott nscott@physics.usyd.edu.au 9114 2158
Dr Pulin Gong mastering_physics@physics.usyd.edu.au Madsen Building, Room 434 9036 9368 MasteringAstronomy coordinator

6 Learning Resources

Specific Objectives

This Lecture Outline and Specific Objectives document summarises lecture-by-lecture the main concepts which we hope will be conveyed in Astronomy and which will be regarded as examinable.  The order is as currently expected, but may change, or may slip slightly, as lecturers present the material and availability of guest lecturers changes.

Relevant sections of the textbook are given since you will be expected to read the book – hopefully before the relevant lecture. There is a lot in the book, but in general it is the concepts that are important rather than the small details. These are summarised at the end of each chapter as the Summary of Key Concepts


The lecture modules are based on the textbook:  

The Cosmic Perspective (Pearson New International Edition (7e), 2013)   ISBN 9781292023304

by Jeffrey O. Bennett, Megan Donahue, Nicholas Schneider, Mark Voit

Pearson Higher Ed USA

available at the Co-op Bookshop.  The latest price for the textbook was around $135 (for Co-op members). Earlier editions are also acceptable. 

Note that is is also possible to obtain access to an electronic version of the book (eBook) through MasteringAstronomy.  The cost is around US$30.  This may be a convenient and cost-effective option for some students.

Laboratory Manual

The laboratory segment of the unit is covered by Astronomy Computer Exercises, prepared by the School of Physics available at the University Copy Centre/Publish Partner  (https://www.publishpartner.com.au/students) for ~$12 and are also on the Canvas pages for this unit.

Web Resources

The University Canvas system provides resources to help you with your studies, please spend time getting acquainted with this site. MyUni http://sydney.edu.au/myuni is the student portal providing University information and services. Access to MyUni and Canvas requires a Unikey username and password that is issued with your confirmation of enrolment. The University provides computer facilities described on the Student IT pages at http://sydney.edu.au/ict/student/

There are many astronomy resources on the web.  A selection of useful web sites is provided at http://sydney.edu.au/science/physics/current/jphys/astro1500_links.shtml.


The University provides you with email access based on your username. We may use this email address to provide you with important information regarding this unit of study. We expect you to periodically read your email account or to forward mail from it to an account you do read (eg a gmail account).

Where to go for help

If you need help, you can:

  • as a first step, always check your unit Canvas pages for information, documents and links
  • ask other students using the Discussion Board on the unit Canvas page.
  • go to the Physics Student Services Office, Room 210 in the Physics building, phone 9351 3037
  • ask your lecturer or tutor or ask the unit coordinator, Dr Helen Johnston (h.johnston@sydney.edu.au)
  • consult one of the many services provided by the University, such as the Maths Learning Centre. These can be found by choosing Junior Physics Resources and Links from the unit Canvas page or your MyUni pages http://sydney.edu.au/myuni.
  • for MasteringAstronomy issues contact the MasteringPhysics/MasteringAstronomy coordinator at mastering_physics@physics.usyd.edu.au

Providing us with feedback

We welcome comments on all aspects of this unit. You should feel free to talk to your lecturers, tutors or the Unit Coordinator A/Prof. John O’Byrne at any time. There is also a formal opportunity for feedback at the Staff-Student Liaison meeting, held one lunch time towards the end of semester with staff and student representatives from the various units of study, including this one.

Changes this year

As a result of student feedback and other initiatives there have been a number of changes in the last couple of years.  Most significant was introducing a new way of calculating your final grade that is briefly explained in this Outline.  Other things to note for this year are:

  • A new lecturer in the final module of the unit.
  • Some lectures were previously separated as "special".  They are now integrated into the flow of the regular lecture series, but still feature some guest lecturers.
  • A mid-semester test has been inserted to provide feedback to you on your understanding of the unit material.
  • The Sydney Nanoscience Hub building project is now complete and we will take advantage of some of the new teaching spaces this semester - see http://sydney.edu.au/science/physics/about/AIN/ 

7 Assessment Tasks


Assessment tasks are intended to allow you to demonstrate what you have learned related to the goals of this unit. They also serve to encourage you to work with the material, but should not dominate your approach to learning. See them as another learning activity, accompanying and complementing those listed earlier.

