Freshman Seminar Astronomy 110-6

Black Holes, Neutron Stars, Pulsars and All That

Fall Quarter 2014

Instructor: Mel Ulmer

Office: Dearborn Observatory #3 (General Campus Interactive Map)
Info of Dearborn Observatory area only Dearborn Observatory

Phone: 847.491.5633


Office Hours: by appointment

Class meetings: MW 10:00 a.m. -11:20 a.m. in RM 23 In Dearborn Observatory


 Gateway (by Fredrik Pohl,  ISBN: 0-345-47583-6)

Dragon's Egg (by Robert L. Forward, ISBN: 0-345-43529-X)

Other Sources  for reading: Scientific American And Sky and Telescope

See also the Web such as:

The Jodrell Bank Pulsar Group Web Page - "A web site for the truly pulsar addicted"

The Goolge Black Hole Science Directory - "The web site for the Black Hole addicted"

Gravity's Relentless Pull:  - "An interactive, multimedia website on black holes "



Papers Due Date Schedule :

Date Due

Number of pages

Mon  06 Oct


Mon  20 Oct


Mon  03 Nov


Mon  24 Nov


Suggested Paper Topics: Below are few sample paper topics (you can choose others and with approval from Prof. Ulmer write on one of those). It is more important that you write about something you know and have an interest in than on a "must write on" topic. Do not simply re-word a Wikipedia article. Also not allowed: A English lit paper

Some Papers Topics:

Bios: such as Einstien, Newton, Hubble, Chandrasekhar and much more but beware,  a rewording of a bio is not enough

Milli-second Pulsars

Pulsars as good clocks

Quantum Gravity

Theory of Every Thing

Time Travel

Time Dilation

Bi-Polar Out Flow compared to black hole produced jets

Do Black Holes Exist?

Twin Pardox


Anomolous X-ray Pulsars

The Black Hole Pardigm for Active Galactic Nuclei

Neutron star Formation

Black Hole Formation

NASA's support of Black Hole reseach

NSF's support of Black Hole reseach

The Space Race, The Shuttle, The Space Station, The Moon

LIGO/LISA (experiments to find gravitational radiation)

Have Hulst & Taylor already proved grav. rad. exists, so why bother?

Is Time Quantized ?

General Course Description:

There are two books to read for this class. We will read in parallel the two books for this class.  Prisons of Light  book the  reading will be 13 pages/per discussion session, starting at page 6; I can discuss the last few pages.  For the Dragon's Egg start with page 1  and read 21 pages/discussion, except the last one where 6 more pages need to be read.  Therefore the required reading is only about 64 pages week.  At 1 minute per page, you won't be "hurting."  You should spend most of your time that you devote to this class to writing papers. This is not a lecture class devoted to teaching you many detailed facts about compact objects (black holes and neutron stars) nor is the expectation that you spend most of you writing assignment time on researching your topic.

Each class will have a student discussion leader. The discussion topics can be science issues, history related (the Dragon’s Egg book), or how you found the writing (e.g. exceptionally good or bad, and give examples and talk about why).  At the end of the quarter, the discussion time will be replaced by 10 minute presentations by each student.   Facilities will be provided for either overhead or power point presentations .

Personal Statement:

I was fortunate enough to begin my scientific career when black holes, neutron stars, pulsars and all that were being discovered. I plan to use this perspective to encourage the students to think critically and to learn about the excitement of entering a new field. As my role as a Freshman Seminar leader I will initiate discussion, questions, and to teach the student how to examine his/her own writing in a critical manner. My interest in X-ray astronomy has lead me to study both compact objects, the large scale structure of the Universe, and as well instrumentation development for the next generation satellites.

Grading Policy:

Four writing assignments will be required; three of moderate length (45% of the grade) and one in-depth essay (25% of the grade).   Abstracts can add at most 2 points to a paper such that is your paper already has a 14, you will only get 1 pt.  Abstract will get grades of 2, 1, or 0 depending on their quality. Ones that are too long will be returned without a grade.

Class participation will account for 15% of the grade.

Each student will be required to facilitate a discussion of a topic from one of the two books we will read in the class. Each student will also give a 10 minute presentation (15% of the grade) of a paper of their choice (but I recommend the last paper) that is within the context of the class.

Recommended but not Required at all: Attendance for at least one observing session.

Dearborn Observatory has an 18 inch refractor that allows spectacular viewing of the planets, the moon  and other objects. Observing sessions will be held on an evening to be announced later.   Each will be one hour long and will be somewhat limited so please sign up  (if possible, but this is not necessary) with me such that we don't overload one session.. The first session will be held the second week of class. The times of the sessions will be announced at the end of the preceding week and the beginning of the week of the sessions. Viewing will be done in conjunction with the class called the Highlights of Astronomy or My Class the Milky Way. The times of the viewing are 8:00-9:30 on Mondays The sessions will be held regardless of whether it is cloudy or not. A tour will be given in any event.  Repeat attendance to achieve actual viewing is possible.

Course Outline

Week 1 (Sept 24) class meeting #1

Discussion of expectations on writing and introducing each other, and a lecture
on Black Holes etc

Begin Readings

Plus,  Discuss Reading  (one student/session discussion leader except the 1st one here 2 are paired) 1          

Week 2 (Sep  29  Oct 1 ) class meetings # 2,  3

Discuss Readings

Week 3 (Oct  6, 8)  4, 5

Discuss Readings

Week 4 (Oct 13, 15)  6, 7

Discuss Readings

Week 5 (Oct 20, 22)  8, 9

Discuss Readings

Week 6 (Oct 27,  29)  10, 11

Discuss Readings

Week 7 (Nov 3, 5)  12, 13

Discuss Readings

Week 8 (Nov 10,12)  14, 15

 Discuss Readings

Week 9 (Nov 17, 19) Discussion 16,  Presentations Group 1

Week 10 (Nov 24) Presentations, Group 2

Presentations are 8 min pptx based on last paper  or on another topic as you wish


Posted Reading material

Science article on funding

Professional Presentation Pointer I

Professional Presentation Pointer 2

My Own Pointers

Reading Schedule by discussion meeting, for discussion 1 you need to have read through page for Dragon's Egg: 21 and then 43 and so on, 64, 85, 107, 128, 149, 171 192, 213, 235, 256, 277, 298, 320
And for Gateway 18, 37, 55, 74, 92, 111, 129, 148, 166, 185, 203, 222, 240, 259, 278