Astronomy 161: Introduction to Solar System Astronomy

Meetings: MWF, 11:30-12:48, Dreese Lab 113
Midterm exam: Friday, April 29, in class
Final exam: Wednesday, June 8, 11:30 am - 1:18 pm, in Dreese Lab 113

Instructor: Professor David Weinberg, Dept. of Astronomy
4041 McPherson Lab (4th floor), 292-6543,
Mailbox in 4055 McPherson Lab, phone messages can be left at 292-1773
Office hours: Monday 3:30-5:00, or by appointment

GTA: Jerry Yoo, 4011 McPherson, 292-2076,
Office hours: Monday 2:00-3:00, Friday 2:00-3:00, or by appointment

Course web page:

Course Objectives

The course has two interlocking themes:
1. Astronomy of the solar system.
2. Science and the scientific revolution.
We will discuss what astronomers have learned about the structure of the solar system, about the nature of planets, moons, asteroids, and comets, and about the existence of planets around other stars. Throughout the course, we will place just as much emphasis on how we have learned these things as on what we have learned, i.e., on how a scientific approach allows us to deduce the characteristics of distant objects from observations done on the earth. The transformation from a geocentric model of the solar system to the modern view in which the planets orbit the sun under the influence of universal gravity is probably the single most important development in the history of science, and we will devote considerable attention to how it came about. Furthermore, our understanding of the solar system rests fundamentally on our understanding of the basic physics of atoms, light, and gravity, so we will cover these topics as well.

Course Outline

I usually find that I can't quite get through all the material I hope to in a 1-quarter course, but this is what I will be doing my best to cover:

1. Motions in the Sky
2. The Scientific Revolution: Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler, Galileo, Newton
3. Matter, Light, and Telescopes
4. Earth, the Moon, and the Terrestrial Planets
5. Jupiter and the Gas Giants
6. Moons and rings
7. Asteroids and Comets
8. Formation of the Solar System
9. Extra-solar planets
10. Life in the Universe

Textbook and Lecture Notes

The textbook for the course is Universe by Roger A. Freedman and William J. Kauffmann III, published by W.H. Freeman and Company. I am fairly impressed by this book and think you will find it a useful reference. However, it will definitely not serve as a substitute for attending class and taking notes. The current edition is the seventh, though if you bought a used copy of an earlier edition you can probably figure out the correspondence between my reading assignments and the sections of the earlier edition.

I will post copies of my own lecture notes on the course web page. I will make my best effort to get the notes for each week posted by 6 pm on the preceding Sunday, so that you can print them out and bring them with you to class. I cannot absolutely promise that I will always be able to do this.

My suggestion is that you print out my lecture notes from the web page each week, bring them with you to class, and add your own notes to them during the lectures. The notes are, of course, only an outline of what I cover, and they are not intended to be comprehensive or even comprehensible on their own. The notes and the textbook will both be useful as you review for quizzes and exams, but there is no substitute for attending class, and if you don't attend class you should expect to fail the course.

Course Requirements and Grading

Grades will be based on midterm exam (20%), a final exam (30%), four quizzes (25%), and in class questions (25%). The quizzes will take place during the first 20 minutes of class, and the planned dates (though these might be changed) are 4/8, 4/22, 5/13, and 5/27, i.e., Friday of the 2nd, 4th, 7th, and 9th week of class. The midterm will take the whole class period on Friday, April 29 (5th week of class). I will explain the "in class questions" in class. I plan to have one of these almost every day, so failure to attend class will inevitably affect this component of your grade (although, in practice, it will affect other components of your grade just as much). You may not turn in an answer to an "in class question" on behalf of anyone else; if you do, you will get zero for this entire component (25%) of your course grade. Further comments about grading appear on the (separate) makeup policy handout.

Students with Disabilities

Any student who feels that s/he may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact the instructor to discuss specific needs. The instructor will rely on the Office of Disability Services to verify the need for accommodation and to help develop accommodation strategies. Students with disabilities who have not previously contacted the Office of Disability Services are encouraged to do so, by looking at their web site ( and calling them for an appointment.

Academic Misconduct

OSU professors are required to report suspected cases of academic misconduct to the Committee on Academic Misconduct. (Information about University rules on academic misconduct can be found on the web at
Go to the A161 home page
Go to David Weinberg's Home Page
Updated: 2005 March 25[dhw]