Assessment of this unit of study is based on achievement of specific learning objectives (listed in the Lecture Outline and Specific Objectives that can be found as a separate file on the Canvas site for this unit) demonstrated in a combination of assignments, examinations and laboratory work. Satisfactory performance in ALL aspects of assessment is necessary to ensure a pass in this unit.

In addition, students in physics must be able to express themselves accurately by clear, efficient use of the English language in their written work. Spelling, grammar, punctuation and correct use of language will be taken into account when written reports and examination work are assessed. Students should refer to the University’s WriteSite (http://writesite.elearn.usyd.edu.au/) if they are looking for guidance on grammar and other aspects of academic and professional writing.

You are responsible for understanding the University policy regarding assessment and examination, which can be found in the University Policy Register at http://sydney.edu.au/policies/

The method of combining marks from various assessment tasks is somewhat different from that used in most other units, although this should not affect your approach to each assessment task.  Your final grade will be based principally on your performance in the final exam and mid-semester test. All Summative Assessments are marked and have mark standards that must be achieved to be eligible for each grade in your final result. Refer to section 7.2 on Assessment Grading to see exactly how marks in each assessment determine your final grade.

 Late Assignments

Assignments (and other assessment items) submitted late without permission (see Special Considerations: sydney.edu.au/students/special-consideration-and-arrangements.html) will incur a late penalty equal to 5% of the maximum mark per day. These deductions will continue for 10 calendar days or until a solution for the assignment is released or marked assignments are returned to other students. At that point the available mark will go to zero.

For example, on an assignment given a mark of 7/10, the penalty would be 0.5 marks if submitted up to 24 hours late, resulting in a final mark of 6.5/10. If the assignment is submitted 6 days late, the penalty would be 3 marks and the final mark would be 4/10.


7.1 Summative Assessments

A visual calendar form of the summative assessment dates is available. A iCal format calendar for Google, Apple and other calendar application is also available

Assessment Task Brief Description Due DateLearning Outcomes
Introduction to MasteringAstronomy Category: Submitted work
Type: Assignment

Individual or group assessment: Individual
Week 3
Saturday, 24 August 2019
Assignment 1 and Tutorial Questions Category: Submitted work
Type: Assignment

Individual or group assessment: Individual
Week 5
Saturday, 07 September 2019
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8
Assignment 2 and Tutorial Questions Category: Submitted work
Type: Assignment

Individual or group assessment: Individual
Week 8
Saturday, 28 September 2019
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8
Assignment 3 and Tutorial Questions Category: Submitted work
Type: Assignment

Individual or group assessment: Individual
Week 10
Saturday, 19 October 2019
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8
Assignment 4 and Tutorial Questions Category: Submitted work
Type: Assignment

Individual or group assessment: Individual
Week 13
Saturday, 09 November 2019
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8
Report (night viewing project) Category: Submitted work
Type: Assignment

Individual or group assessment: Individual
Week 12
Saturday, 02 November 2019
1, 5, 7
Tutorials Category: In-class assessment
Type: Tutorial quiz or small test or small continuous assessment

Individual or group assessment: Individual
Weekly 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
Laboratory Work - Experiments Category: In-class assessment
Type: Tutorial quiz or small test or small continuous assessment
Weekly 1, 5, 7
Laboratory exam Category: In-class assessment
Type: Tutorial quiz or small test or small continuous assessment
Week 13
(week starting Monday, 04 November 2019)
1, 5, 7
Mid-semester test Category: In-class assessment
Type: Tutorial quiz or small test or small continuous assessment

Individual or group assessment: Individual
Length: 30 minutes
Week 8
Friday, 27 September 2019 from 03.00 pm to 05.00 pm
1, 3, 4, 5
Final Examination Category: Exam
Type: Final exam

Individual or group assessment: Individual
Exam Period 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7

Descriptions of Summative Assessments

Introduction to MasteringAstronomy

MasteringAstronomy may be accessed directly from the PHYS 1500 eLearning site.  For those students who have used MasteringPhysics, the system will be very familiar.  Instructions for accessing MasteringAstronomy are available on the MasteringAstronomy page of the PHYS 1500 Canvas site. 

