MSE 2100: Birth and Death of Stars

Please refer to this web page for most up-to-date information on the course. Test dates, tests and quizzes in pdf form and all other information will be made available in due time.

This course satisfies one semester of the 2-semester Natural Science requirement for students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, under the provisions of the Mendel Science Experience (MSE). Students must also be enrolled in the concurrent laboratory course Astronomy Laboratory.

If you lost/misplaced your syllabus, you can download it here.


At every class session I will hand out a list of topics that we will discuss that day. These handouts do not replace notes. Please remember to take notes and consult the book regularly. The handouts in PDF form are provided below.

Monday Wednesday Friday
MLK Intro 2023-01-20
2023-01-23 2023-01-25 2023-01-27
2023-01-30 2023-02-01 (worksheet) 2023-02-03 (gravity problems)
2023-02-06 2023-02-08 2023-02-10
2023-02-13 2023-02-15 2023-02-17
2023-02-20 2023-02-22 2023-02-24
Review for the test Test #1 Doppler shift worksheet, recording
Test results, recording 2023-03-15, recording 2023-03-17, recording
2023-03-20, recording 2023-03-22, recording 2023-03-24, recording
2023-03-27, recording 2023-03-29, recording 2023-03-31, recording
2023-04-03, recording 2023-04-05, recording Easter recess
Easter recess 2023-04-12 (HRD equations, HR diagram), recording 2023-04-14, problem key, recording
2023-04-17, recording 2023-04-19, recording 2023-04-21, recording
2023-04-24 -- review, recording Test #2 Day off!
2023-05-01 recording 2023-05-02 recording 2023-05-03 recording


Every week there will be a 10-minute in-class quiz that will cover last week's topics. Quizzes contribute significantly to your final grade, please study and come prepared.

Quiz: Topics: Date:
1 Chapter 1.1, handout 1, slides Jan 23, 2023
2 Chapters 1.2, 1.3, 3.1, an exerpt from another book, slides Jan 30, 2023
3 Chapters 3.2, 3.3, 4.1, first part of 4.2, also this chapter Feb 6, 2023
4 Chapters 4.2, 4.3, 5.1 Feb 13, 2023
5 Chapters 5.1, 5.4, 5.2 Feb 20, 2023
6 Chapters 7.1, 7.2, 7.3, 7.4 Mar 20, 2023
7 Chapter 13.1 Mar 27, 2023
8 Topics covered in these, these and these slides Apr 3, 2023
9 Chapter 13.4, topics covered in these and these slides Apr 17, 2023


There will be 2 in-class tests that will cover the corresponding half of the material. Tests contribute significantly to your final grade, please study and come prepared.

Test: Topics covered: Book chapters: Date: PDF:
1 TBD TBD March 1, 2023 pdf
2 TBD TBD April 26, 2023 pdf
Final Everything Everything May 9, 2023 at 2:30pm TBD

Course content:

Stars are the main constituents of our Universe. Understanding the physical processes that are happening in their interiors and in their envelopes means understanding the Universe as a whole. When we say “stars,” we usually think of Sun-like objects, but it turns out that our Sun is neither particularly typical nor special in any way (other than the fact that it enables life to you, me, everyone and everything on this planet). The stars, ranging from the hottest blue giants, all the way to the coolest red dwarfs, from red giants and supergiants to tiny white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes, share a common story that we will cover in detail over the course of the semester. For example, do you know how stars form? How long does it take to form a star? How about how long do stars typically live? What does it take for stars to have planetary systems around them? Why are some red stars tiny dwarfs just a tad bigger than Jupiter while the other red stars are supergiants the size of our entire solar system? What powers the stars? For how long? And what happens then? It is my sincere hope that you embrace the most important question that you can ask me, and one another: “How do we know all this?” On our path to understanding the physics and chemistry of stars, and the processes that govern their lifetimes, we will study the process of scientific inquiry and we will learn to apply it to other topics in science in general, and astronomy in particular. Above all, remember: astronomy is just soooo cool that we will have tons of fun covering all this good stuff!

Course material:

Palen and Blumenthal, 21st Century Astronomy, 7th Edition

A pdf of the "A short cruise through the Universe" presentation can be downloaded here.

An excerpt from "Life in the Universe" that describes the period from early Greek science to the Renaissance.

Cool links:

Here's a truly awesome essay by Richard Feynman on basic chemistry, a part of his Lectures on Physics: Atoms in Motion.

Course work and grading:

Your final grade will reflect the scores you earn on quizzes, tests and the final.

  • every week on Monday there will be a quiz that you must take. Every quiz has 10 questions, with an additional two questions for extra credit. Each quiz question is worth 10 points, 100 points total + 20 points for extra credit;
  • there will be 2 45-min tests during the semester. These tests will have 5 questions, with an additional question for extra credit. Each question is worth 100 points, 500 points total + 100 points for extra credit;
  • at the end of the semester there will be a cumulative final. The final will have 5 questions, with an additional question for extra credit. Each question is 200 points, 1000 points total + 200 points for extra credit;
  • occasionally there may be other opportunities given for extra credit, such as an in-depth presentation of research topics and homeworks. Please see me to find out more about these opportunities.

If you do the math, you'll see that quizzes carry 1/3 of the grade, tests carry 1/3 of the grade, and the final carries 1/3 of the grade. To scare you right out of your pants in advance, here is the grade breakdown:

0-56% F 68-72% C- 84-88% B
56-60% D- 72-76% C 88-92% B+
60-64% D 76-80% C+ 92-96% A-
64-68% D+ 80-84% B- 96-100% A

Course objectives:

Once you have successfully completed The Birth and Death of Stars course, you will be able to:

  • understand and appreciate the process of scientific discovery, from hypothesis to theory;
  • authoritatively partake in a scientifically backed discussion on the contents of the Universe;
  • have the foundation for reading and following the news and advances in this field;
  • gain proficiency with the basic astronomical vocabulary to propel you to other related fields;
  • gain independence and critical thinking skills to recognize BS when you hear it in the news.


Regular attendance is essential for uninterrupted understanding of course material. Since this course covers a significant amount of content in a not-so-significant amount of time, each missed class will hurt. Really hurt. The topics are not trivial and continuous work is required to remain on top of things.

Please do not miss quizzes and tests. If you must miss a quiz or a test, you must inform me of that in advance, and you must have a written notice excusing your absence. Health center visits and subsequent “call us and we'll confirm that he/she was here” do not count as a valid excuse. Provided that you follow these rules, I will excuse you from a missed quiz (i.e. there are no makeups for the quizzes), and I will provide you with a makeup opportunity for the test or the final.

The etiquette for using laptops and cell phones in class:

The use of notebook computers, tablets or cell phones in class is strictly prohibited. You will be publicly flogged if caught using cell phones in class for texting, facebooking or web surfing.

How to reach me:

I am available for your questions and comments whenever you get a hold of me. I usually lurk on the 4th floor Mendel around my office M458c. The best time to catch me is every day between 10am and 4pm except around noon when I'm off to lunch. I am also known to answer e-mails on a regular basis.

Academic integrity:

Finally, here goes the standard blurb: any violation of the Code of ethics will be grounds for failing the course. Any cheating, copying, duplication of work, etc, will get you into trouble. If you have any concerns whatsoever, come talk to me and I'm sure we'll be able to sort everything out.

Special needs:

It is the policy of Villanova University to make reasonable academic accommodations for qualified individuals with special needs. If you are a person with a special need please contact me after class or during office hours and make arrangements to register with the Learning Support Services by contacting 610-519-5176 or by emailing as soon as possible. Students approved for accommodations should use ClockWork to register and book tests.