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AST 309






Help Sessions: Th 6-7, RLM 15.216B
(on weeks with homeworks or exams)

Lang, The Cambridge Guide to the Solar System

AST 301 or equivalent introduction to astronomy.

We will discuss the planets, moons, and other bodies in the solar system. Our emphasis will be on how the solar system bodies got to be like they are and why they differ as they do. This course is for non-science majors, and we do not expect you to have taken any physics courses. But we will be discussing physical laws and how they apply to the solar system. And we will at times put numbers into formulas

Reading and Homework
A chapter of reading will be assigned most weeks. You must do the reading by Wednesday, and your assignment for each Wednesday is to write one sentence about each of the three most important topics in the reading. You must also write down at least one topic from the reading that you found confusing or would like to have explained more. An ongoing assignment for the semester will be to watch the planets and keep a record of your observations. In addition, we will occasionally have other homework assignments involving observations or calculations. You are encouraged to work together on homework and get help from us, but you must write out your own answers in your own words. Duplicate homeworks will not receive credit. Late homeworks will receive half credit.

There will be 4 exams (see the schedule on back) and no final. Your lowest exam score will be dropped. Late exams will not be given. If you miss an exam it will be the one that will be dropped. But let us know if you have a good reason for having missed an exam. The exams will cover material from both class and the reading. The exams will be closed-book and closed-notes, and calculators will not be allowed (or needed).

Half of your grade will be determined from your exam scores and half from homeworks (including the weekly reading assignment). Your lowest exam and homework scores (one of each) will be dropped.

You are encouraged to study and work on homework assignments with other students, and you are encouraged to get help from the professor and TAs, but you must write out your own answers and make the assigned observations yourself. If you copy another homework or let someone copy yours, both of you will receive zero credit.


Week of:

Exam days:
Jan 14:
Ch 1
Jan 21:
Ch 2
View from Space
Jan 28:
Ch 3
Feb 4:
Ch 4
Feb 4 (Mon)
Feb 11:
Ch 4
Earth, cont'd
Feb 18:
Ch 5
Feb 25:
Ch 6
Feb 29 (Fri)
Mar 3:
Ch 7
Mar 17:
Ch 8
Mar 24:
Ch 9
Mar 31:
Ch 10
Apr 7:
Ch 11
Uranus + Neptune
Apr 7 (Mon)
Apr 14:
Ch 12
Apr 21:
Ch 13
Apr 28:
Ch 14
May 2 (Fri)

Positions of Planets
Mercury is visible the first 1-2 weeks of the semester about 45 minutes after sunset in the west just above where the Sun set. It is also visible before sunrise around March 1.

Venus is up before sunrise all semester. It is moving closer to the Sun. A crescent moon, Mercury, and Venus are very close together before sunrise March 5.

Mars rises just before sunset at the beginning of the semester. It is up in the evening all semester, but it is rising earlier and getting fainter as we move past it. Find a star near it, and watch to see how it moves relative to that star during the semester.

Jupiter at first rises late at night, but rises earlier later in the semester. It is bright, but rather far south in the sky.

Saturn rises at about 9:30 PM at the beginning of the semester, and then rises earlier as the semester goes on. It follows the star Regulus (in Leo). Watch to see how it moves relative to Regulus.

There will be a lunar eclipse on Feb. 20. The umbral eclipse occurs from 7:43 PM to 11:09 PM. We will have an assignment to watch it to determine the size of the Moon.

Painter Hall telescope
There is a good telescope for viewing planets on top of Painter Hall. Go there at least once during the semester on a Friday or Saturday night. See


15 January 2008
Astronomy Program · The University of Texas at Austin · Austin, Texas 78712
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