Astro 342  - Fall 2003

Introduction to Solar System Astronomy



Lecturer:  Curt Struck  (Office:  A319 Physics;  294-3666)

            Office hours:  informal


Text: William K. Hartmann,  Moons & Planets 4th edition

Secondary references: Imke de Pater & Jack J. Lissauer,  Planetary Sciences (2001),

 John S. Lewis,  Physics and Chemistry of the Solar System, Revised Ed., Consolmagno & Schaefer,  Worlds Apart: A Textbook in Planetary Sciences, and The Planetary Scientists Companion, Lodders & Fegley.


            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.


Class Structure


            First of all, I 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.  I realize life is intermittant 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 every 2-3 weeks.  Late homework will not ordinarily be accepted for full credit.  Assignments may include problems from the textbook or exercises which I have written (or taken from other sources). I will try to emphasize things which are genuinely important and as instructive as possible; they will not be intended as trivial busywork.  They should not prove to be unreasonably difficult, but some may take considerable time to complete.  Don't put off working on an assignment until the last night!


            Note: because most people learn by doing, I regard the homework as a very important part of this class, and it will be an important part of your grade.  I 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, I 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 an outstanding new text. (Recently, several good texts have appeared on this subject.)   Thus, 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. You will also find the secondary references useful.




            I will make copies of my lecture notes available, and perhaps, on a web site.


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.  In past years the teams have all researched different projects, and presented results at the end of the term.  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:


            Homework                  35%

            Exams, 10% each =     30%

            Project/Paper               25%

            Class participation:      10%


Letter grades in terms of percentage of possible points


            90 - 100%       A- - A

            75 - 89%         B- - B+

            55 - 74%         C- - C+

            40 - 54%             D

            < 40%      F


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