Please report any access problems to the MasteringPhysics/MasteringAstronomy coordinator (mastering_physics@physics.usyd.edu.au).

Once you are logged in, the various links on the Canvas page take you direct into various parts of the MasteringAstronomy site. The eText link provides access to an on-line or downloadable copy of the textbook.  Your access can be upgraded to use this for around US$30.  There are also apps for iPads and Android Tablets to take advantage of this access.

There are four full assignments during the semester as well as a short ‘Introduction to MasteringAstronomy’  assignment (worth half marks). ‘Introduction to MasteringAstronomy’  illustrates the features of the system with a mark value (given in full on completion) approximately half that of a regular assignment.  This introduction MUST be completed, even if you used MasteringPhysics in semester 1!

Assignment questions must be completed by 7pm (local time) on the date noted in the assessment above.  MasteringAstronomy  will not accept late assignments. Available marks ramp down to zero in the five hours until midnight on the day the assignment is due. 

MasteringAstronomy marks the assignments automatically and you immediately know your result.   Worked solutions to all assignment questions will be posted on the web, although you should have the answer and method once you complete each MasteringAstronomy question. Note that some assignment questions use randomised values - i.e. different students see the question with different values.



Assignment 1 and Tutorial Questions

Each assignment (apart from the 'Introduction to MasteringAstronomy') is divided into two components.

·             Tutorial Questions. These all feature the full MasteringAstronomy Socratic dialogue - when you get stuck in answering a problem it offers a simpler problem and provides feedback tailored to your answers. These have been selected by your lecturers to help your understanding and problem solving ability. There are not assessed but we strongly recommend you look at some of these questions, which will remain available after the assignment deadline until the end of the semester.

·             Assignment Questions are compulsory questions and represent the minimum use you should make of the system. The questions are a mix: tutorial-style questions teaching you concepts and problem solving techniques; and end-of-chapter problems from the textbook. The tutorial-style questions have full hints and feedback, while the end-of-chapter questions do not.

Try the problem without a hint first, then, if you get stuck, try the hint. The marking scheme gives a small reward when answers are achieved without using the hints, but no penalty if you do use them.  The objective is to get the right answer using as much help as it takes.

Report (night viewing project)

Assessment of the Night Sky Viewing is based on completion of a short answer sheet that should be completed on the night or returned to the Physics Student Services Office as soon as possible afterward.  Night Viewing is popular with most students, but it is also an assessment item and therefore compulsory.


Contributing to Workshop Tutorials is an important part of success in this Unit of Study.  We measure your contribution by collecting group answer sheets and assigning an overall mark for your work during the semester.  For most tutorials there is also a pre-tutorial quiz in which you must make a serious attempt, but not necessarily get everything right.  Each Tutorial or Quiz is worth 1 mark.  To obtain maximum credit you may only miss two marks (e.g. one Tutorial and one Quiz).

Laboratory Work - Experiments

Assessment in the laboratory is based on successful completion of laboratory work. The computer-based experiments are divided into a series of checkpoints where tutors check that your progress is on track.  Two sessions are assigned for each CLEA exercise but many people finish early. Note that each exercise must be signed off no later than the end of the second week assigned to that exercise.  Full details are provided in the Laboratory Manual.

To obtain maximum credit you may only miss 2 check points out of 20 (e.g. complete 4.5 out of 5 Studio Labs). Previous experience indicates that this is not too difficult to achieve if you apply yourself during each session. Most students get all 20 check-points.

Laboratory exam

This test is a short, open-book, exam closely based on lab exercises to test your understanding of those exercises.

Mid-semester test

This test is a short, closed-book, exam held in a lecture.  It uses Multiple Choice Questions to provide you with some practice with the MCQ portion of the final exam.  Its main purpose is to give you some indication of how well you know the material presented up to that point.  It will cover all the material on planets, telescopes and stars.   

Final Examination

A two-hour examination covering the material included in the unit of study is held at the end of the semester. You will be asked to write descriptive answers to questions, to explain physical principles and to answer quantitative questions, all aimed at demonstrating your progress in achieving the goals of the unit.

