introduction to the solar system

ast2003 section 6218 - spring 2012


Instructor:  Professor Stanley F. Dermott

Office: 216 Bryant Space Science Center

Phone: 352-294-1864


Office hour: Tuesdays 11:45 - 12:45 pm, Thursdays 12:45 - 1:45 pm or by appointment

Teacher Assistant: Naibi Mariñas (Help with Mastering Astronomy and exams reviews)

Office:  312 Bryant Space Science Center

Phone: 352-392-2052 ext 4-1848


Class Website:

The class website can also be accessed at:

Lecture time and place: Tuesdays (4th period) (10:40 - 11:30 a.m.) and Thursdays (4th and 5th period) ( 10:40 pm – 12:35  p.m.), FLG 210

Required Text:

Astronomy Today  Volume I: The Solar System by Chaisson & McMillan,  7th Edition with access to the Mastering Astronomy website. The access comes with new books. There is also the possibility of buying e-book plus website access instead of paper book.

Course Contents:

Introduction to the Solar System is a General Education physical science (P) course. There are no prerequisites for this class; however, a basic knowledge of grade school level mathematics is sometimes needed.

The goals I would like you to achieve throughout this semester are:

Become familiar with the nature, origin and evolution of our solar system

Understand that many aspects of our solar system are changing with time

  1. Understand how science works and build scientific reasoning skills

The course is organized into three sections:

1.The view of the universe as seen from the Earth and the tools that we use to observe and understand what we see

2.The structure of the solar system and the natures of the terrestrial nad jovian planets

  1. 3.Small bodies in the solar system and the clues that they offer to the formation and evolution of the planets

Class Expectations and Obligations:

  1. I do not take class attendance; however, attendance to the lectures is required.  You are expected to arrive on time and remain until the lecture is finished. Arriving late or leaving early disturbs your classmates and instructor. The content from class might not be always be in your textbook, so you will need to take notes in class.

  1. You are encouraged to ask questions in class and during office hours. Do not wait until you are failing the class to come to see me. You can also ask questions by e-mail and I will reply to you usually within 24 hours (unless it is a weekend)

  1. Reading assignments for each class will be given and must be completed before next lecture. It is the best way for you to understand the lecture.



Honor Code:

Everyone in this class has to follow the University of Florida Honor Code: We, the members of the University of Florida community, pledge to hold ourselves and our peers to the highest standards of honesty and integrity.


Examinations (75 % of grade):

Three examinations will be given during the semester. All exams are worth the same, so the average of your three exams will be 75% of your grade. Makeup exams will be given ONLY for documented medical or family emergencies. The tentative dates for exams are:

Exam 1 (Chapters 1-2)  Thursday, February 9th (updated)

Exam 2 (Chapters 6-13) Thursday, March 22nd

Exam 3 (Chapters 14-16 and 28) Tuesday, April 24th

There will also be an optional final given on May 2nd. If this final is taken, your score could be used to replace the lowest of the above three exams. Topics in the final exam will span the whole course.

Projects  (graded) (15 % of grade)

Different projects will be assigned during the semester and they will be posted in the Projects page of this website. Your first projects are listed below and two additional projects will be assigned later on during the semester.

Project 1: Mastering Astronomy Website

Register in the Mastering Astronomy website. Once registered, go to our class website, the class code is PLANETS. Complete Assignment 1, Introduction to Mastering Astronomy. This assignment will familiarize you with the website so that it will be easier to study for exams later. 

Project 2: Observing Project

Project 1: Observing Project (Due on Thursday, February 16th - in class)

Sending in a pdf version by e-mail is preferable.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of astronomy is the opportunity to do actual observations of the sky with your eyes, binoculars or a telescope. Each student will watch the sky over the course of 4 weeks to see how the location of stars changes in the sky.

For this project you will need a chart of the constellations visible at this time of the year from Gainesville, FL. You can find a good sky map at

Scroll down the page to the Evening Sky Map Northern Hemisphere Edition section and click to download the map for the month of January in the language of your choice.

The complete instructions for the project and the form that you will need to complete can be found following this link: Observing Project

Quizzes (10 % of grade):

There will be short quizzes online for each chapter. The quizzes assess knowledge and comprehension of the reading assignments. These problems will be similar but not identical to questions that will appear on the exams and are excellent preparation for exams. The best way to do well in the exams is to come to class, read the book, study the lecture notes, and work on the website.

Homework  (non graded):

Your major homework responsibility will be to complete the reading assignments given in class, so you can fully participate in the next class. Your full attention and participation is expected during class time. I highly recommend doing all the Self-Guided Tutorials and the Concept Quizzes and Reading Quizzes for each chapter in the Mastering Astronomy website.

If you have a documented disability and anticipate needing accommodations in this course let me know as soon as possible, and request that the Counselor for Students with Disabilities send a letter verifying your disability.

Summary of Contribution of the various requirements to the final Grade:

3 Exams: 75 %

Quizzes: 10 %

Project and Homework: 15 %

Approximate Grading Scale:

A >90

B+ 85 – 89.9

B80 – 84.9

C+75 – 79.9

C65 – 74.9

D+ 60 – 64.9

D   50 – 59.9

E   < 50