UTA Magazine
Crash Course
Physics 1445, 1446: Introductory Astronomy I and II

Instructor: Roy Rubins, professor of physics

Catalog description: Designed to satisfy the science requirements for students in the colleges of Business Administration and Liberal Arts, these courses use a qualitative approach to the basic principles of physics in teaching humanity’s place in the astronomical universe. Physics 1445 describes the apparent motions and properties of members of the solar system, including the planets and their moons, asteroids and comets. In Physics 1446, the physics of gravity, electromagnetic radiations and nuclear reactions are applied to studies of the sun, stars, normal and active galaxies, and quasars. The course ends with an introduction to cosmology, the study of the history and evolution of the universe.

About the professor: Dr. Rubins has taught at UT Arlington for more than 36 years. His research centers on electron magnetic resonance in a variety of materials and modulated microwave absorption in elemental and high-temperature superconductors. He was elected to the Academy of Distinguished Teachers in 1998, the same year he was named UT Arlington College of Science Teacher of the Year.

Required reading: Discovering the Universe by Neil F. Comins and William J. Kaufmann III. Class handouts include copies of Rubins’ PowerPoint slides.

Course format: Primarily lectures given as PowerPoint presentations. Students take three tests and a final, all multiple choice. Particularly in Physics 1445, Rubins reduces rote learning by concentrating on the exceptional features of specific planets and moons that may be understood in terms of physical principles. The required labs give students hands-on opportunities to make astronomical measurements and observations. Students also use the planetarium (see story).

What the prof says: “I am not an astrophysicist, but after reluctantly teaching Physics 1446 for the first time about 10 years ago, I became fascinated with this most basic of topics—the nature of the universe we inhabit. Presently there are probably no more rapidly developing facets of physics than astrophysics and cosmology, fueled by the remarkable observational data provided by exploratory spacecraft and the many orbiting space laboratories, in particular the Hubble telescope. Less than a century ago, the Milky Way was thought to be the extent of our universe. Now we know that the visible universe contains tens of billions of galaxies and their predecessors—the active galaxies and quasars—the latter being among the most distant visible objects in the universe. In this century, we hope to understand our neighboring planets in more detail, to determine whether any form of life exists on Mars or elsewhere, to search for habitable planets on which intelligent life may have developed. We also hope to test for the existence of dark energy and exotic dark matter, which according to current theories contain more than 95 percent of the energy in the universe.”

Pop quiz (true or false)
1. The sun’s core is about 10 times denser than water.
2. A star of mass 15 times that of the sun would end life as a black hole.
3. The Milky Way galaxy is estimated to contain 10 million stars.


1. True, even though the sun’s core is neither liquid nor solid.
2. False. A star of mass 15 times that of the sun would end life as a neutron star. To become a black hole, the mass should be at least 25 times that of the sun.
3. False. The estimated number is about 200 billion.

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