The Solar System, Spring 2012

ASTR430 Course Description

I have two main objectives in teaching ASTR430. First, I want you all to gain a basic knowledge of the Solar System: its origin, the interesting and diverse worlds that orbit within it, and the remnant debris left over from its creation. We will learn about the history of Planetary Science as it grew from one practitioner in the 1940s to over 1500 active scientists worldwide today and its meteoritic rise due primarily to the spectacular results of the U.S. and Soviet space programs. We will see the results of titanic collisions and mammoth volcanoes, peer through the murky atmospheres of worlds whose surfaces we can barely see, and speculate on Solar System niches where extraterrestrial life may exist. Scientists working in Planetary Science come from many fields including geology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, mathematics, fluid dynamics, and biology. Similarly, the class textbook, The New Solar System, is a collaborative work involving multiple experts, each contributing to the topics that he or she knows best. One of my primary goals in ASTR430 is that you thoroughly read and understand all of the chapters from this excellent textbook. We will cover about two chapters per week and, to help motivate you to keep up the reading pace, there will be short quizzes on the reading every other week. We will also spend at least 15 minutes per lecture discussing the reading. This will work best if you all bring questions and comments on the reading to class so that you can contribute to the discussion.

My second main objective in ASTR430 is to help you develop your problem solving skills. I assume that you all have had at least one year of college Physics, and have some familiarity with differential equations. Having the necessary prerequisites for this class, however, does not necessarily make you a good problem solver. There are a number of excellent techniques that you can and should use to improve you ability at problem solving (see Hints for Problem Solving). These techniques are powerful and general, and can be used in your other classes as well as this one. We will spend the semester working on your problem solving skills, which you will have a chance to practice on homework assignments, and to perfect on the midterm and the final exam. Depending on student interest, we may also have informal problem solving sessions prior to homework deadlines.

Assignments and Grading

There are five types of assignments in ASTR430 listed below. I grade on a point scale with different assignments weighted as shown in this table.


The number of points required to get a given grade will depend on the class average. In addition, getting 90%, 80%, 68%, 55% of the total possible points guarantees at least an A, B, C, D, respectively. You can monitor my current estimate of your grade as the semester progresses from the What's my Grade Right Now? link on the class webpage.

Late or Missing Work

If you are going to miss a day of class when there is an in-class assignment (quiz, midterm, final), it is essential that you let me know in advance. No makeup work is allowed after the deadline without my prior approval. Missing work gets a zero - not recommended.
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