GLY 4045: Moons, Planets and Meteors: An Introduction to Planetary Science

Instructor: Jeff Ryan

Link to Official Spring, 2003 Course Syllabus

Link to Official Spring, 2003 Course Schedule

The exploration of the "near" space of our Solar System, with beginnings in the early reaches of human history, is the highest-profile scientific endeavor our nation has undertaken. In the last 30 years, most of the significant advances in analytical chemistry, electronics, materials science, and the remote sensing of both the surface and the interior of the Earth, among other fields, are directly or indirectly attributable to problems addressed and solved in our exploration of the Moon and other planets. The goal of this course is to introduce you to the field of planetary science, which combines aspects of chemistry, physics, geology, and even a bit of biology; as well as to familiarize you with the history of Man's exploration of space (which, with its beginnings in Classical Greece and the Renaissance, reflects the history of science in general). Rather than climbing into the arcana, we will focus on the big questions about the Solar System, and the Earth as a member of this planetary system.

Changeable Fare - Check the Official Syllabus for Current Requirements

Selected Readings from space science journals, and information from the WorldWide Web

Journal Sources of Planetary Science Literature:

Meteoritics and Planetary Science (formerly Meteoritics)
Journal of Geophysical Research - Planets
Proceedings of the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference
Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Earth and Planetary Science Letters

To a great degree, the topics we cover in this class will depend on you. Planetary science is a broad and diverse field: there is no specific body of knowledge to be transmitted here. Today, before you leave, each of you will fill out a card for me with your name, major, the science courses you have taken, and a brief explanation as to what you want to get out of this course, i.e., what about our Solar System and its exploration got you curious enough to take this class? The specific schedule of what we'll do in here will depend in large part on what you tell me today!

Course Requirements and Evaluation:

Examinations: We will have a midterm and final examination, or their equivalent - see the official Syllabi!. Both will be of a short essay (~1 page answers) format, and the questions will generally be issues-oriented: often, your answers will be based on your own opinions, as informed by the class. Grading will be based on the implicit understanding of course materials apparent from your answers, and on the quality of your thinking. (20% each; 40% of total grade)

First Set of Exam Questions, Spring 2003

Second Set of Exam Questions, Spring 2003

Research Paper: You will each write a research paper (maximum length: 1500 words exclusive of references, figures and tables) on an aspect of planetary sciences that truly lights your fire. The paper will be issue-oriented, and the specific range of topics will be defined each term. The approach you take to writing it will depend both on your subject, and on your background. In general, I'll offer some sort of "pre-read" opportunity for those who want my input before they hand it in for grading.
(30% of total grade).

Acceptable "Popular Science" books to use as the basis of Term Papers

In-Class Activities and WorldWide Web Exercises: Pretty much every week I will have exercises for you to perform. These may be short, often mathematical homework problems, or "Web Search" activities that will set you up for the research you'll be doing for the exams and paper. As we get deeper into studies of the Moon, Mars, Venus, and the other planets, many of these exercises will be hands-on, day-of-class activities in interpreting some of the imagery and data that NASA probes are currently producing. You will absolutely need computer access to do this work successfully! If you do not have a computer account, please see me, and I will provide you with a request form to fill out, and the name of the person to give it to. (20% of total grade).

Links to Important Planetary Science Websites:

The NASA Homepage

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory Homepage

The Space Telescope Science Institute homepage

The Lunar and Planetary Institute

The International Space Station Homepage

Online or In-Class Exercises. We won't do all of them, but we'll do some! Refer to the official syllabus for to see which ones you need to complete:

Searching the Web for Solar Eclipses

Images of the Sun

Meteorites from Antarctica

Rocks and Minerals in Hand Sample

Rocks and Meteorites, A Web Exercise and Tour

Meteorites: What's in them, and how and when they get here (a few calculations)

Craters and Cratering as a "Geologic" Process

A Probable Meteor Impact Crater in Panama!

Questions for Class Discussion on Impacts and Mass Extinctions

The Apollo Lunar Program - A Video Archive!

