Astro 342 - Fall 2007
Introduction to Solar System Astronomy

This course is designed for those who have had little or no previous experience in astronomy and astrophysics, but who do have a good foundation in basic physics and mathematics, and who are already accustomed to scientific thinking and problem solving. The course can appropriately serve as part of a professional program in astronomy, or as valuable supplementary experience for those in related scientific fields, or simply as an excursion into astronomy for those equipped to explore it more deeply than can be done in the 100-level courses. Hopefully, it will be an adventure of discovery for everyone, since recent developments in solar system astronomy are revolutionizing our picture of the universe.


Prof. Curt Struck


Prof. Lee Anne Willson

  • Office: A525 Zaffarano
  • Phone: 4-3666
  • e-mail:


  • Office: A521 Zaffarano
  • Phone: 4-6765
  • e-mail:


Primary: Moons & Planets, 5th edition (2005), by William K. Hartmann


Class Structure

First of all, we want to encourage discussion and participation in this class. Some material, especially background physics, is most efficiently reviewed in traditional lecture style. However, as we advance out into the solar system (and beyond) there are as many unknowns as knowns. Hopefully, this situation will generate many vigorous discussions.

Of course, the lectures will make more sense, and the discussions will be more informed and interesting, if you can keep up with the recommended readings. We realize life is intermittent chaos and that you won't always be able to come to class with the relevant text thoroughly read and digested! Nonetheless, even if sometimes you don't have time to do more than skim section headings and figure captions, you will find that helpful.


Regular homework sets will be assigned at intervals of about 2-3 weeks. Late homework will not ordinarily be accepted for full credit. Assignments may include problems from the textbook or exercises which we have written (or taken from other sources). We will try to emphasize those points which are genuinely important and as instructive as possible; the problems are not trivial busywork. They should not prove to be unreasonably difficult, but some may take some time to complete. Don't put off working on an assignment until the last night!

Note: because most people learn by doing, we regard the homework as a very important part of this class, and it will be an important part of your grade. We encourage you to work together, or in study groups, to figure out homework problems. However, the work you turn in must be your own. This means that after discussing it with others, we expect you to rework it, and write it up on your own. Although it may seem to be a time-consuming process, this is actually a very efficient way to learn complex, new material.

The Text

Material presented in class makes up the primary core of the course, but we also have a very good text. (Several other texts such as those listed as secondary texts above are also good, and you are encouraged to seek them out for additional background material.) The assigned readings from text will be an essential tool in preparing for class, and for homework and tests. The order in which we study various topics will sometimes differ from that of the text. Please note that planetary astronomy is a rapidly changing field, and we will make every effort to stay up-to-date. As a result, when material presented by the instructors may supercede what you read in the text.

Notes and the website

We will try to post most notes will be posted on the course website. We will make extensive use of the website for additional material as well as class notes, images, animations, etc. The WebCT pages for Astro 342 will be used primarily for course administration.

Term Projects

Another important part of the course is the term project. For this project you can either work in a team of up to 3-4 people, or on your own. This year we will all work, on common, on-going project based on the theme of "designing your own solar system." More information will be provided later.


Course grades will be determined on the basis of class participation, and on your performance on tests, homework, and the term project. There will be 3 in-class hour exams. The bulk of each exam will be devoted to the material covered since the previous exam, but a portion will be "cumulative". Each test will be worth 10% of your grade.

In summary, grades will be determined as follows:



Exams, 10% each




Class participation



Letter grades in terms of percentage of possible points:


A- to A


B- to B+


C- to C+


D- to D+

< 40%



These levels are partly based on absolute standards, but also on our experience with what are reasonable expectations for students in this type of course. Depending on how things go, we might lower this "curve" a little, but we will not raise the levels.