Astronomy 421

ASTR 421: Solar System Astronomy

Prerequisite: ASTR 111, PHYS 112 or PHYS 222, MATH 152

Credit Hours: (3)

Application of astronomical concepts and techniques to solid astronomical bodies; study of meteorites, impact craters and ring systems; basic orbital mechanics.


Detailed Description of Content of Course

The course studies the origin, evolution, and current environments of planetary bodies, both in our solar system and around other stars. The major topics covered are common to numerous recent discoveries dealing with planetary science and solar system exploration. These topics are as follows:


1. Introduction to planetary science
2. The solar system: an overview
3. Basic celestial mechanics
4. Formation of stars and planetary material
5. Formation of planets and satellites
6. Meteorites and meteoritics
7. Asteroids
8. Comets
9. Planetary interiors
10. Planetary surfaces: petrology, primary surfaces, and cratering
11. Planetary surfaces: volcanism and other processes of surface evolution
12. Planetary atmospheres


The latest data and images of the planets and their moons made by orbiting and fly-by spacecraft will be employed for analysis by students.


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

This course will employ both descriptive methods and quantitative analysis of images and data from bodies both within and outside of our solar system. Numerous applications of Newton’s Law of Gravitation as well as Kepler’s Third Law of Orbital Mechanics will be studied. The course has no formal laboratory associated with it, but a few laboratory activities—including both observational and computer-based labs—will be assigned for classwork and for homework. Frequent use is made of the latest images, movies and raw data from NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and other space-related agencies.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

The student learning goals for the course are:

  • All students will experience an interdisciplinary approach to the latest discoveries and interpretations in the field of planetary science.
  • Students will learn how astronomical concepts and methods are applied to the solution of problems relating to the evolution of planets, moons, and other planetary bodies.
  • Students will acquire knowledge of how planets and other large bodies evolve and knowledge about the processes that govern their surface features, crustal structures and interior compositions.
  • Students will learn how data obtained from other planets help illuminate environmental processes and evolutionary processes on our own planet.


Assessment Measures

Assessment of student achievement is accomplished by traditional tests, occasional short quizzes, and the final examination. Other evaluation methods may include laboratory-based reports, reading reports, and oral presentations. In addition, telescopic observational projects may be assigned and graded. Numerous sources of information on the planetary sciences are given in the course bibliography as well as throughout the course.


Other Course Information


Review and Approval

September 2001 Review Walter S. Jaronski, Chair