Clementine and Lunar Prospector: The New Wave in Lunar Exploration?

Lunar Rocks through the Microscope: a Web Gallery of Images

Doing Planetary Geology, Phase 1

Questions for Class Discussion on Mars Exploration Program Motivations and Results

Doing Planetary Geology, Phase 2: In-Class and Web Activity on Venus Surface Imagery Interpretation

Doing Planetary Geology, Phase 3: The Moons of Jupiter!

Out-of-Class Activities:

There will be a menu of special activities related to this class, to try and provide some more hands-on experiences. One that will definitely happen will be a weekend field trip to the Kennedy Space Center, which I do at least one Saturday during each term. There are also relevant museum displays and activities (in particular, planetariums) at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa, and the Bishop Planetarium in Bradenton. Other possible events include the acquisition of thin sections and samples of rocks from the Moon and from meteorites for us to examine, and special lecturers, arranged through the Geology Department Colloquium series, to speak on aspects of the Space Program and planetary science. Each term some out-of-class participation is required.

Questions about the Moons, Planets... Field Trip to Kennedy Space Center

Questions about the Moons, Planets... Field Trip to the Museum of Science and Industry

What to do with Other Out-of-Class Activities

None of the above are specifically required, but ALL of them fall under the general heading of "Class Participation." Being engaged and excited about a class like this is worth at least a letter grade. (10% of final grade).

Possible Class Topics (What we do will vary depending on student interests. We'll definitely cover those in bold. ):

--- Beginnings of Human Exploration of Space: Ancient Greece, the size of planets, distances between celestial bodies determined with only a triangle or two. Jump to: the Space Race and the Cold War, Sputnik, Mercury, Soyuz and Gemini. Prelude to Apollo.

--- The really big things in the Cosmos: The Sun and stars. Mechanisms of their operation. Stars in Old Age and Death, and how that relates to the making of planets.

--- Space Stuff on Earth: Meteorites! Human history with them, where we find them, how to recognize them. How we tell them apart, when they really don't look very different.

--- What meteorites may tell us:
1) about how solid matter formed in the Solar System.
2) about the existence of early planets, their history, and what they became.

--- The Perils of Meteorites: Origins (in the Solar System, or not), Orbits and Impacts. History of Orbital theory: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo and Tycho Brahe. Kepler's Laws, and Newton's laws of gravity. Meteor impacts, craters, and their aftermath: Chixculub, Tungushka, "nuclear winter" without the Bomb.

----"...One small step...": The Apollo program! Its motivations (scientific and otherwise) and goals. The Lunar program on earth: those rocks and what we did with them.

-- How our view of Lunar origins developed, based on the Apollo missions, and have changed with more recent exploration. The history and politics of the debate. "Wild" ideas on lunar origin, "Cool" hypotheses for its differentiation.<br.

---some Comparative Planetology. A brief segue to the Earth: a discussion of its origins, structure and early evolution as best we know it. Questions:
a) by comparison to the Moon, why is the Earth so hot and tectonically active?
b) rare meteorites have characteristics intermediate between the Earth and Moon. Where could these come from?

--- Mars: What we know of it, both from flybys (Mariner), and from samples (!). Viking, MP, and MGS Discoveries.

<b.--- The "Geology" of Mars, from Viking lander results, and from rare and unusual meteorites. Water on Mars? Life on Mars?

Link to the Mars Meteorite Homepage

---Venus! History of its exploration, Venera and Pioneer programs. Magellan and the new maps of Venus.

---Venusian Climate and Tectonics: the endgame of Global Warming? (Discussion)

---The Outer Planets, and Outer Moons. Results from Pioneer, Voyager and Galileo. Comet Shoemaker-Levy, and what a big impact can really do. And what's with all the rings, anyway?

---The Space program today: the Shuttle and Challenger, Space Station Freedom, the Mission to Planet Earth. Technology and envrionmental awareness as influenced by NASA. The future of planetary science: will we ever turn back to outer space? (Discussion).

Link back to Jeff Ryan's Homepage

Link back to USF Geology Homepage