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AST80005 Exploring the Solar System

Course/s with Unit:
A unit of study in the Graduate Certificate of Science (Astronomy), Graduate Diploma of Science (Astronomy) and Master of Science (Astronomy).

Credit Points:
12.5 Credit Points

One semester

Contact Hours:
Equivalent to 60 hours




Learning and Teaching Structure:
Online delivery mode, contact via newsgroups & email.

Assessable newsgroup contributions (30%), essay (50%) and online tests (20%).

This Unit aims to provide an introduction to our solar neighbourhood, including terrestrial planets, giant planets, minor bodies and the Sun. The emphasis is on conceptual astronomy rather than mathematical techniques.

After successfully completing this Unit, students should be able to:

  • understand the basic principles of both celestial motion and planetary astronomy, and discuss these concepts in a non-technical manner understandable to the general public;
  • understand and appreciate night sky observing and celestial phenomena;
  • understand our place in the solar neighbourhood, especially of the relationship between our present environment on Earth and that of our companions in the Solar System;
  • understand the social implications of planetary research;
  • research an astronomy topic in depth, using dependable sources of astronomical information on the internet.


  • Observing the night sky, star trails, the planets as wanderers
  • Lunar orbit and phases, tidal forces, synchronous rotation
  • Modelling the formation of the Solar System
  • The Earth: structure, surface geology, atmosphere and magnetic field
  • The Moon: interior, lunar surface characteristics and theory of formation
  • The terrestrials: Mercury, Venus and Mars; comparative planetary geology
  • Planets as habitats and signs of life
  • The asteroid belt: properties and evolution
  • The giant planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune
  • Satellites and planetary rings
  • Dwarf planets, Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
  • Comets and the dirty snowball model
  • The Sun: structure, nuclear power, solar activity and its effects on Earth

Prescribed Textbook & Reading Materials:
For information about the textbook, follow this link.

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