Properties of Our Solar System:

Course Overview and Structure

This is a self-paced version of Astronomy 121 - The Solar System. The course is arranged as a series of modules with homework assignments specifically related to the content of the module. These assignments are due at specified times as shown in red in the modules below. Use regular email to answer to questions posed in the virtual lab exercises. In those cases where graphing is required, the lab will contain a link to a graphing applet that will let you turn your graph in as a gif image to the course server.

It is thus essential that your Web browser is able to run JAVA applets. It is highly recommended that you use either Internet Explorer 6.0 for this. If you are using an older browser, some of these interactive exercises might not work. I CAN'T EMPHASIZE THIS POINT ENOUGH. MAKE SURE THE JAVA CODE CAN RUN ON YOUR MACHINE. The easiest way to do this is to go to and click the yellow button that says "Get It Now". This will also install the Web Start environment on your machine which we will use later in the course. Particularly for the third homework assignment.

This study of the Solar System is primarily an exercise in planetary geology and the formation of planetary atmospheres. The input data, in most cases, consists only of images of planetary surfaces from which we attempt to reconstruct its particular geological history. Each planetary surface in our Solar System has a unique geological history and a wealth of network accessible information now exists. Well over 10,000 individual images of planetary surfaces are now available via the World Wide Web/Internet system. References to these image repositories are given under the Internet Resources heading of the main class page. These resources should be used often during this class.

The main goals of this class are to:

  • To gain an understanding of some of the detailed properties of the various objects that make up our solar system.
  • To achieve a coherent understanding of how the solar system was able to form in the Galaxy and the probability that similar formation processes occurred elsewhere.

Homework, Exams and Grading:


However, you may also try to submit your homeworks through the digital drop box feature of blackboard. This sometimes even works.

Homework is graded on a level of effort scale as the assignments are open ended (to some extent) and will allow you to research a topic at the level of depth you want to. The goal here is for you to access multiple sources of information and then synthesize a coherent point of view in responding to a particular question. The goal is here not for you to simply cut and paste information from some Web site. This will easily be detected and will detract from your grade. Each homework assignment is worth 25 points and there are 5 of them for this course. Small deductions may be made for late homework so try to get it in by the indicated due date.

IMPORTANT: Failure to even do a homework assignment will result in a score of -10 points for that assignment

Homework is weighted equally with the exams in this course and its worth your time, if you want a decent grade, to do well on the homework. Preferred modes of homework submission are either a)plain text or b) a Microsoft word document. Please try to avoid using Microsoft Works . If you are using a Macintosh, try and send your assignment in plain text, and not encoded in Mac/binary.

Course grades will be given on the basis of your cumulative point total. You can lookup your homework and exam scores on Blackboard. The points are as follows:

  • 5 Homework assignments = 125 points
  • Midterm exam = 135 points
  • Optional Final exam = 140 points

The final is optional and is a risk/reward exam. You should only take it if you think you have a reasonable change of improving your grade. A poor performance on the final will definitely lower your grade.

After you have completed 3 homework assignments and taken the midterm, a new entry called Interim Grade will appear in the gradebook on blackboard. This interim grade will be based on your weighted average, which will be updated with each homework assignment submitted after the first 3.

I have implemented this system to simplify your obtaining your target or acceptable grade for this course.

The weighted averages that correspond to letter grades are as follows:

  • 95% and above A+
  • 87.5% -- 95.0% A
  • 82.5% -- 87.5% A-
  • 77.5% -- 82.5% B+
  • 72.5% -- 77.5% B
  • 67.5% -- 72.5% B-
  • 62.5% -- 67.5% C+
  • 55.0% -- 62.5% C
  • 50.0% -- 55.5% C-

Principle Internet Resources

Where are the planets now?

Module #1: Historical Models of the Solar System:

Module #2: General Properties of the Solar System

Module #3: Planetary Atmospheres

Module #4: The Terrestrial Planets

Module #5: The Jovian Planets