Astronomy I: The Solar System

ASTR 101/3.0

Two silhouettes examining a starry night sky


A non-mathematical introduction to the science of astronomy for non-specialist students. Topics to be covered include the fundamentals of astronomy; and 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.

Please note: This course is typically offered in the winter term

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, and explore their interpretation in varied cultures and indigenous societies through history and to the modern day.
  • Identify the instruments used by astronomers (e.g. specialized telescopes) and, through practical exercises explain their purpose and use in scientific research.
  • Evaluate the fragility of life and human society on Earth and the threats to its sustainability represented by global warming, catastrophic impacts, and other astrophysical phenomena.
  • Explain modern understandings of the formation and nature of our Solar System and other planetary systems.
  • Consider the potential sociological and cultural impacts of the possible detection of extraterrestrial intelligences.

Topics to be covered in the course:

  • 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


Winter 2025
Course Dates
Delivery Mode


20% - Virtual labs (x5 best 4 out of 5)
20% - Quizzes (x5 best 4 out of 5)
10% - Forum discussions (x2)
50% - Proctored Final exam

**Requires a minimum grade of 45% in the final exam itself.

Live Sessions

This course has live video sessions where you meet your instructor and teaching team in real time. This is an opportunity for you to raise and engage in a discussion around issues and recent development in astronomy. All sessions are recorded for you to go back and re-watch.

Proctored Exams

If a student is enrolled in ONLY online courses (section 700), they may choose either of the following options to write the exam:

  • Write the final exam online: you will write in onQ with Examity proctoring. A $100 online exam fee will be charged to your SOLUS account.  
  • Write the final exam in-person: you will write on Queen’s campus in Kingston. You will not be charged an extra fee to write on campus. 

If a student is enrolled in ANY in-person courses (section 001, 002, etc), you MUST write all your final exams in-person on Queen’s campus, including for an online course. You may not choose to write your exams online. 

Location and Timing of Final Examinations

Once the exam schedule has been finalized the exam date will be posted on your SOLUS account. The exam dates for each Term are listed on the Faculty of Arts and Science webpage under "Important Dates." Student exam schedules for the Fall Term are posted via SOLUS immediately prior to the Thanksgiving holiday; for the Winter Term they are posted on the Friday before Reading Week, and for the Summer Term they are individually noted on the Arts and Science Online syllabi. Students should delay finalizing any travel plans until after the examination schedule has been posted. Exams will not be moved or deferred to accommodate employment, travel/holiday plans or flight reservations.

Textbook and Materials

ASO reserves the right to make changes to the required material list as received by the instructor before the course starts. Please refer to the Campus Bookstore website to obtain the most up-to-date list of required materials for this course before purchasing them.

Students will be required to purchase Starry Night software; more details will be provided by the first week of the course.

All other required texts for this course will be available online through the course onQ website.

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.