Earth & Planetary Sciences 110 - Exploration of the Solar System
Winter Quarter 2016

Professor: Donna M. Jurdy

Teaching Assistant: Amir Salaree

Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences  

The first humans on Mars may revisit the landing site of the Viking 2 Lander to study the effects that the Martian surface and atmosphere have had over the decades on the spacecraft. Viking 2, launched September 9, 1975, entered Mars orbit on August 7, 1976. Viking Lander 2 touched down at Utopia Planitia on September 3, 1976. The two Viking Landers transmitted images of the surface, took surface samples and analyzed them for composition and signs of life; also they studied atmospheric composition and meteorology, and delivered seismometers that were mounted on the lander's legs. Viking Lander 2 ended communication on April 11, 1980. To this day no seismometer has been placed on the martian surface. A seismic network would provide invaluable information about martian tectonic activity as well as about the surface and interior structure  of Mars.
(This image produced for NASA by Pat Rawlings. Technical concepts from NASA's Projects Office, Johnson Space Center, 1991).

This course will discuss the theories for the origin of the solar system leading to the present arrangement of planets, satellites, asteroids and comets. The accretion and differentiation of planets and satellites as well as the formation of the Moon that have changes prevailing paradigms will be discussed. Space missions and ensuing discoveries will be an integral part of the course. The prospects for life elsewhere within our solar system will be examined. The rapidly expanding database of exoplanets - those around other stars - already identified, and specifically the discoveries by NASA's Kepler mission, will be compared with our own solar system.

Topics Covered and Dates (Syllabus)

Exercises subject to selection and change
Depiction in Fiction and Film of Space Exploration or 'First Contact'

        Choose a film to watch and analyze. Summarize the plot in a page, specifically describing how the depiction in this film relates to the course theme of space exploration or portrays the still-anticipated 'First Contact'. Conclude with a distillation, a succinct one or two sentence summary of your choice. You might read the book to compare - for those films denoted with *. These may be collated and posted for class perusal. You're most welcome to find a film not currently on the list, propose for its addition.       (
list of movies, related books)
  • Review due beginning of Exam Week, 10AM, Monday, March 14th, hardcopy, printed out, please.

    Enrichment Opportunities

    The Cosmic Perspective: The Solar System, J. Bennett, M. Donahue, N. Schneider, and M. Voit, Addison-Wesley, (paper), 2014, 7th edition.

    WWW Resources
    Space Missions and the Solar System:
    Images Shown in Class:
  • Helio- vs. Geo-Centric Planetary Motions
  • LPI Impact Crater Slideset
  • LPI Solar System in 3D Slideset
  • Lunar & Planetary Institute Slidesets
  • Exoplanets:
    Jupiter (and other outer planets) Satellites:
  • Carnegie Institute satellite page, with new discoveries

    Chicago Public Schools Planetary Science Workshop

  • CPS pdf

    Return to Earth Course Planetary Sciences Department Course Information

    Created: - 3/31/2014

    Last Update: DJ - 2/28/2017