The final exam will cover material from the entire unit, including material tested in the mid-semester test.  See the Sample Exam papers in the Canvas pages for this unit for an accurate indication of the exam structure.

Note that you must bring  your own non-programmable calculator to any Junior Physics examination. See the University policy on calculators at http://www.usyd.edu.au/current_students/student_administration/examinations/students.shtml#calculators

7.2 Formative Assessments

Assessment TaskDate AvailableLearning Outcomes
Academic Honesty Education Module Always Available 8

Descriptions of Formative Assessments

Academic Honesty Education Module
The Academic Honesty Education Module appears as a compulsory extra unit of study (AHEM1001) on every new student's Canvas page if you are a commencing student from Semester 1 2016 at the University of Sydney.  It is compulsory because the University wants all commencing students to have a basic understanding of academic integrity and honesty.  When you understand these concepts and how they relate to your studies, you will be able to start your university journey better prepared to succeed.  We strongly advise you to complete this module while you are preparing for your first assignment. The module contains nine quizzes, each of which must be completed with full marks before you are able to progress. The initial attempt at each quiz is intended to be challenging, so do not be discouraged if you get tripped up.  The module will probably take you up to 90 minutes but you do not have to complete it in one sitting because your progress will be saved.  It is available for you to complete until the end of this semester. A record will be made on your academic transcript when you have successfully completed the module. The concepts covered in this module will be also contextualised in activities presented within the particular units in which you are enrolled.

7.3 Assessment Grading

Final grades in this unit are awarded at levels of HD (High Distinction), DI (Distinction), CR (Credit), PS (Pass) and FA (Fail) as defined by the Academic Board Assessment Coursework Policy 2014. These achievement levels are described below. Details of the policy are available on the University’s ‘Policy Online’ website at http://www.sydney.edu.au/policies/.

The assessments for this unit are described in this unit of study outline. This description includes the purpose, timing and weighting of each assessment item and an explanation of how task relate to the learning outcomes of the unit. Students are responsible for actively engaging with these assessments, including carefully reading the guidance provided, spending sufficient time on the task, ensuring their work is authentic and their own (whether individual or group work), completing work on time and acting on feedback provided.

The grading system used in this unit of study is somewhat different from that used in most other units.  It is based on setting appropriate standards in different types of assessment.  ALL assessments are compulsory.

Your final grade will be based principally on your performance in the three examination-style assessments where you are working by yourself:

  • final exam (80%), 
  • mid-semester test (10%) 
  • lab exam (10%)

The minimum standard to achieve a pass mark in this unit is:

  • Final exam + mid-semester test + lab exam: ≥ 50%


  • Lab: ≥ 14/20 checkpoints

You must meet BOTH of these standards to pass this unit.

However, ALL assessments contribute to your final grade if you want to get more than a bare pass.

Each higher grade has a minimum mark that MUST be achieved to be eligible for that Grade in your final result – i.e. to achieve a High Distinction (HD) you must achieve a HD standard in ALL assessments. If you do not meet this standard, your mark will drop to the middle of the grade below.

Standards for achievement in each assessment task are as follows:


Exam + 2 tests


Tutorials and Quiz


  Night Viewing

 HD  85  8  16  18  3
 DI  75  7  14  16  3
 CR  65  6  12  16  3
 PS  50      14  

Note that the Assignments consist of 4 full assignments (2 each) and the Introductory Assignment (1).


For example:

If you did poorly in the mid-semester test (11/25), but much better in the lab test (12/15) and the final exam (79/100), your total mark for these three examination-style assessments would be 

(11/25) * 10% + (12/15) * 10% + (79/100) * 80% = 4.4 + 8 + 63.2 = 76%

This is a Distinction (DI) standard. However, for this to be your final result, you would also need to achieve at least Distinction standard in ALL your other assessments -- i.e.

  • at least 7/9 in your assignments
  • participated in at least 14/18 tutorials and their associated quizzes
  • completed at least 16/20 checkpoints in the lab
  • received at least 3/5 for the Night Viewing worksheet

Most Distinction students will achieve these standards relatively easily as part of their conscientious work during the semester.

