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Astronomy I: The Solar System

ASTR 101/3.0

A non-mathematical introduction to the science of astronomy for non-specialist students. Topics to be covered include the fundamentals of astronomy; an introduction to the tools and techniques of modern observational astronomy; the historical development of our understanding of the Earth, Moon and Solar System; space exploration of Mars, Jupiter, and other planets; the nature of the Sun; and the origin and uniqueness of our Solar System.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  • Identify and explain the fundamental scientific principles that underlie the dynamical behaviour and structure of the solar system, and apply these principles on all physical scales.
  • Explain variable astronomical phenomena visible in the night sky and seasonally.
  • Identify the instruments used by astronomers (e.g. specialize telescopes) and explain their purpose and use.
  • Contrast and critique the ancient and modern understandings of the nature of our Solar System.


  • Astronomy as a science
  • Fundamental motions
  • Historical development to 1600AD
  • Fundamental physical principles
  • The message delivered by light
  • Astronomical investigation: telescopes and observatories
  • Origin, formation and age of the solar system
  • Comparative planetology: the dynamic earth
  • Planetary atmospheres and global warming
  • Leftover in the solar system
  • Mars as special target: the search for life


ASTR 101, Astronomy I: The Solar System is an introductory course on the nature and origin of the Solar System, the planets and its other constituents, and investigates the fundamental physical laws that determine their structure and control their behaviour and evolution. The uniqueness of the Earth, and our awareness of its fragility in the cosmos, will be a recurrent theme with particular attention to the investigative tools and techniques used by astronomers in making their determinations. We will also explore the likelihood of the existence of extra-terrestrial life forms elsewhere in the Galaxy.

This course is intended for students from a variety of academic programs and designed to be accessible to all interested students whether or not they have science backgrounds.  No specialized, technical or mathematical knowledge is assumed.  A major strength of this course lies in its descriptive approach to astronomical investigation and although you will be required to apply the logic of a reasoning scientist to varied arguments and discussions, you will not be required express these in the mathematical and formulaic fashion of pure physicists.

Students from any academic program may register for ASTR 101. It is a pre-requisite for the sister course ASTR 102 Astronomy II: Stars and Galaxies.


Summer 18: May - July
Course Dates: 
May 7 - July 27, 2018
Exam Dates: 
July 31 - August 3, 2018


Virtual Labs15%
Observation project10%
Online Quizzes25%
Online Activity5%
Forum Discussion10%
*Final Proctored Exam35%

* Please note, in order to pass this course you must pass the final exam with a minimum grade of 50%.

** Evaluation Subject to Change **

Live Sessions

This course has optional live sessions (e.g. webinars, synchronous activities).

Final Examination

Students must write their exam on the day and time scheduled by the University. The start time may vary slightly depending on the off-campus exam centre. Do not schedule vacations, appointments, etc., during the exam period.


Professor David Hanes (hanes@astro.queensu.ca)

Instructor message

David Hanes

I began my career as an astronomer with a Mathematics & Physics degree, but then completed my MSc and PhD in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department at the University of Toronto. I had the good fortune to spend the next eight years overseas, working in two renowned research centres: first, the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge, in the UK; and then at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in New South Wales, Australia. In the mid 1980’s, I moved back to Canada, to take up a professorship at Queen’s University, where I have worked ever since. Communicating my fascination with astronomy keeps me enthusiastic and excited in my teaching role at Queen’s!
In my private life, I stay active all year round as a keen (but very average!) hockey player, and serve as a referee for the sports of ringette, field hockey and soccer. I have a great passion for music of almost every sort, and deeply enjoy travelling, whether or not connected to my work. I have three children, now all of adult age, and my wife and I never tire of hearing about and sometimes sharing in the myriad activities that preoccupy them. All in all, it’s a rich and fulfilling life!

Time Commitment

Students can expect to spend approximately 10 hours a week (120 hours per term equivalent) in study/reading and online activity for ASTR 101.

Course Resources


SOLUS is Queen’s Student On-Line University System. You’ll have access to a SOLUS account once you become a Queen’s student. You’ll use SOLUS to register for courses, add and drop courses, update your contact information, view financial and academic information, and pay your tuition.

About OnQ

onQ is Queen's online learning platform. You'll log into onQ to access your course. All materials related to your course—notes, readings, videos, recordings, discussion forums, assignments, quizzes, groupwork, tutorials, and help—will be on the onQ site.

About Credit Units

Queen’s courses are weighted in credit units. A typical one-term course is worth 3.0 units, and a typical two-term course is worth 6.0 units. You combine these units to create your degree. A general (three-year) BA or BSc requires a total of 90 credit units.

Computer Requirements

To take an online course, you’ll need a high speed internet connection as well as a microphone and speakers to be able to watch videos, hear sounds, and participate in interactive online activities. A webcam is recommended but not necessary.

System Requirements:

  • Laptop or Desktop computer purchased within the last 5 years. (mobile devices are not supported)
  • Windows Vista SP2/Mac OSX 10.9 or higher
  • Up to date versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari. Please note that Google Chrome is not recommended for use in our courses.
  • Most recent version of Adobe Reader and Adobe Flash

 See also Getting Started.


The deadlines for new applications to Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are in our Upcoming Application Dates section.

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees vary depending when you start, your year, faculty, and program. Fees for Summer Term 2017, Fall Term 2017 and Winter Term 2018 first-year Distance Career Arts & Science Domestic students are as follows: for a 3.0-unit course, $666.91; for a 6.0-unit course, $1333.82. See also Tuition and Fees.

Grading Scheme

The information below is intended for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Academic Regulations in other Faculties may differ.

Letter Grade Grade Point

GPA Calculators
Have your SOLUS grade report handy and then follow the link to the Arts and Science GPA calculators.

How does this affect my academics?
See the GPA and Academic Standing page.

Follow the link above for an explanation of how the GPA system affects such things as the Dean’s Honour List, requirements to graduate, and academic progression.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Grading Scheme
Please follow this link to the FAQ's

Campus Bookstore

All textbooks can be purchased at Queen’s Campus Bookstore.

Non-Queen’s Students

All Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are open to students at other universities. Before applying as a visiting student, request a Letter of Permission from your home university that states that you have permission to take the course and apply it to your degree. See also Apply.

Academic Integrity

Please see Queen’s policy statement on academic integrity for information on how to complete an online course honestly.