Spring 2025 Undergraduate Courses

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Alien Earths (3)

Thousands of planets have been discovered orbiting nearby stars. How many of these worlds can we expect to be Earth-like? We explore this question from the perspective of astronomers, geologists, and historians. We look back at Earth’s geologic history to periods when our planet itself would appear very alien to us today. We study the nearby planets Venus and Mars, which were once more Earth-like than today. We discuss not only the evolution of Earth, Venus, and Mars as habitable worlds but also how human understanding of these planets has evolved. Finally, we apply these perspectives to the search for alien Earths in our galaxy. This interdisciplinary treatment of Earth, its neighboring planets, and planets being discovered around nearby stars allows us to consider the potentially unique position of Earth as a habitable world not only in space but in time.

Course Level: GenEd: Building Connections, GenEd: Quantitative Reasoning, GenEd: Writing
Course Level Other: Tier I NATS
(200) Steve Kortenkamp


(201) Steve Kortenkamp


(400) Steve Kortenkamp


(401) Steve Kortenkamp


Exploring Our Solar System (3)

Our Solar System is filled with an incredible diversity of objects. These include the sun and planets, of course, but also many hundreds of moons—some with exotic oceans, erupting volcanoes, or dynamic atmospheres. Billions of asteroids and comets inhabit the space between and beyond the planets. Each body is unique, and has followed its own evolutionary history. This class will explore our current understanding of the Solar System and emphasize similarities that unite the different bodies as well as the differences between them. We will develop an understanding of physical processes that occur on these bodies, including tectonics, impact cratering, volcanism, and processes operating in their interiors, oceans, and atmospheres. We will also discuss planets around nearby stars and the potential for life beyond Earth. Throughout the class, we will highlight the leading role that the University of Arizona has played in exploring our Solar System.

Course Objectives: Students who engage with this course will develop a broad understanding of many fundamental concepts in planetary science and gain an appreciation for the discoveries and reasoning that leads to this understanding. They will learn to collect their own data as well as gather relevant supporting information from a variety of outside sources. Throughout the semester students will be demonstrating their grasp of course material by composing written assignments at a level their peers outside of the class will understand (a.k.a., Students on the Street, or SOS). During the term project students will be assisted in working with telescopes to obtain astronomical images using their own smart phone cameras. Students will learn during in-class workshops how to use their own images to then construct a time-lapse animation. Expected Learning Outcomes: Upon successful completion of this course students will be able to (1) access and use information and data from a variety of sources, including their own activities, (2) critically evaluate this information and data for reliability in supporting fundamental concepts, (3) effectively communicate an understanding of these concepts to their SOS peers by synthesizing the information and data they have gathered, (4) demonstrate practical skills with a variety of software, including Word, Excel, Keynote, PowerPoint, and image/video editing apps.

Course Level: GenEd: Exploring Perspectives - Natural Scientist, GenEd: Quantitative Reasoning, GenEd: Writing, PTYS Minor Elective
Course Level Other: Tier 2 NATS

Life in the Cosmos (3)

This course explores key questions in astrobiology and planetary science about the origin and evolution of life on Earth and the possibility that such phenomena have arisen elsewhere in the Universe. We examine what it means for a planet to be alive at scales ranging from cellular processes up to global impacts of biological activity. We survey international space-exploration activities to search for life within the Solar System, throughout our Galaxy, and beyond.

Course Level: GenEd: Building Connections, GenEd: Quantitative Reasoning, GenEd: World Cultures & Societies, PTYS Minor Elective
Course Level Other: Tier 2 NATS

Physics of the Solar System (3)

Survey of planetary physics, planetary motions, planetary interiors, geophysics, planetary atmospheres, asteroids, comets, origin of the solar system. Prerequisites: PHYS 142 or 240. PTYS 403 is a required course for the PTYS Minor. Equivalent to ASTR/GEOS/PHYS 403.

Course Level: PTYS Minor Core Course

Asteroids, Comets and Kuiper Belt Objects (3)

This is an introduction to the "minor planets," the asteroids, comets and Kuiper Belt objects. The focus will be on origin and evolution (including current evolution), as well as techniques of study. It will include an evening at the telescope of an asteroid search program. Graduate-level requirement includes some original work or calculations in the paper/project submitted and to research one of the primary topics and lead the class discussion of it. PTYS 416 may be co-convened with PTYS 516.

Course Level: PTYS Minor Elective

Origin of the Solar System and Other Planetary Systems (3)

This course will review the physical processes related to the formation and evolution of the protosolar nebula and of protoplanetary disks. In doing that, we will discuss the main stages of planet formation and how different disk conditions impact planetary architectures and planet properties. We will confront the theories of disk evolution and planet formation with observations of circumstellar disks, exoplanets, and the planets and minor bodies in our Solar System. This course is cross-listed with ASTR 450 and may be co-convened with PTYS 550.

Course Level: PTYS Minor Elective

Special Topics in Planetary Science (2-3)

Course will emphasize emerging and current topical research in Planetary Science; course will be offered as needed or required.  Sample course topics might include an active spacecraft mission, an emerging research area, or new discoveries.  Course may be co-convened with PTYS 595B. Graduate-level requirements may include an additional project for graduate credit and extra questions on exams, depending on the course/topic taught. Course may be repeated for credit 3x (or up to 9 units). Regular grades assigned (ABC).

Course Level: PTYS Minor Elective
(001) Lynn Carter

Spring 2025. PTYS 495B. 3 units. Science and Exploration of the Moon.