ASTR 330 Solar System Astronomy

Fall 2004 Syllabus


ASTR 330 Solar System Astronomy is a 3-credit class. It has prerequisites of ASTR 100 or ASTR 101 and completion of the CORE Distributive Studies requirement in Mathematics and Sciences.

This class focuses on the solar system. Its goal is to give you a better understanding of not only what objects are in the solar system, but also what we think we know about how those objects got that way. Why are there craters on the Moon? Why do we think there used to be - and may still be - water on Mars? Why are there volcanos on Io?

The story of finding these answers is a long one that extends throughout the entire history of humanity. It has not been easy to acquire the knowledge that we take for granted today. To help put this in perspective, a secondary goal of the course is to give you a better appreciation of the effort and time involved in understanding our solar system and what a great achievement our understanding really is.

This class is aimed at non-science majors. It will emphasize the scientific method and means scientists use to determine what we know about the solar system. Since you have already taken at least one astronomy class, this class will be more in-depth and quantitative.

Class Hours

Lectures: 12:30 - 1:45pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays, CSS 2428.

Contact Information and Office Hours

Instructor: Dr. Melissa Hayes-Gehrke
office: CSS 1233
phone: x5-5099
office hours: Monday 3-4pm, Wednesday 2-3pm
TA: Mr. Bo Li
office: CSS 0224A
phone: x5-5096
office hours: Tuesday 4-6pm
Please feel free to email either the instructor or TA to arrange appointments at other times to discuss the class.


Only one book is required for this course: The Planetary System, Third Edition, by Morrison and Owen. All readings listed on the schedule are from this book.


There will be ten homeworks for the course. The homeworks will be based on material from both the lectures and the reading assignments. Only the nine highest homework grades will be counted. (Course grading is explained in the next section.) If you fail to turn in one homework, you will receive a zero for it and it will count as your lowest homework. Homeworks are due at the beginning of lecture on the dates indicated on each homework. Detailed solutions to the homeworks will be handed out immediately after they are due. For this reason, late homeworks will not be accepted.


A simple, long-term project on the phases of the Moon will be undertaken this semester. It will be explained in more detail in the project hand-out. You will observe the Moon throughout the semester. Toward the end of the semester, you will predict the date of the next full Moon after the project is due. The project will not require you to observe the Moon at a set time of day, so will be flexible enough to fit in your schedule.

Exams and Grading

Credit will only be given for those answers on the homeworks and exams that answer the question asked. Partial credit will be given if the answer was on the right track but incomplete or if an arithmetic error was made. Credit will not be given simply for effort. There will be two midterms and one final. The midterms will be on Tuesday, September 28, 2004, and Tuesday, November 2, 2004. The midterms will be based on material from both the lectures and the reading assignments. The second midterm will only cover the material since the first midterm. The final exam will be held on Friday, December 17, from 1:30 - 3:30 pm. The final exam date and time CANNOT be changed, so arrange your schedule accordingly. The final exam will be cumulative. Calculators will be permitted during all three exams, but ONLY calculators. PDAs, cell phones, laptops, or other devices that happen to have a calculator will NOT be permitted. Grading will be as follows: Minimum course grade percentage for the letter grades: The scale for the letter grades above may be curved if the exams or assignments prove more difficult than expected. If that is the case, the minimum course grade percentages may be lowered; they will never be raised.

How to Do Well in This Course

The key to succeeding in this course is to budget your time so that you are able to keep up with the readings and complete the homework assignments. Reading the designated sections before class will allow you to connect the class material to the book and give you a greater understanding of the material.

Try to budget time to start the homeworks before the night before they are due. If you read over and begin each problem, you will figure out which problems present difficulties for you that you might want to ask questions about. It would be to your advantage to discover which problems you may need help with as soon as possible.


University regulations for excused absences and academic honesty apply strictly in this class. Please review them in the schedule of classes. If you must be absent for a university-approved athletic event or religious observance, please contact me by Drop/Add Date, September 13, 2004, to make appropriate arrangements. If you will be absent for any other reason and wish to receive full credit for assignments you will miss, you must contact me before missing class to discuss missed material and to arrange to bring a valid excuse.

Academic Integrity

The process of scientific inquiry and education depends on the integrity of all participants. Students are expected to adhere to the Honor Pledge listed on the Student Honor Council website ( Academic dishonesty consists of cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and plagiarism (see the website for a complete description of each type). Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated in this class.

T 8/31 Course introduction,  
solar system overview
Th 9/2 Motion of Sun, stars, Moon. Calendar. 1.1, 1.2
  Planetary Motions. Eclipses.  
T 9/7 Ptolemaic model. Kepler's 1.3, 1.7 HW 1
  Laws. Heliocentric Model.  
Th 9/9 Optics and telescopes. 3.5: Telescopes and Observatories,
    Seeking the Best Observatory Sites,
    Orbiting Observatories
T 9/14 Discoveries with telescopes. 14.1 HW 2
  Modern telescopes and observatories.  
Th 9/16 Inertia and acceleration. 1.4-1.5
  Newton's 1st and 2nd laws.  
T 9/21 Newton's 3rd law. 1.6, 3.1, 8.2:
  Tides. Densities. The Nature of Tides,
    Tidal Friction and Orbital Change
Th 9/23 The Earth. 9 HW 3
T 9/28 Midterm 1  
Th 9/30 Light as waves. 2.3: Electromagnetic Radiation,
  Temperatures. The Spectrum and Spectroscopy; 2.7, 6.6
T 10/5 Light as photons. 3.5: Spectral Analysis,
  Spectra. Spectra of Other Planets; 2.3: Formation of
    Spectral Lines, Spectral Analysis
Th 10/7 Doppler effect. The Sun. 8.2: The Doppler Effect; 8.6 HW 4
T 10/12 The Sun. Spacecraft? 2
Th 10/14 The Moon: Luniks to Apollo. 7, 8.4 (Moon parts) HW 5
T 10/19 Venus: Venera to Magellan. 10
Th 10/21 Mars: Mariner 9 to MERs. 11 HW 6
T 10/26 Mars. Mercury: Mariner 10. 12.4, 8
Th 10/28 Comparing the terrestrial planets. 12.3 HW 7
T 11/2 Midterm 2  
Th 11/4 Jupiter: Pioneer 10 to Galileo. 13
T 11/9 Jupiter's moons. 15.2-15.4
Th 11/11 Saturn: Pioneer 11 to Cassini. 16.3, 16.5-16.6 HW 8
T 11/16 Uranus and Neptune: Voyager II. 14.2-14.5, 16.4 PROJECT
Th 11/18 Moons of Saturn, Uranus, 15.5-15.6,
  Neptune. Pluto. 16.2, 14.6
T 11/23 Comparing the Jovian planets 15.7 HW 9
  and large satellites.  
Th 11/25 Thanksgiving break
T 11/30 Asteroids, KBOs, and comets. 5, 6
Th 12/2 Solar system formation. 17, 4
T 12/7 Life on Earth. Extra-solar planets. 12.1-12.2, 18 HW 10
Th 12/9 Extra-solar planets. Review.  
F 12/17 Final Exam, 1:30 - 3:30pm  

The background image was taken by the Cassini spacecraft; image credit is to NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.