Principles of Astronomy

Frequently Asked Questions - Answered!

This webpage should answer most questions but, if you need more information, feel free to email Dr Jamie Love.

I want to work at my own pace. Must I follow a schedule?

Not really.
This course was originally designed as a one year program that begins in January and follows the night sky as it moves throughout the year. Many folks asked that Dr Love tweak the lessons a bit in order to make them relevant year round. That he has done. You can start the lessons anytime of year but understand that some of the objects will not be in the positions suggested unless you are viewing them during that "titled month".

Return to top of FAQs.

I live in the Southern Hemisphere. Would I find this course useful?

Students will learn how to identify the bright stars and obvious constellations as seen from the Northern Hemisphere but there is a lot of "southern exposure" in the course. There's also a lesson about the night sky as seen from the South Pole. The course is "northern biased" but about one in five of students are in the Southern Hemisphere. The sky is "upside down" but they seem to get used to it.
There are many wonderful sights in the night sky as seen from the far south including our nearest neighbor (Alpha Centauri), nearest galaxies (Magellanic Clouds) and many other interesting objects!
And, of course, the fundamentals of Astronomy - the physics - are the same.

Return to top of FAQs.

Who is the author/teacher and what are his credentials?

Dr Jamie Love created Principles of Astronomy.

Over the years Jamie has taught a wide variety of science subjects, from astronomy to zoology, to a wide variety of students, from thirteen-year-olds to thirty-somethings. Dr Love earned his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Louisiana State University Medical Center (New Orleans).
In 1990 he moved to Scotland - a part of The United Kingdom. (The best part! ) The UK is home to the oldest, biggest and most distinguished distance-learning university in the world - The Open University. Jamie spent several years studying its methods while working towards his diploma in Information Technology through The Open University. He also earned an MBA by distance learning from Heriot-Watt University.
Jamie knows first hand the difficulties one encounters studying alone.

Dr Love started Merlin Science in 1995 - teaching chemistry over the Internet. The following year he published Principles of Alchemy, his first self-paced, self-learning "hypertextbook". It was very well received and has become particularly popular among home schoolers.
Being an amateur astronomer, web master and expert in distance learning, Jamie began delivering astronomy courses over the Internet in 1997 as part of Science Explained. Thousands of eager students visited his website, asking questions about astronomy and getting answers. Several professional astronomers visited the website and congratulated him on his work and encouraged him to create a complete and structured course. With curious students asking plenty of questions and professional astronomers helping him, Dr Love was able to create a first class astronomy hypertextbook that is both scientifically correct and educational.

In 1998 Dr Love joined the Department of Life Sciences at Napier University (Edinburgh) teaching a variety of subjects and developing the department's flexible (distant) learning modules. In that role Dr Love acted as editor and coordinator of several distance learning books - teaching genetics, microbiology, immunology and biotechnology.
In June of 2000 Napier University awarded Dr Love the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. This certificate is awarded to those who complete a series of classes, workshops, peer review and an educational project. Jamie chose as his project to create a web-based, self-learning minicourse in evolution.
Dr Love is an Adjunct Associate Professor (part-time) with the University of Maryland University College. Via distance learning he teaches "Selection and Evaluation of Biotechnology Projects" to students working towards a Master of Science in Technology Management.

When he is relaxing, Jamie (aka Merlin) enjoys bird watching, fossil collecting, and stargazing.

Return to top of FAQs.

Tell me more about the exams.

Each quarter (12 lessons) ends with two self-evaluation exams. Each exam is composed of 20 questions answered by multiple choice - a total of 160 questions for the entire course. Jamie wrote the three wrong choices to represent common errors or misunderstandings that the student might have. That makes the choices harder but it also means a wrong answer, with the feedback provided, is a learning experience. The only drawback of this immediate feedback is that the student is then free to change the answer. However, that is not the point. Jamie does not write exams that are meant to merely generate a score - they are meant to help the student. Exams without feedback are easy for teachers to grade but provide no learning for students. Dr Love believes that learning continues into the tests.

After completeing the exam, the student submits it and the computer generates a "virtual page" that shows the grade and scores each answer as "Right" or "Wrong". The student can jot down which ones were wrong and close the "virtual page". The exam will have been reloaded so all the previous answers have been wiped away. At this point the student has two options - take the entire exam all over again (choosing all 20 responses) or click the web browser's "Back Button" to reload all the previous answers from earlier, including the wrong ones, and change them. Regardless of which method used, the student is given plenty of opportunities to correct errors and submit a "perfect" test. (Please note that the "virtual page" does not print from most web browsers because it is not "seen" by the printer. It is not a real web page because it is generated "on the fly".)

Of course, the student is on the "honor system" and the exams are meant to encourage the student to continue while providing some incentive to achieve a perfect score. Note : students can take the exams as many times as they like but there is no way to save answers. That is, once you turn off the web browser the answers are gone forever. Dr Love experimented with ways to save these exams on the hard disk but it is difficult to get one method that to work across all platforms (PCs and Macs) correctly and consistently. Also, most folks do not like the idea of software writing on the disk and it tends to set off the virus alerts!

Return to top of FAQs.

Exactly what do I get when I buy Principles of Astronomy?

