Section: 0101
Fall, 2015
Plant Sciences 1115
MWF 9:00 - 9:50 AM

Lecturer: John Merck
Office: Geology 1119 (Occasionally in Centreville 1218)
Office Hours: Thursday, 12:00 - 2:00
Phone: 301-405-4379 (Geology), 301-405-2808 (Centreville)



Lectures: Plant Sciences 1115
MWF 9:00 - 9:50 AM

Text: Rothery, D., McBride, N., and I. Gilmour, Eds. An Introduction to the Solar System (Second Edition), Cambridge University Press, NY. ISBN: ISBN 1107600928 .

Description: An examination of the geologic and geochemical processes at work in the solar system from the perspectives supplied by space age exploration of the planets and other solar system bodies.

GenEd: This class fulfills a GenEd Distributive Studies Natural Science Course requirement (DSNS).

CORE: This class fulfills a CORE Physical Science Course requirement (PS).

Restriction: GEOL212 and ASTR330 - Solar System Astronomy cannot both be taken for credit.

Other courses: GEOL212 is an introductory level course that requires no college-level prerequisites. If you are looking for a more rigorous introduction to the Solar System and have the necessary prerequisites, you might consider ASTR430 - The Solar System or GEOL412 - The Geology of the Terrestrial Planets.

Attendance policy: Attendance is not a direct factor in your grade, however poor lecture attendance is strongly correlated with poor overall performance. Exams will be based on lecture material and reading assignments. Posted web notes are intended as a synopsis of lecture material only. Readings reinforce lecture material, however lectures may depart significantly from readings.

ELMS: This web site is your primary source of GEOL212 course material. Grade records and some ancillary materials are available, however, through ELMS.

Final grades: Your final letter grade will be based on the following elements:

Appeal of grades: You may appeal your grade on any exam prior to the posting of final course grades. In this as in all college courses, you should retained all graded items until proper grades have been recorded on your transcript.

Expectations: GEOL212 is an introductory course without college prerequisites, however it is expected that students will possess the standard knowledge expected of a high school graduate, including proficient comprehension of written and spoken English, and basic algebra and chemistry.

Grade calculation: With diligent work it is possible for each student to attain an A in this class. Grading will be based on points gained from the examinations listed above, as follows:

100-97% = A+, 96-94% = A, 93-90% = A-,
89-87% = B+, 86-84% = B, 83-80% = B-,
79-77% = C+, 76-74% = C, 73-70% = C-,
69-67% = D+, 66-64% = D, 63-60% = D-,
<60% = F


Lecture and exam schedule:

Date TopicReading
Week 1
8-28Course introduction, policies, major questions
8-30The Scientific Method, General orientation to the Solar System ICh. 1: section 1.1.1 and 1.3
9-1General orientation to the Solar System IICh. 1: sections 1.1.2-4 and 1.4
Week 2
9-6General orientation to the Solar System III
Due: Homework 1
Ch. 1: section 1.1.5-6
9-8General orientation to the Solar System IVCh. 1: sections 1.1.7-11
Week 3
9-11Last day of add-drop
9-11General orientation to the Solar System V
Due: Homework 2
9-13General orientation to the Solar System VIChemistry and physics in 50 minutes!
9-15An age of wondersCh. 7: sections 7.1-2
Week 4
9-18Midterm exam I
9-20Planetary motion: Gravity, orbits, and tides
Due: Homework 3
Due: Homework 1 for regrade.
Ch. 4: sections 4.1 - 4.6
9-22Surface processes I: Impact crateringCh. 4: section 4.7
Week 5
9-25Surface processes II: Sedimentology
Due: Homework 4
Due: Homework 2 for regrade.
Ch. 2: sections 2.1
9-27Internal structure and densities of the solid worlds I - chemical evidence Ch. 2: section 2.2
9-29Internal structure and densities of the solid worlds II - physical evidence Ch. 2: section 2.3
Week 6
10-2Formation and differentiation of the planets
Due: Homework 5
Due: Homework 3 for regrade.
Ch. 2: section 2.4
10-4Sources and movement of heat within planetsCh. 2: section 2.5
10-6Earth Tectonics I
Week 7
10-9Earth Tectonics II
Due: Homework 6
Due: Homework 4 for regrade.
10-11Comparative tectonics I - The inner Solar System
10-13 - 5:30 - 7:00Exam review Geology Bldg 2107
10-13Midterm exam II
Week 8
10-16Comparative tectonics II - The outer Solar System
Due: Homework 7
Due: Homework 5 for regrade.
Ch. 3: sections 3.1 - 3.2
10-18Volcanism I: sources and composition of magma
10-20Volcanism II: Styles of volcanic eruptions, volcano - atmosphere interactions
Ch. 3: sections 3.3 - 3.5
Week 9
10-23Volcanism III: comparative volcanism on the solid worlds
Due: Homework 8
Due: Homework 6 for regrade.
Ch. 5: sections 5.1 - 5.3
10-25Atmospheres of the solid worlds I: origin and composition Ch. 5: sections 5.4 - 5.7
10-27Atmospheres of the solid worlds II: Structure and heat transport, magnetospheres, and the solar wind
Semester project introduced.
Ch. 6: sections 6.1 - 6.3
Week 10
10-30The giant planets I: The Gas Giants - Jupiter and Saturn
Due: Homework 9
Due: Homework 7 for regrade.
Ch. 6: sections 6.4 - 6.5
11-1The giant planets III: The Ice Giants - Uranus and Neptune
11-3Minor bodies I: AsteroidsCh. 7: section 7.1 and 7.3
Week 11
11-6Last day to drop with a W
11-6Minor bodies II: The Pluto system, centaurs, and the the Trans-Neptunian Objects
Due: Homework 10
Due: Homework 8 for regrade.
Ch. 7: section 7.4
11-8Minor bodies III: Centaurs and Trans-Neptunian Objects
11-10 4:30 - 6:00Exam review Geology Bldg 2107
11-10Midterm exam III
Week 12
11/13Minor bodies IV: Comets
Due: Homework 9 for regrade.
Ch. 7: section 7.5 - 7.6
11-15The natural history of meteoritesCh. 9: section 9.1
11-17Meteorite geochemistry and why we actually know what we knowCh. 9: section 9.2 - 9.3
Week 13
11-20Stars and the interstellar medium
Due: Homework 11
Due: Homework 10 for regrade.
Week 14
11-27Exoplanets - What do we really know about solar systems?
11-29The formation of the Solar System
12-1Life in the Solar System I - Earth and Mars
Week 15
12-4Life in the Solar System II - Sirens of Titan and oceans of Europa; Summary and catch-up
Due: Homework 11 for regrade.
12-6Semester project presentations:
  • The Moon: Conkin and Curiel
  • Mars: Gonzalez and Ho
  • Vesta: Abramowitz and Rubaye
  • Ceres: Abel and Burton
12-8Semester project presentations:
  • Europa: Gabor and Martinez
  • Titan: Bernstein and Varakian
  • Enceladus: Bowser and Kavanagh
  • Miranda: Okada and Sheridan
Week 16
12-11Semester project presentations:
  • Triton: Obineche and Sandifer
  • Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko: Kindred and Yates

Catch-up and review.
Finals week
12-168:00-10:00 PLS 1115 FINAL EXAM

The instructor reserves the right to modify this schedule at his most trivial whim.