Course Syllabus for AST 364: Solar System Astronomy


Sally Dobson-Robinson


Meeting times: Tuesday/Thursday 12:30-1:45 PM
Location: RLM 15.216B
Unique number: 47615
Website: All course material will be posted on Blackboard

Teaching Assistant

Paul Robertson (10 hrs)

Office hours

Tu 2-3:15 PM
Th 2-3:45 PM



PHY 316

Electricity & Magnetism

PHY 116L

Electricity & Magnetism Lab

Course description

AST 364 introduces the physics and chemistry of planetary systems to students with at least one year of undergraduate-level math and physics preparation. Topics include orbital dynamics, planet formation, planetary interior structure, atmospheric physics and chemistry, and surface geological processes. We will also discuss the origins, structures and orbits of comets, asteroids and planetary satellites. We will end with an overview of the extrasolar planets, 563 of which have been discovered as of August 2011. Much of what we will cover has been discovered within the last five years.

Materials required

Course pack: The best upper-division planetary science book available, Physics and Chemistry of the Solar System by John S. Lewis (2004, Elsevier Academic Press), is unfortunately out of print. I have arranged for most of the book to be included in your course pack through University of Texas’ copyright site license. Your course pack also contains excerpts from Impact Cratering: a geologic process by H. J. Melosh (1989, Oxford University Press).

Note-taking materials: I use PowerPoint only to show pictures and do not post lecture notes online. The notes you take in class will be important study resources.

Calculator and computer access: At least one homework assignment will require a computer with Java 1.5 or 1.6. The computers in the RLM 15th or 16th floor computer labs will work for this assignment.


Homework assignments count for 30% of the course grade. There will be seven assignments due during the semester. I will drop the lowest assignment score from your grade.

Journal article reviews count for 30% of the course grade. You will review three journal articles during the semester.

Tests count for 40% of the course grade. There will be four tests during the semester. The optional final exam is on Friday, December 9. If you choose to take the final exam, it will replace your lowest test score. If you are happy with your grade at the end of the semester, there is no need to take the final exam.

Grading scale used for final grades:




























Below 65%



Please note that all work, including tests, must be neatly written and easily readable in order to receive a grade.

Late work

I do not accept late homework unless you have a documented excuse for the time the homework was due (i.e. doctor’s note, letter from Athletic Dept.). Make-up quizzes will not be given except for students with religious holidays (see below) or documented illnesses. To receive a make-up quiz because of illness, you must (a) notify the instructor you cannot attend before the start of the quiz, and (b) provide a doctor’s note with date, time and verification of illness.

Accommodations for students with disabilities

At the beginning of the semester, students with disabilities who need special accommodations should notify the instructor by presenting a letter prepared by the Service for Students with Disabilities (SSD) Office. The University of Texas provides upon request appropriate academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. To ensure that the most appropriate accommodations can be provided, students should contact the SSD Office at 471-6259 or 471-4641 TTY.

Course Schedule

Unit 1: Solar system formation and dynamics

Unit 2: Giant planets and their satellites

Unit 3: Terrestrial planets and airless rocky bodies

Unit 4: Comets, asteroids and exoplanets

Attendance and religious holidays

I will not take attendance in lectures. However, as your lecture notes will be an important study resource, I strongly encourage you to attend.

It is the policy of The University of Texas at Austin that the student must notify each instructor at least fourteen days prior to the classes scheduled on dates he or she will be absent to observe a religious holy day. For religious holidays that fall within the first two weeks of the semester, the notice should be given on the first day of the semester. The student may not be penalized for these excused absences but the instructor may appropriately respond if the student fails to complete satisfactorily the missed assignment or examination within a reasonable time after the excused absence.

Scholastic honesty

Students who violate University rules on scholastic dishonesty will receive zero credit for the assignment or quiz on which dishonesty occurred. In addition, the Astronomy Department or University may impose further disciplinary penalties, including the possibility of failure in the course and/or dismissal from the University. Standards for Academic Integrity are posted at


I strongly discourage laptop use during class, as brightly lit screens are distracting to everyone nearby (including the instructor). However, if you must take notes on your laptop rather than by hand, please sit in the back row.