However, if (for instance) you didn't submit any assignments, then your 76% in the exams is dropped to a grade of 70 CR – the middle of the Credit range.

A more dramatic change would result if you had only completed less than 14/20 checkpoints in the lab. You have then not achieved one of the two minimum standards required to pass this unit and you would receive a 49 FA.

Of course, if you have a valid reason for missing an assessment which is approved via the Special Consideration process, your marks will be adjusted to allow for this.

The way to succeed in this unit is to do well in the various tests (as always) and to complete most (preferably all) of the other assessment tasks.



High Distinction (HD)

At HD level, a student demonstrates a flair for the subject and comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the unit material. A ‘High Distinction’ reflects exceptional achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates the ability to apply subject knowledge to novel situations.

Distinction (DI)

At DI level, a student demonstrates an aptitude for the subject and a solid knowledge and understanding of the unit material. A ‘Distinction’ reflects excellent achievement and is awarded to a student who demonstrates an ability to apply the key ideas of the subject.

Credit (CR)

At CR level, a student demonstrates a good command and knowledge of the unit material. A ‘Credit’ reflects solid achievement and is awarded to a student who has a broad understanding of the unit material but has not fully developed the ability to apply the key ideas of the subject.

Pass (PS)

At PS level, a student demonstrates proficiency in the unit material. A ‘Pass’ reflects satisfactory achievement and is awarded to a student who has threshold knowledge of the subject.

8 Academic Integrity

While the University is aware that the vast majority of students and staff act ethically and honestly, it is opposed to and will not tolerate academic dishonesty or plagiarism and will treat all allegations of dishonesty seriously.

All students are expected to be familiar and act in compliance with the relevant University policies, procedures and codes, which include:
  • Academic Honesty in Coursework Policy 2015
  • Academic Honesty Procedures 2016
  • Code of Conduct for Students
  • Research Code of Conduct 2013 (for honours and postgraduate dissertation units)
They can be accessed via the University's Policy Register: http://sydney.edu.au/policies (enter 'Academic Honesty' in the search field).

Students should never use document-sharing sites and should be extremely wary of using online 'tutor' services. Further information on academic honesty and the resources available to all students can be found on the Academic Integrity page of the University website: http://sydney.edu.au/elearning/student/EI/index.shtml.

8.1 Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism

Academic dishonesty involves seeking unfair academic advantage or helping another student to do so.

You may be found to have engaged in academic dishonesty if you:
  • Resubmit (or 'recycle') work that you have already submitted for assessment in the same unit or in a different unit or previous attempt.
  • Use assessment answers hosted on the internet, including those uploaded to document sharing websites by other students.
  • Have someone else complete part or all of an assessment for you, or do this for another student.
  • Except for legitimate group work purposes, providing assessment questions and answers to other students directly or through social media platforms or document ('notes') sharing websites, including essays and written reports.
  • Engage in examination misconduct, including using cheat notes or unapproved electronic devices (e.g., smartphones), copying from other students, discussing an exam with another person while it is in progress, or removing confidential examination papers from the examination venue.
  • Engage in dishonest plagiarism.
Plagiarism means presenting another person's work as if it is your own without properly or adequately referencing the original source of the work.

Plagiarism is using someone else's ideas, words, formulas, methods, evidence, programming code, images, artworks, or musical creations without proper acknowledgement. If you use someone's actual words you must use quotation marks as well as an appropriate reference. If you use someone's ideas, formulas, methods, evidence, tables or images you must use a reference. You must not present someone's artistic work, musical creation, programming code or any other form of intellectual property as your own. If referring to any of these, you must always present them as the work of their creator and reference in an appropriate way.

Plagiarism is always unacceptable, regardless of whether it is done intentionally or not. It is considered dishonest if done knowingly, with intent to deceive, or if a reasonable person can see that the assessment contains important material copied from other sources and not properly referenced. The University understands that not all plagiarism is dishonest and provides students with opportunities to improve their academic writing, including their understanding of scholarly citation and referencing practices.