You get a complete self-paced, self-learning astronomy course on your computer. This hypertextbook is a series of webpages stored on your hard disk. That means Principles of Astronomy is "platform independent" - it will run on any computer that has a web browser. It also means you don't have to be constantly hooked up to the Internet to learn astronomy!
This course has been designed to teach astronomy to anyone with a reading level above eighth grade.

The 3.26 MB zipped file, delivered to you over the internet which unzips 398 files which take up 4.13 MB of your hard disk space.
Alternatively, you can buy the same course as a CD.

Return to top of FAQs.

Do I need to buy anything else besides the hypertextbook?

The hypertextbook is a "stand alone" learning package. Granted, the student may want to visit some suggested website and try some free software, but even these ancillary projects are not required for the course.

    You do not need a telescope and Dr Love discourages you from running out and buying one! Instead, students can (should) go through the entire course without a telescope - but you might want to borrow binoculars for some lessons. Students are reminded throughout the course that a telescope is
  1. not needed for Principles of Astronomy,
  2. very expensive (at least a good one is) and
  3. not a toy!

Return to top of FAQs.

What is not included in the course?

The promise of clear skies!

But seriously, it is important that you understand that the supplemental materials - that is, recommended websites and software - are not included as part of the course. These "freebies" are only extras. Dr Love has no control over them so please do not ask him to rewrite a program or change a website. You do not need these websites or programs but they are free for you to use as a resource.

Return to top of FAQs.

Is Merlin Science an accredited program? Can I earn credit?


Dr Love investigated many distance learning programs. Most are not able to offer credit because they deal ineffectively with testing. Accreditation and the honor system don't mix. To offer credit any (honest) school requires the students to take exams at a local testing center, driving up the cost and thus the price.

In view of this, Dr Love created Merlin Science as a non-accredited, virtual institution.
Merlin Science provides low cost, high quality science education via the Internet.

Return to top of FAQs.

What about copyrighted materials, site licences and stuff like that?

Principles of Astronomy is protected by international copyright laws. It is unlawful to copy all or any part(s) of Principles of Astronomy without the written permission of Dr Jamie Love. All rights reserved.

Home schoolers - folks educating themselves or their children at home - have a site license for their hypertextbook. Therefore, any family member (and friends) may enjoy the book in the purchaser's home. You may place copies of the program on any and all computers in your home but you may not run it on other computers outside the home and that includes the computers at school. Dr Love is "flexible" and understands that some students may have two homes, due to separated parents, and extends the license to include those circumstances.
The spirit of this license is that Principles of Astronomy can be enjoyed by the entire family but it is not meant to be distributed to others.
You are welcome to make a backup copy of your hypertextbook but you may not distribute it to others. Keep and enjoy the hypertextbook forever!

Traditional schools (non-home-schools) require a group license so email Dr Jamie Love for details.

Return to top of FAQs.

How to Get a copy of Principles of Astronomy

You can download a copy of Principles of Astronomy on your computer for only $40 or get a CD sent to you for only $45 (plus shipping).

If you chose to download your hypertextbook, instructions will be emailed to you explaining how to collect it.
The entire hypertextbook has 408 files but, by bundling them into a single package, Dr Love can get them to you over the Internet in just one download (3.24Mb). To collect your hypertextbook via the Internet all you need is a web browser, an email address, and the ability to unzip. Most folks already have unzipping packages. If you do not have one you can find them on the internet by just "goggling" around. (Jamie uses Winzip but you can use others such as 7-Zip for PCs. Mac users like StuffIt Expander.)

If you are not sure about the technology, download the Sample Principles of Astronomy and give it a try. That way you can test your ability to handle the download as well as see how the course runs on your computer.
Note: this course is an HTML web-program, not an "app". This course will not run from an iPhone or other "smart" phone. It only runs from your computer's hard drive.

Through PayPal
(the company that handles the transaction),
it's safe and easy to order a hypertextbook using your credit card.

PayPal will send you two separate emails - one email will be your receipt and the other email will be your instructions explaining how to download your copy of the hypertextbook.
It is extremely important that you enter your email address correctly into PayPal's form. Your receipt and download instructions will be sent to that address and it is only through that address that Jamie can contact you.
Your receipt will come from a PayPal address ( but your download instructions will have this domain ( in the "From" field, even though it is actually sent by PayPal! Unfortunately, some spam filters smell a skunk when the real sender ( uses another name ( So if you receive your receipt but your download instructions are not delivered, check your spam or trash box. If your spam filter allows you to input "Friends", add and to it.

Or you can buy the CD!

Click here to buy now!
Until recently, it was too difficult for Dr Love to offer the course as a CD. Burning high-quality CDs and sending them around the world is a complicated business.
That is why he has recently chosen TrepStar as the sole distributor of his courses on CDs!

It costs five dollars more to receive this professionally mastered CD in its Jewel Case. Plus you have to pay for shipping. So, if you are not comfortable about downloading and unzipping, and are willing to pay a little more for the convenience and assurance of owning something physical, then leap over to TrepStar and buy the Principles of Astronomy on CD for only $45 (plus shipping). TrepStar uses PayPal and also accepts credit cards.

Traditional schools (non-home-schools) require a group license and will probably need to work with Purchase Orders, etc so email Dr Jamie Love for details.

If you have any questions, feel free to email Dr Jamie Love.

You won't find a better astronomy course on the Internet!