Course Syllabus for AST 309S: The Solar System

Sally Dodson-Robinson

Meeting times: Tuesday/Thursday11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Location: WEL 3.502
Unique number: 48275
Website: All course material will be posted on Blackboard

Teaching Assistants
Kevin Gullikson, RLM 15.310E, (512) 471-3387, email
Bohua Li, RLM 16.212, (512) 471-8443, email

Office Hours


M 5-6


Homework help sessions
Kevin Gullikson will conduct one homework help session per assignment, with the schedule to be determined.

Course description
Astronomy 309S is designed to offer a broad overview of planetary science to nonscience majors. We will study the orbits, formation, composition and evolution of the sun, planets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects, comets and moons. We will also learn about planets outside the solar system, over 500 of which have been discovered as of Fall 2010. The class material emphasizes the newest, most exciting discoveries in planetary science and highlights current research methods. Much of what we will cover has been discovered within the last five years.

The prerequisite is Astronomy 301, 302 or 303. Students are expected to be able to apply high-school algebra, including solving for unknown variables and exponents.

Materials required

Textbook: "The Solar System: Seventh Edition" by Michael A. Seeds. ISBN-13 978-1- 4390-5036-1. The Co-op may have used copies available.

Scientific calculator: exponent and trigonometric functions. Important: please bring your calculator to class every day.

Computer access: For our exoplanet homework assignment, you will either need to work for 1-2 hours in the astronomy computer lab, or you will need to install a Java application on your own computer.

Note-taking materials: I do not use PowerPoint except to show pictures, nor do I post lecture notes online. My expectation is that students will take notes during lecture.


Homework assignments count for 20% of the course grade. To help us keep the homework papers organized and make sure you get full credit for your work, please make sure to put your name on every page and staple the pages of your assignment. The lowest assignment grade will be dropped.

There will be four quizzes with the lowest quiz grade dropped. The three remaining quizzes together make up 50% of the course grade. Important: Only grades from quizzes you actually take will be dropped. If you miss a quiz, the zero will be averaged into your grade.

The cumulative final exam on Thursday, May 12 will be 20% of the course grade.

In-class assignments will make up the final 10% of your grade.

Grading scale used for final grades:




























Below 65%



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.

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

Course schedule

Unit 1: Introduction and solar system formation

Unit 2: Giant Planets

Unit 3: Terrestrial planets, dwarf planets and leftovers

Unit 4: Exoplanets

Final Exam: Thursday, May 12, 2:00-5:00 PM

Attendance and religious holidays

The in-class assignments and activities count for 10% of your grade. For grading purposes, I will drop one in-class assignment. If you miss more than one in-class assignment, it will count as a zero unless the absence from class was excused. To obtain an excused absence, contact the instructor before the class.

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.

Late work

I do not accept late homework unless you have an excused absence for the class period when the homework was due. To obtain an excused absence, contact me before class.

In general, I will not give make-up quizzes. The only exceptions are religious holidays (see above) and 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.

Scholastic honesty

I report all incidents of cheating or suspected cheating to Student Judicial Services. Students who violate University rules on scholastic dishonesty are subject to disciplinary penalties, including the possibility of failure in the course and/or dismissal from the University. Standards for Academic Integrity are posted at

Laptops and cellphones

I strongly discourage laptop use during class, as brightly lit screens are distracting to everyone sitting nearby. However, if you prefer to take notes on your laptop rather than by hand, you must sit in the back row. No cellphone use, including texting, is allowed during class.

E-mailing your instructor and TAs

You must e-mail us from your university email account-no exceptions. Always treat email as professional correspondence and use proper punctuation and capitalization. In addition, you must spell your instructor and/or TA’s name correctly and use an appropriate academic title. We will try to respond to appropriately written emails within 48 business hours. For detailed instructions on how to email a professor, see

rhea and saturn's rings



Sally Dodson-Robinson


Kevin Gullikson


Bohua Li