General Information

Course number: ASTR-2120

Instructor: Professor Douglas Whittet

Office: Science Center 1C34

Phone: x8413; Email:

Office hours by appointment (send me an email)

Professor Whittet's Web Page


Earth and Sky is a 4-credit course offered in the Fall Semester annually. It is designed to provide an introduction to the science of astronomy from an observational perspective. The primary aims of the course are:

1) To gain familiarity with the night time sky.

2) To learn the basics of observational astronomy, both with the unaided eye and through telescopic observation.

3) To gain an understanding of observational phenomena and their relationship to the science of astronomy.

4) To consider the Earth as an astronomical body and discover what can be learned by studying the Earth from space.

Class hours:

Lectures: 12:00 noon - 12:50 pm (Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays)

Evening laboratories: 7:30 - 9:30 pm (dates will be announced in class)


Various modes of presentation will be used in the class, including videos, powerpoint, and computer demos. Powerpoint presentations will be available for download to students enrolled in the course at RPI's Learning Management System (LMS) website.


The currently recommended text for the course is "To Measure the Sky - An Introduction to Observational Astronomy" by Frederick R. Chromey (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

Sky Software:

Extensive use will be made of night sky display software in the class. A recommended commercial program that you may wish to consider purchasing is Starry Night (purchase is not a requirement for the course). A good freeware alternative is Stellarium.


Weekly homework assignments will be set and will typically be due one week later. All homework will be posted and must be submitted via LMS: log on the check due dates.

Laboratory work:

Observing sessions begin mid-September and run until the last week of classes. Attendance and reporting requirements will be explained in class and may differ from year to year. See the labs section for further information.

Class Exams:

There will be a total of four 1-hour exams.