8.2 Use of Similarity Detection Software

All written assessments submitted in this unit of study will be submitted to the similarity detecting software program known as Turnitin. Turnitin searches for matches between text in your written assessment task and text sourced from the Internet, published works and assessments that have previously been submitted to Turnitin for analysis.

There will always be some degree of text-matching when using Turnitin. Text-matching may occur in use of direct quotations, technical terms and phrases, or the listing of bibliographic material. This does not mean you will automatically be accused of academic dishonesty or plagiarism, although Turnitin reports may be used as evidence in academic dishonesty and plagiarism decision-making processes.

9 Learning and Teaching Policies


The School of Physics recognises that biases and discrimination, including but not limited to those based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and age, continue to impact parts of our community disproportionately. Consequently, the School is strongly committed to taking effective steps to make our environment supportive and inclusive and one that provides equity of access and opportunity for everyone.

The School has three Equity Officers as a point of contact for students who may have a query or concern about any issues relating to equity, access and diversity.  If you feel you have been treated unfairly, discriminated against or disadvantaged in any way, you are encouraged to talk to one of the Equity Officers or any member of the Physics staff.

More information can be found at http://sydney.edu.au/science/physics/about/equity.shtml

Any student who feels they may need a special accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact Disability Services: https://sydney.edu.au/study/academic-support/disability-support.html who can help arrange support.


While studying at the University of Sydney, a student may need to apply for special consideration or special arrangements as follows:

Special Consideration may be granted where well-documented illness, injury or misadventure occurs to the student (or someone the student has carer’s responsibility for) during semester or the exam period.

Longer term health or emotional issues are best managed with adjustments to course assessments as part of an Academic Plan developed in discussion between the student and Disabilities Services

Special Arrangements may be granted for certain personal circumstances - for example the birth of a child, or religious or cultural commitments - or for essential community commitments - for example compulsory legal absence (e.g. Jury duty), elite sporting or cultural commitments (representing the University, state or country), or Australian Defence Force or Emergency Service commitments (e.g. Army Reserve).

Note that, unlike some other faculties, the Faculty of Science does not offer 'Simple Extensions' for assessments.  
ALL requests for an extension of time on an assessment must be made by applying for Special Consideration or Special Arrangements as outlined above.

Further information on eligibility, document requirements and how to apply is available at https://sydney.edu.au/students/special-consideration-and-arrangements.html. Applications must be made using the University’s formal online application process no later than three (3) working days after the assessment occurrence or due date (unless a reasonable explanation for a delay is provided).

You should not submit an application of either type if

  • there is no assessment associated with a missed class, or
  • you have a reasonable opportunity to make up any work you missed.

Students unsure what type of Consideration is appropriate, or unhappy with a Consideration decision, should consult the Student Centre.

For full details of applicable university policies and procedures, see the web site at sydney.edu.au/policy.

Replacement assessments for end of semester examinations

Students who apply for and are granted either special arrangements or special consideration for end of semester examinations in units offered by the Faculty of Science will be expected to sit any replacement assessments in the two weeks immediately following the end of the formal examination period. Later dates for replacement assessments may be considered where the application is supported by appropriate documentation and provided that adequate resources are available to accommodate any later date.


The School of Physics will NOT accept assessments that are simply copied. Copying the work of another person without acknowledgment is plagiarism and contrary to University policies on Academic Honesty and Plagiarism as described on the University Policy Register web site (https://sydney.edu.au/policy/). An outline of what constitutes Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism can be found at https://sydney.edu.au/science/physics/local/acadhonesty.shtml.

Student Appeals

Students have the right to appeal any academic decision made by a school or the faculty. The appeal must follow the appropriate procedure so that a fair hearing is obtained. The formal application form can be obtained at:


Other University Policies

University Policies most relevant to an undergraduate coursework student are:

  • Learning and Teaching Policy
  • Coursework Policy
  • Assessment Procedures
  • Academic Honesty in Coursework
  • Student Appeals against Academic Decisions

For full details of these and other university policies and procedures, see the University Policy Register web site at sydney.edu.au/policy.

Relevant forms and procedures are also available on the Faculty website at https://sydney.edu.au/science/cstudent/ug/forms.shtml