Astronomy 330: Solar System Astronomy


Course Information

  • Dates: January 26 - May 11, 2010
  • Time: Tuesday & Thursday, 12:30pm-1:45pm
  • Room: CSS 2400
  • Textbook: An Introduction to the Solar System, eds. Neil McBride and Iain Gilmour
    Cambridge University Press 2004 (ISBN 0-521-54620-6)
Lecturer Information
  • Dr. Brian Jackson
  • Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursday 9am-5pm in the Space Sciences Bldg, room CSS0229A
  • Phone: (301) 405-2312
  • E-mail: bjackson "at" astro "dot" umd "dot" edu
Grader Information
  • Kate Krivjanik
  • Office Hours: By Appointment
  • E-mail: kkrivjan "at" umd "dot" edu

Course Description

This course is intended primarily for juniors and seniors and ambitious sophomores who are not majoring in the physical sciences and who have successfully completed either ASTR 100 or ASTR 101 along with the CORE Distributive Studies Requirement in Mathematics. The course will provide an introduction to the field of planetary science, which combines techniques and results from astronomy, geology, chemistry, and physics. After taking this course, a student should understand the answers to the following questions:

To answer these questions, we will consider important physical and chemical processes that act throughout the solar system and the universe. We will use some mathematics, but the emphasis will be on physical and intuitive reasoning.

If you have problems with anything, please contact me or the grader with any questions as soon as they arise. We will make any reasonable accommodations that we can to help you do well in class.

Lecture Schedule

The following is the currently planned schedule of lectures. The schedule may be revised as necessary throughout the semester, and revisions will be posted to the class website.

NOTE: Schedule was revised on 2010 Mar. 4 to correct for the delays from the Snowmaggedon.

  • Class #
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14

  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20
  • 21
  • 22
  • 23
  • 24
  • 25
  • 26
  • 27
  • 28
  • 29
  • 30
  • Date
  • 26-Jan
  • 28-Jan
  • 2-Feb
  • 4-Feb
  • 9-Feb
  • 11-Feb
  • 16-Feb
  • 18-Feb
  • 23-Feb
  • 25-Feb
  • 2-Mar
  • 4-Mar
  • 9-Mar
  • 11-Mar
  • 16-Mar
  • 18-Mar
  • 23-Mar
  • 25-Mar
  • 30-Mar
  • 1-Apr
  • 6-Apr
  • 8-Apr
  • 13-Apr
  • 15-Apr
  • 20-Apr
  • 22-Apr
  • 27-Apr
  • 29-Apr
  • 4-May
  • 6-May
  • 11-May
  • 18-May
  • Topic
  • Tour of the Solar System
  • Tour of the Solar System
  • Tour of the Solar System
  • Topics/Solid Body Interiors
  • Snowmaggedon - No class!
  • Snowmaggedon - No class!
  • Solid Body Interiors
  • Solid Body Interiors
  • Planetary Volcanism
  • Planetary Volcanism
  • Planetary Volcanism
  • Planetary Volcanism
  • Review of Chs. 1-3
  • Mid-Term Exam (Chs.1-3)
  • Spring Break
  • Spring break
  • Planetary Surface Processes
  • Planetary Surface Processes
  • Planetary Surface Processes
  • Atmospheres of Terrestrial Planets
  • Atmospheres of Terrestrial Planets
  • Atmospheres of Terrestrial Planets
  • The Giant Planets
  • The Giant Planets
  • The Giant Planets
  • Minor Bodies of the Solar System
  • Minor Bodies of the Solar System
  • Minor Bodies of the Solar System
  • The Origin of the Solar System
  • The Origin of the Solar System
  • Final Exam Review (Chs. 1-8)
  • Reading
  • Ch. 1

  • Ch. 2

  • Ch. 3

  • Ch. 4

  • Ch. 5

  • Ch. 6

  • Ch. 7

  • Ch. 8

  • Due

  • HW 0

  • HW 1

  • HW 2

  • HW 3

  • Term Project Proposal

  • HW 4

  • HW 5
  • Term Project Draft

  • HW 6

  • HW 7

  • HW 8
  • Term Project

Grading and Assignments

Grades for the course will be assigned based on homework, pop quizzes, exams and a Term Project (as described below). Regular attendance and reading the assigned chapters are requirements for doing well in the class. Keep track of your grade during the semester. If you feel like you're starting to struggle, please come see me immediately, and we'll try to figure something out. Please don't wait until there's nothing I can do.

Related Readings: You should at least have skimmed the chapter listed in the "Related Reading" column of the lecture schedule by the date it is listed. Pop quizzes (see below) will based, in part, on the material in the related reading. At latest, you should have finished reading a chapter by the time we start the next chapter.

Assignment Weighting: I grade on a point scale with different assignments weighted as follows:

Assignment: Pop Quizzes Homework Mid-Term Final Exam Term Project
Weighting 10 20 20 30 20

Pop Quizzes: There will be about 10 pop quizzes given randomly during the semester, mostly to gauge attendance. The quizzes will generally consist of one or two short answer questions, based on that day's lecture material and the related reading. They will NOT be graded harshly: as long as your answers are reasonably accurate, you will receive full credit.

