ASTR 202: Exploration of the Solar System
Fall 2001


Course Content

  1. Introduction: A Brief Tour of the Universe
    • The Sun: Size, mean Earth-Sun distance (1 AU), radiated power
    • The Planets: Relative sizes and distances
    • Stars: Birth, evolution and death, the next-nearest star, the light-year
    • Galaxies: Our galaxy, nearby galaxies, clusters, superclusters, the large-scale structure of the Universe
    • Powers of Ten video
    • Scientific notation, conversion of units
    • The small-angle formula. Degrees, arcminutes and arcseconds
    • Text reference: Chapter 1

  2. Knowing the Heavens
    • Constellations
    • Diurnal motion
    • Seasonal variations of the night sky
    • The tilt of the Earth's axis and the seasons
    • The celestial sphere
      • The celestial poles and the celestial equator
      • Zenith and circumpolar stars
      • The ecliptic, equinoxes and solstices
      • The daily motion of the Sun across the sky
      • Celestial coordinates: declination and right ascension
      • Precession of the equinoxes
    • Text reference: Chapter 2

  3. Eclipses and the Motion of the Moon
    • The phases of the Moon
    • The synchronous rotation of the Moon
    • Synodic months and sidereal months
    • Eclipses and the line of nodes
    • Three types of lunar eclipse (total, partial and penumbral)
    • Three types of solar eclipse (total, partial and annular)
    • Text reference: Chapter 3

  4. Gravitation and the Waltz of the Planets
    • The direct and retrograde motion of the planets
    • The Ptolemaic (geocentric) model
      • Epicycles and deferents
      • Explanation of retrograde motion
      • Objections to the Ptolemaic model
    • The Copernican (heliocentric) model
      • Explanation of retrograde motion
      • The planets at different times of the year
      • Inferior and superior planets, conjunctions and oppositions
    • Support for a heliocentric model from Galileo's telescope observations
      • The phases of Venus
      • The moons of Jupiter
    • Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion
      • Kepler's First Law: Elliptical orbits, semimajor axis, eccentricity, perihelion and aphelion
      • Kepler's Second Law: Equal areas in equal times, perihelion, aphelion
      • Kepler's Third Law: P2 = a3
    • Newton's Laws of Motion (statement, examples, implications for planetary motion)
      • Newton's First Law: Inertia, zero net force
      • Newton's Second Law: Acceleration, mass, F=ma
      • Newton's Third Law: Equal and opposite forces, action and reaction
    • Newton's Law of Gravitation
      • Newton's law of gravitation in equations and pictures
      • Centrifugal force Fc = mv2/R
      • The derivation of Kepler's Laws from Newton's Laws, Newton's form of Kepler's Third Law
      • Calculating the mass of the Sun
      • Exam 1
      • Tidal forces and an explanation of the synchronous rotation of the Moon
    • Text reference: Chapter 4

  5. Our Solar System
    • The New Solar System video
    • Tom Hill's lectures on Jupiter (see below)
    • Orbital properties of the planets
      • Orbital planes, eccentricities, direction
      • Formation of the solar system: Solar nebula, gravitational collapse, protosun formation, disk formation
    • Physical properties of inner (terrestrial) and outer (Jovian) planets
      • Diameters and average densities
      • Information from spectroscopy and from samples
      • Initial composition of the solar nebula
      • Formation of planetesimals and protoplanets
      • Formation of the inner planets: accretion
      • Formation of the outer planets: accretion at much lower temperatures
      • Temperature and planetary atmospheres: Temperature scales, kinetic energy and escape velocity
    • Extrasolar planetary systems
      • Proplyds
      • Astrometric and radial velocity methods
      • The Doppler effect
      • Properties of extrasolar planetary systems and open questions
    • Text reference: Chapter 7

  6. Jupiter: Lord of the Planets
    • Basic Jupiter data (diameter, mass, composition)
    • Jupiter's appearance: Belts, zones, the Great Red Spot and other storms
    • Fast differential rotation rate, large internal energy and consequences for Jupiter's atmosphere
    • The comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts
    • Results from the Galileo Probe
    • Internal structure
      • Oblateness and implications for a rocky core
      • Liquid metallic hydrogen and helium
      • A thin gaseous outer layer
      • Strong magnetic field
      • The Jovian magnetosphere
    • Text reference: Chapter 13

  7. The Galilean Satellites of Jupiter
    • Orbital properties
    • Unique physical properties
    • A mini solar system
    • Io's volcanoes and the Io torus
    • The Io-Jupiter current system and Jovian aurora
    • Europa's ice rafts
    • Text reference: Chapter 14

