«ASTR 230: The Science and Fiction of Planetary Systems Time: T/Th 11am-12:15pm Dates: 3 Sep – 12 Dec 2013 Room: CSS 2400 (Discussion: CSS 2428) ...»
ASTR 230: The Science and Fiction of Planetary Systems
Time: T/Th 11am-12:15pm Dates: 3 Sep – 12 Dec 2013
Room: CSS 2400 (Discussion: CSS 2428) Lecturer: Dr. Alan Peel
Office Hours: See course website email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone(s): (301) 405-6647; (301) 314-9476 Mailbox: CSS 1204
TAs: Erin Grand & Lenore Koenig Textbook: See course website Course Website: http://www.astro.umd.edu/~peel/ASTR230 and also elms.umd.edu Course Description (a.k.a., "Syllabus") [T]here is an infinite field, a containing space which doth embrace and interpenetrate the whole. In it is an infinity of bodies similar to our own. No one of these more than another is in the centre of the universe, for the universe is infinite and therefore without centre or limit....[T]here are certain determined definite centres, namely, the suns, fiery bodies around which revolve all planets, earths and waters, even as we see the seven wandering planets take their course around our sun....Thus there is not merely one world, one earth, one sun, but as many worlds as we see bright lights around us, which are neither more nor less in one heaven, one space, one containing sphere than is this our world in one containing universe, one space or one heaven.
- Third Dialogue of On the Infinite Universe and Worlds Giordano Bruno, 1584 By now, you have probably seen at least one science fiction movie or read one sci-fi story which has raised your suspicions that either the authors/creators had 1) a limited budget to try to create a new planetary environment or 2) a limited imagination. Scientists have collected enough data within our own solar system and recently beyond it to know that a huge variety of planets exist in our Universe, some of which may quite plausibly contain life. But it's a far cry to assume that all that life swims, flies or breathes through a 21% oxygen atmosphere with 75% of the surface covered in liquid water. In fact, it's questionable that every stellar system with planets even involves life.
By the end of this semester, I trust you will have developed that suspicion into a well-honed analytical skepticism based on a solid foundation of scientific understanding. So the next time you see a movie, read a book, etc., you'll suspend your disbelief only so far and no further.
This interdisciplinary I course will lay the foundation for understanding how planets function in stellar systems by examining the plausibility of planets used in science fiction. We will also consider the possibility of terraforming other planets, even within our own Solar System. To critically investigating fictional
environments, we will introduce the necessary general geology, physics and chemistry to learn:
• how terrestrial and jovian planets and moons form;
• what their histories are like over geologic time; and
• what their surfaces and atmospheres would be like under a variety of conditions (proximity to their star, chemistry, gravity, stability of rings, crater formation rate, etc.).
We will see multiple examples of imagined worlds, many familiar through popular culture as well as the general science fiction canon. As the semester progresses, you will develop a host of specific analytic skills using what we know about real planets, moons, asteroids and comets. As the astronomy community (primarily the Kepler mission) releases recently acquired observations of real exoplanets, a better understanding will emerge of how archetypal (or not) our own Solar System actually is.
You will be placed in a five- or six-member group, which will have multiple chances inside and outside the lecture and discussion section to practice this critical examination style via small group assignments ("homework") before embarking on a larger group project during the last half of the semester. Toward the end of the semester, we will discuss the needs and estimate the costs for terraforming various Solar System candidates (Mars, Europa, etc.). In the last two weeks of the class, this new knowledge will be applied in group work by the students to design their own fictional stellar system, including at least one terraformed object.
This course is intended primarily non-majors (i.e., not majoring in Astronomy or Physics). While there are no prerequisites (beyond college algebra)there is no doubt that such previous knowledge will help greatly. We do require the CORE Distributive Studies Requirement in Mathematics. We will use a little bit of mathematics in this course and a lot of physical reasoning. A fair amount of basic astronomy and physics will intrude into class but this is unavoidable if we are to explain how we know what we know.
Grading You are STRONGLY encouraged to keep track of your grades using ELMS website as each homework and test
gets graded. I grade on a point scale with different weights weighted as shown in this table:
Letter grades will be assigned based upon your cumulative score, and I do not curve lightly. Having taught various classes for over five years (some multiple times), I have found these grading guidelines below to be about right. I reserve the right to adjust the following based on class averages. However, any adjustment will make it easier to get a given grade, never more difficult. Here is a rough guide as to how your points relate to
your final grade:
As you can see, missing 100 points of the class participation can drop your grade a whole letter. So DON'T SKIP THE LECTURES! Let me know in person or by email as soon as possible if you are planning on missing lectures due to a religious holiday. Letting me know after the holiday will not work.
The point scale makes it possible for everyone in the class to do well. For example, if everyone scores above 80% in the course, you would all receive either a B or better letter grade. Unlikely as it may be, the entire class could potentially get A's. I will be using +/- modifiers for the final grade. Past experience has shown that my assignments and tests are pitched about right, to where the average total score in the class is in the 80% range of points, the B/B- range.
Class Participation (or "Why did you have me buy this silly clicker?") The text is "required" as well as a Turning Technologies response device (either the new RF LCD clickers which I recommend shown on the left, or the old RF clicker shown on the right; the XR (not shown) also works but is horribly user unfriendly). This class has on the order of 100 students. It is a sure thing that many of you will have different perspectives on the material, sometimes incorrect ones. I use the clickers nearly daily; your responses give me immediate insight into how well the material is understood and by how many students. This informs my lecture on the spot, allowing me to go over difficult material sufficiently and to move on only when I deem that comprehension has become universal. You WILL NOT BE graded on your clicker responses, only docked points if you fail to respond.