Homework: There will be a total of nine homework assignments throughout the semester. They will be due at the beginning of class. We will discuss solutions to the homework during the class when it is due, so late homework will NOT be accepted. If you have a valid excuse for not turning in an assignment on time, that particular assignment will not be counted toward your final grade.

You are encouraged to discuss homework with your classmates, but the final write-up that you hand in must be in your own words. Do NOT copy your solutions from any source (friend's homework, the internet, etc.). If your write-up looks as if it's been copied from another source, you may be required to explain your solutions during one of my office hours in order to receive credit for that assignment.

Homework assignments will posted on the ELMS website ( the day the previous homework assignment is due. Homework #0 is described below. Homework #1 will be passed out with the syllabus on the first day of class. (An alternative Homework #1 will be available for students who join the class late.)

Each homework assignment must be uploaded electronically on the ELMS site by the beginning of class on the day listed on the Lecture Schedule. You should always check beforehand (before hitting the submit button) that your file is readable.

In the past, students have encountered some difficulty uploading readable ".docx" and even ".doc" files. For HW #1, you are encouraged to:

If you are having troubles, contact me IMMEDIATELY. A reminder about ELMS: once you click the "submit" button, you cannot resubmit any changes; you can contact me ASAP and ask that I clear your submission so you can resubmit, but only PRIOR to the deadline. However, you can't just hit "save" when you are finished; you must hit the submit button for us to be able to grade your homework.

Homework #0

You must do the following:

  1. Read this syllabus, either online or the "printer friendly" pdf file linked in the header;
  2. Go online to the ELMS Blackboard site for this class and electronically "signing" that you've read the syllabus;
  3. Drop by my office to check your name off a list (which will be posted on the office door).

Mid-term/Final Exams: There will be two in-class exams. They will be closed-book with no notes and no calculators allowed. They will take an entire class period. Exams will consist of short answer questions and a few essay questions. The mid-term will only test up through the end of Ch. 4, while the final exam will test all course material (which is why it's worth a little more). However, the majority of the material for the final exam will come from Chs. 5-9. If, for whatever reason, the University is officially closed on an exam date, the exam date shifts to the next lecture date.

If you are not able to take an exam due to a valid, documented excuse, as outlined in the Academic Information section and you wish to make up that exam, you must:

  1. Contact me by e-mail or phone before you miss the regularly-scheduled exam and
  2. Submit a valid written excuse for your absence no later than one week after the exam date (by Postal Mail if necessary).

Term Project: Each student will be required to complete a term project on a topic in planetary science. We will discuss suitable topics in class on or by February 4. You are welcome to suggest your own topic, as long as it is appropriate (see Term Project Proposal below).

The term project will consist of an 8-10 page paper (single-sided, double-spaced, 12 pt font, with all margins no larger than 1.5 inches). The paper is due by the class before the final exam. This assignment will require original research from primary sources (newspaper/magazine articles, books, etc.). You must turn in a hard-copy of your paper on May 11.

Your paper will be graded on the quality of your writing (grammar, syntax, spelling, etc.) and on its scientific content. You will be required to submit a project proposal by March 4 (see below). You will have the option of submitting a draft of your paper by April 8 to receive feedback on your writing before the final draft is due (see below).

Term Project Proposal: In preparation for your term project, you will be required to submit a proposal so that I can determine whether your topic is appropriate. The proposal will consist of about a half page written description of your proposed topic, along with some of the details you intend to include. The term project proposal will be worth 2% of your final grade (which means it's worth 10% of the term project grade). You must turn in a hard-copy of the proposal in class on March 4. The proposal will not be graded harshly, so as long as you turn in something reasonable, you will receive full credit.

Term Project Draft: An optional draft of your term paper may be turned in by April 8. Turning in a draft will give you the chance to get some feedback on your writing so you know what things to watch for when you write your final draft. Turning in a draft (even if it's not a complete draft) will only help your grade.

Letter Grades: Letter grades will be assigned based upon your curved cumulative score, based roughly on the scale below. I reserve the right to adjust grade scale based on class averages, but any such adjustment will only improve your letter grade. Here is an approximation of the scale I will use:

  • Percentage
  • 90%-100%
  • 80%-89%
  • 68%-79%
  • 55%-67%
  • 0%-54%
  • Letter Grade
  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D
  • F

Extra Credit

There will be no extra credit.

Disability Accommodations

Students with a documented disability who require accommodations should contact me as soon as possible.

Academic Integrity

The University of Maryland, College Park has a nationally recognized Code of Academic Integrity, administered by the Student Honor Council. This Code sets standards for academic integrity at Maryland for all undergraduate and graduate students. As a student you are responsible for upholding these standards for this course. It is very important for you to be aware of the definitions and consequences of cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and plagiarism. For more information on the Code of Academic Integrity or the Student Honor Council, please visit

LAST UPDATED: 2010 Jan 26