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Astronomy 161
An Introduction to Solar System Astronomy

Autumn Quarter 2009
Prof. Scott Gaudi
MTWRF 9:30-10:18am
0100 Mendenhall Laboratory

[Instructor | Course Description | Syllabus | News | Lectures | Homework | Exams | Internet Resources | Further Reading | Copyright Statement ]


Professor: Scott Gaudi

Office: 4057 McPherson Lab (292-1914)
Office Hours: Tue, Thur 11:30-12:30, or by appointment

TA: Jason Eastman

Office: 4061 McPherson Lab (292-9242)
Office Hours: Mon, Wed 2:00-3:00, or by appointment

Course Description

Astronomy 161 is an introduction to modern astronomy, with an emphasis on the solar system. We will begin with an exploration of the historical development of astronomy to trace the path by which we have come to our present understanding of the Universe, building up along the way the basic toolkit of physical concepts that we will need for our later discussions. The second half of the course will be devoted to an overview of modern solar system astronomy, with particular attention paid to the constituents of the solar system, comparative planetology (structure, surfaces, & atmospheres) and the history and evolution of the solar system.


The Class Syllabus is available online. It may also be downloaded in PDF Format [110kb]

Course News

Final grades have been posted. Please email me or stop by my office if you would like your score on your final exam. Have a great winter break!


The links below lead to outlines of the lectures. These are intended to provide a guide to the subjects that will be covered during class and are by no means transcripts of the lectures. I strongly encourage class attendance, as not all of the essential class material will appear on these web pages or in the text. I will try to make the outlines available before class, although this will not always be possible.

Unit 1: Introduction [September 23-25]

Unit 2: Time and the Sky [September 28, 29, 30, October 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8]

Unit 3: Rise of Modern Astronomy [October 9, 12, 13, 14, 15]

Unit 4: The Physics of Astronomy [October 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29]

Unit 5: The Earth and the Moon [October 30, November 2, 3, 4]

Unit 6: The Solar System [November 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 1, 2]

Unit 7: Life and Death in the Universe [December 3, 4]


There will be four homework assignments during the quarter. Homework will be handed out on Monday and due the following Monday.

Homework Schedule

Homework 1: (Due Monday, October 5) Alternate Homework 1:
Homework 2: (Due Monday, October 12)
Homework 3: (Due Monday, October 26)
Homework 4: (Due Monday, November 16)

Answers to the homework questions.


There will be three quizzes during the quarter in addition to the final. The three quizzes and the final are closed-book and closed-notes. You only need to bring a #2 pencil to these exams.

Quiz Schedule:

Quiz 1: Friday, October 16 [Results]
Quiz 2: Thursday, November 5 [Results]
Quiz 3: Monday, November 30 [Outline of Topics] [Results]

Final Exam:

The final exam will be on Tuesday, December 8 from 9:30-11:18am in 0100 Mendenhall Laboratory [Study Guide]

Internet Resources

Lecture Outlines
Planetarium and Roof Night Schedule
Prof. Richard Pogge's Selected Astronomical Internet Links for further exploration

Some Astronomy Picture Sites:

Astronomy Picture of the Day
NASA Planetary Photojournal A great collection of planetary images at JPL.
Latest pictures from the Saturn system returned by the Cassini spacecraft.
Latest pictures from the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
Latest pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope
Pictures from the Chandra X-ray Observatory
Pictures from the Spitzer Space Telescope

This Week's Sky at a Glance

Courtesy of Sky & Telescope Magazine

Further Reading

Below is compiled a list of books that expand on the material covered in the course for those interested in further reading. These books are not required, or even recommended, for this course. They are listed here purely for the benefit of students interested in exploring some of the topics from class in further detail on their own.
The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself by Daniel J. Boorstin
This book, by the late Librarian of Congress, is an excellent overview of how human discovery and invention have shaped history. I drew many historical anecdotes from this book to supplement the lectures, including those on time, the calendar, and other aspects of the history of science.
Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel
An excellent and very readable account of John Harrison's invention of a precise, compact chronometer to solve a centuries-old scientific problem. The work of many great scientific minds on the longitude problem are well placed in this historical context.
The Book Nobody Read by Owen Gingerich
A narrative of the author's search to track down all remaining copies of Copernicus' De Revolutionibus, along with an engaging description of the Copernican Revolution and the dawn of modern astronomy.

Copyright Statement

All of the written materials provided in these web pages are copyrighted by the course instructor, except as noted. In addition, some images and animations are also copyrighted by the instructor, while others are copyrighted by the original sources. Please read the Copyright Statement before you make copies of any of these web pages for any purpose. Use of these notes implies that you have read and understood the copyright statement. The image at the top of this page is from NASA.

Updated: 2007 March 14
Copyright Scott Gaudi All Rights Reserved.