  8. Our Living Earth
    • Unique features of planet Earth
    • Dynamic features of Earth's oceans, atmosphere and land masses
    • Energy sources of geophysical activity
    • The solar energy flux incident on Earth (the solar constant)
    • Earth's albedo
    • The greenhouse effect and its effect on Earth's surface temperature
    • The internal structure of the Earth
      • Chemical differential and formation of a dense iron core
      • Buoyancy force and Archimedes' Principle
      • Layers: Inner core, outer core, mantle, crust
      • Seismic waves: P waves, S waves, surface waves
      • Propagation of seismic waves through the Earth, the shadow zone
    • Plate tectonics
      • The basic mechanism: convection, asthenosphere, lithosphere
      • The Earth's major plates
      • Plate tectonics and earthquakes, strike-slip fault
      • Collisions of plates: subduction zones, mountain ranges, volcanoes
      • Separation of plates: oceanic rifts, sea floor spreading
    • Earth's magnetic field, electrodynamics and the magnetosphere
      • Generation of Earth's magnetic field
      • Charged particles, electric fields and magnetic fields
      • Rutherford's nuclear model of the atom, the New Zealand $100 bill
      • Motion of charged particles in electromagnetic fields
      • Plasma!
      • The solar wind and its interaction with Earth's magnetic field
      • The bow shock, magnetosphere and the Van Allen radiation belts
      • The aurora
    • Text reference: Chapter 8

  9. Our Barren Moon
    • Basic Moon data (E.g., radius, mass, distance from Earth, eccentricity, orbit plane, spin tilt, albedo)
    • Absence of an atmosphere (and consequences of this)
    • Surface features: Maria, terrae, craters
    • The far side of the Moon
    • Absence of plate tectonics
    • General rule: An abundance of craters implies an old surface with little or no geological activity
    • Absence of a (present-day) lunar magnetic field
    • Lunar seismology
      • Seismic waves and moonquakes
      • The interior structure of the Moon
    • General rule: Smaller worlds retain less internal heat and display less geological activity on their surface
    • Formation of the Moon
      • Competing theories
      • The collisional ejection theory
    • Text reference: Chapter 9
    • Exam 2

  10. Sun-Scorched Mercury
    • Observing Mercury from Earth (favorable and unfavorable elongations, appearance)
    • Basic Mercury data
    • Solar transits
    • Measuring rotation using radio waves; the Arecibo Observatory
    • 3-2 spin-orbit coupling
    • Day and night on Mercury
    • Basic surface features (craters, smooth plains, scarps, the Caloris basin)
    • Interior and magnetic field
    • Magnetosphere
    • Text reference: Chapter 10

  11. Cloud-Covered Venus
    • Observing Venus from Earth (elongations, appearance)
    • Basic Venus data
    • Solar transits
    • Slow retrograde rotation
    • Atmosphere: Composition, pressure, density, the runaway greenhouse effect
    • The Stefan-Boltzmann law and planetary surface temperatures
    • Sulfuric acid clouds and volcanoes
    • Results from Magellan mapping of Venus's surface
    • Text reference: Chapter 11

  12. Red Planet Mars
    • Thunderbirds Martian Invasion!
    • Observing Mars from Earth (favorable oppositions, appearance)
    • Basic Mars data
    • Martian canals
    • Craters, volcanoes and canyons
      • The Mars Orbiter laser altimeter map
      • Northern lowlands and southern highlands
      • Olympus Mons
      • Valles Marineris
    • Signs of water on Mars
    • Atmosphere: Composition, pressure, the runaway icehouse effect
    • Loss of water on Venus and Mars (the role of solar wind and magnetic fields)
    • Martian moons: Phobos and Deimos
    • Text reference: Chapter 12

  13. The Spectacular Saturnian System
    • Basic data and appearance from Earth
    • Saturn's rings
      • A, B and C rings, the Cassini division, ring thickness
      • Composition and sizes of ring particles
      • The Roche limit
      • Fine structure: The Encke gap, ringlets, the F ring
      • Influences of Saturn's moons: the Cassini division, the F ring and the Encke gap
    • Atmosphere and internal structure: Similarities to Jupiter, helium rain
    • Saturn's moons: Titan and it's properties, mid-sized and small moons
    • The Cassini mission
    • Text reference: Chapter 15

  14. The Outer Planets
    • Uranus and Neptune
      • Discovery of Uranus
      • Prediction and discovery of Neptune
      • Appearance from Earth and basic data
      • Voyager 2 fly-bys in 1986 and 1989
      • Methane and the greenish-blue color of Uranus and Neptune
      • Uranus's 98-degree (retrograde) tilt and extreme seasons
      • The Great Dark Spot and methane crystal clouds
      • Effects of Neptune's internal heat source: Storms, increase in cloud-top temperature
      • Internal structure and magnetic fields
      • Dark, narrow planetary rings
    • Pluto
      • Basic data
      • Discovery
      • Pluto and Charon: a binary planet system in double synchronous rotation
    • Text reference: Chapter 16

  15. Vagabonds of the Solar System
    • Asteroids
      • The discovery of 1 Ceres
      • The asteroid belt
      • Jupiter's influence on the formation of the asteroid belt
      • The Kirkwood gaps
      • Impacts with Earth, extinction of the dinosaurs
    • Meteoroids, meteors and meteorites
    • Comets
      • Structure: "dirty snowballs", coma, dust tail, ion tail
      • Meteor showers
    • Text reference: Chapter 17


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