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
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.
- Homeworks: The seven homework assignments
are meant to help you improve your problem solving skills. The
problems will cover aspects of orbital dynamics and planetary physics
and will emphasize using the basic conservation laws of Physics
(Energy, Momentum, and Angular Momentum).
- Quizzes: The seven quizzes will cover
material from the assigned reading only. Quizzes occur roughly every 2
weeks and typically will cover four chapters from the book. The intent
of the quizzes is to help me determine whether you have read and
understood the material in the textbook.
- Midterm: The midterm will emphasize problem
solving and will also include questions relating to the reading,
lectures, and class discussions. Problems will be similar to, but
easier than, those on the homework assignments.
- Final: The two-hour final exam will be
similar in format to the midterm. It will be cumulative, covering material
from the whole course but with emphasis on the post-midterm material.
- Participation: Between 15 minutes and 1/2
hour of each class will be devoted to a class discussion of the
assigned reading. These discussions are more fun, more interesting,
and more relevant if you take an active role in contributing to them.
Maximum participation scores will be awarded to students who keep up
with the reading, regularly bring interesting topics and questions to
class, and actively help to shape these discussions.
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.
- Homeworks: Homeworks must be in by the due
date. If you will be away that day, please slip it under the door to
my office before the deadline or have a friend hand it in for you.
- Quizzes: Makeup quizzes will be
available to worthy students the day before the usual date.
- Midterm and Final: Please make every effort to
be in class for these important exams. In exceptional cases, I will
arrange for a makeup exam.
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