Astronomy 401

Stars & Planets

Fall Semester 2017

TTh 5:30-6:45pm

MPHY 109

Course Instructor: Prof. D. L. DePoy

Office: MIST225/MUNN204

Email: depoy[at]

Office Hours: can be arranged via email

Course TA: Sarah Cantu (scantu3[at]

Office: MIST315

Email: scantu3[at]

Office Hours: TTh 11-12pm (additional hours can be arranged via email)

On-Line Information

Course Syllabus (PDF)

Astronomy Picture of the Day

(highly recommended source of astronomical images, new one every day)

NASA Planetary Photojournal

(handy compilation of photos from NASA planetary missions)

Course Format

The course is structured so that, in general, there will be a lecture every Tuesday, a reading assignment or problem set as homework, and a discussion of the reading/calculations on Thursday. The topics to be covered are listed below. The assignments will be updated throughout the semester.

August 31, 2017: Introduction

September 5/7, 2017: Terrestrial Planets
Assignment: Read "The Martian" by A. Weir and write a summary and the most plausible and implausible thing that happened

September 9/11, 2017: Jovian Planets and Other Solar System Constituents
Assignment: Choose a mission/planet from NASA Planetary Photojournal and write a summary of the mission and major findings

September 16/18, 2017: Origin of the Solar System
Assignment: Calculate the total angular momentum of the solar system and the equilibrium temperatures for each planet (see Week 3 assignment )

September 26/28, 2017: Planets Around Other Stars
Assignment: Calculate various characteristics of exoplanets (see Week 4 assignment )

September 26/28, 2017: Planets Around Other Stars
Assignment: Read two early exo-planet discovery papers: Mayor and Queloz, 1995, Nature, 378, 355 PDF and Marcy and Butler, 1996, Astrophysical Journal, 464, L147 PDF
Summarize the papers and describe the key technological breakthrough that enabled the measurement.

October 9/11, 2017: Planets Around Other Stars
Assignment: Read two early exo-planet discovery papers: Charbonneau et al., 2000, Astrophysical Journal, 529, L45 PDF and Henry et al., 2000, Astrophysical Journal, 529, L41 PDF
Summarize the papers and note the key differences. Also go to here or here and make a figure showing the densities of exoplanets; note where solar system planets fall on this diagram and densities of common materials (water, rocks, iron, etc.).

October 24/26, 2017: Basic Stellar Properties I
Assignment: Read an relatively recent paper on stellar parallax by Lepine et al. 2009, Astronomical Journal, 137, 4109 PDF
Summarize the paper's main results and compare to the expected results from the ESA GAIA mission. What is the primary difference between the two?

October 31/November 2, 2017: Basic Stellar Properties II
Assignment: Read two papers describing the spectrscopic binary Capella by Campbell, 1899, Astrophysical Journal, 10, 177 PDF and Torres et al. 2015, Astrophysical Journal, 807, 26 PDF
Summarize both papers and explain the differences in the results, techniques, approach, etc. that have happened over the 116 year time span between them.

November 7/9, 2017: Stellar Atmospheres
Assignment: Read Payne, 1925, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 11, 3, 192 PDF
and Russell et al. 1936, Astrophysical Journal, 81, 107 PDF
Summarize the conclusions of both papers and comment.

November 14/16, 2017: Stellar Interiors and Evolution
Assignment: Read Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler, and Hoyle 1957, Reviews of Modern Physics, Vol. 29, pp. 547 PDF
Summarize the conclusions of the paper and comment.

November 28, November 30, and December 5, 2017: Student Talks
Assignment: Give a 10 minute presentation to the class on a topic related to stars and planets (obtain prior approval for the topic).


Your course grade will be determined by essays on the required reading (45%; due the Thursday after the assignment), participation in classroom discussions about the readings and weekly topics (15%), a ~10-minute talk at the end of the semester further investigating one of the course topics (40%).

Updated: October 31, 2017