Within a few weeks, I will actually know many of your names and faces (and even occasionally both at the same time!). In order for you to succeed in this course, I expect you to try to attend all lectures. This is very important! The homework assignments, tests and final are based upon the material covered in the lectures and text. The very few people that have ever earned bad grades from me had (not coincidentally) also had terrible attendance. The lectures are punctuated with in-class exercises and discussions with your neighbors which most students find very helpful in reaching comprehension of the material. That said, the official University policy on how to deal with excused absences can be found here. Note the required advanced warning to the instructor if you plan on missing class due to religious observances!
If you do have to miss a lecture be sure to look at another student's notes and make sure that you understand what was covered or come to office hours. Essentially, you should assume that EVERY LECTURE during the semester will include a variety of group discussion questions and clicker questions and while your responses don't have to be initially correct, you often have to answer them using your clicker. Within the first few weeks only, you may let me know that you are there after class to avoid losing participation points.
This participatory aspect of the lecture will be worth points, and part of the 10% of your overall grade (see above table). With that said, please see me (in advance whenever possible) if you plan on missing lecture(s) for any reasons, including religious holidays so that your grade will not suffer.
The first bit of participation grade involves:
1. finish reading this syllabus page, either here online or the "printer friendly" pdf file linked in the header;
2. going online to the ELMS site for this class and electronically "signing" that you've read the syllabus in "Participation #1";
3. AND dropping by my office to check your name off a list. (Then you know where my office is!) NOTE: Failure to sign the syllabus acknowledgement or drop by my office to check your name off means you will lose EASY points off of your participation grade!
Discussion Section Discussion section serves as a very useful extension of the interactive part of the lectures. Group memberships were chosen based on discussion section so you will continue to work in your groups there.
With the help of the professor or the TA, you will work through examples and arguments regarding planets imagined by us or in the Science Fiction canon. This weekly exercise will prepare you for the homework questions, tests and eventually, your final project.
The discussion section part of the class is required (and HIGHLY recommended!). It's here that you want to iron out misunderstandings and get your intuition lined up with reality (a.k.a., science). For satisfactory participation, full points are easily earned in each discussion section (7 points for twelve sections, plus 8 for two makes 100 points - see Lecture Schedule).
Tests A single midterm is a travesty of assessment; multiple quizzes would serve both you and me better. However, for time considerations there will be only four unit tests. These are closed book with no notes and no calculators allowed (nor, as you'll discover, are they necessary). You'll be given the entire lecture time to take the test.
Each test will consist of short answer questions (true/false, multiple choice, short definition) and a few longer questions. These tests are incremental (i.e., non-cumulative) checkups on how well you have learned the material up to the lectures prior to the related homework. The Lecture Schedule (periodically check for updates!) shows what material will be covered on each test. If, for whatever reason, the University is officially closed on the test date, the test date shifts to the next lecture date.
PLEASE NOTE that many of the questions on the tests will NOT be exactly the same as homework questions but will challenge your comprehension of the material.
In lieu of a final exam, you will present your group's Final Project on the Final Exam date. See that section for more details.
DSS students, see § Disability Accommodation below.
Missed Test Policy If you are not able to take a test due to a VALID EXCUSE as outlined in the Academic Information section of the schedule of classes and you wish to take a full credit make-up test (which may be considerably harder than
the original test and, for example, may consist only of essay questions), you must:
1. contact me by email or phone before you miss the regularly scheduled test if physically possible and
2. submit a valid written excuse for your absence within one week after the regularly-scheduled test (by US Postal mail if necessary!).
There is rarely an excuse for not being able to at least call me and leave a message. For the record, the official University policy on how to deal with absences is here.
Homework Assignments There are a total of five (content-related) homeworks in this course. Homework #1 will be online on the ELMS site by the evening of the first day of class. If you have trouble with the first homework, consider it an ominous sign and consult with me as soon as possible! Future homeworks will be also become available on ELMS as the term progresses.
Although you are HEAVILY encouraged to discuss the homework problems with your friends, the final writeup must be in your own words. Copying from a friend's homework, copying from a book without citing, or allowing a friend to copy your homework is academic dishonesty and will not be tolerated in this class, and you may receive an "XF" on your transcript. If you consult a reference other than the course text, including websites, please acknowledge or cite it in your homework! (See § Academic Integrity below.) Deadline. You must turn in a paper copy of your homework on the duedate at the beginning of class sharp.
The duedates are listed on the Lecture Schedule.
DO NOT email me your homework under any circumstances. There is no way to turn in late homework;
that is what is meant by a "deadline."
Neatness counts. Sloppy handwriting, incomplete reasoning and ragged paper edges are subject to point penalties. Homework which is not stapled properly is subject to a penalty. This isn't high school and we should not be responsible for loose sheets.
Every effort will be made to get your graded homework back to you quickly. However, sometimes the homework closest to a test will not quite get back to you quickly enough to be very useful. Solutions will be posted right after the deadline, and as always I urge you to use the "Discussions" feature on ELMS.
Final Project You will be put in groups almost immediately to work on smaller group projects during your discussion section.
But, the end goal of the semseter is a large project for which the group will share responsibility: design your own stellar system!
You will pick a real, known star in the sky and describe an imaginary planetary system around that star. If we know of any planets there you must include them, but you are not limited to that list only! More details will be
given in class, but the grading rubric will be looking for:
• basic grammar and spelling which will count for (~30 points)