Course Syllabus for AST 309S: The Solar System


Sally Dodson-Robinson


Meeting times: Tuesday/Thursday 9:30-11:45 AM
Location: WEL 3.502
Unique number: 47588
Website: All course material will be posted on Blackboard

Teaching Assistants

Marshall Johnson (20 hrs)

Andrew Riddle (10 hrs)

Office Hours

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

Teaching assistants:
Marshall-M,W 4-5 PM, Th 2-3 PM
Andrew-W 11 AM-12:30 PM

Course description

Astronomy 309S offers a broad overview of planetary science to non-science majors. We will study the orbits, formation, composition and evolution of the sun, planets, asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects, comets and moons in the Solar System. We will also learn about planets outside the solar system, over 500 of which have been discovered as of Fall 2011. 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.

Note-taking materials: I do not use PowerPoint except to show pictures, nor do I post lecture notes online. Your lecture notes will be an important study resource.


Homework assignments count for 30% of the course grade. You will submit your homework assignments online using Blackboard. Important: late work will not be accepted. Please start your electronic submission at least 20 minutes before the assignment is due. The lowest assignment grade will be dropped. Your TAs will conduct one homework help session per assignment, with the schedule to be determined.

There will be four quizzes that make up 60% of the course grade (15% per quiz). The optional final exam is on Friday, December 9. If you choose to take the final exam, it will replace your lowest quiz score. If you are happy with your grade at the end of the semester, there is no need to take the final exam.

In-class assignments will make up the final 10% of your grade. Your lowest in-class assignment score will be dropped.

Grading scale used for final grades:




























Below 65%



Please note that all work, including quizzes and 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.

Accomodations 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: Introduction and solar system formation

Unit 2: Giant Planets

Unit 3: Terrestrial planets, dwarf planets and leftovers

Unit 4: Exoplanets

Final Exam: Friday, December 9, 2:00-5:00 PM. Only students who wish to improve their grades are required to take the final exam.

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 at least 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.

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

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. 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



Sally Dodson-Robinson


Marshall Johnson


Andrew Riddle