1. Contact Information
  2. Prerequisites
  3. Course Description and Credit Hours
  4. Required Texts
  5. Course Objectives
  6. Student Learning Outcomes
  7. Other Course Materials
  8. Outline Of Topics
  9. Exams and Assignments
  10. Grading Policy
  11. Policy on Missed Exams and Coursework
  12. Attendance Policy
  13. Notification of Changes
  14. Custom Sections
  15. Statements on Academic Misconduct
  16. Statement On Disability Accommodations
  17. Severe Weather Protocol
  18. Pregnant Student Accommodations
  19. Religious Observances
  20. UAct Statement

Planetary Science

GEO 465-001Spring 2020 | 3 Credit Hours


Dr. Julia Cartwright

Contact Information

UA Campus Directory:


UA Course Catalog Prerequisites:

GEO 210, or PH 106 plus one GEO 101-105 course. Recommended: AY 204, GEO 470.

GEO 314 also recommend.

Case-by-case considered - contact Dr. Cartwright.

Course Description

Course Description and Credit Hours

This course will provide an overview of the major processes that have shaped our Solar System, with some focus on extra-terrestrial materials and mission data. The course will examine the major aspects of our Solar System, considering physical, chemical and geological concepts. We will explore the different bodies in the Solar System, and learn from the data collected from missions and analytics on samples. Writing proficiency is required for a passing grade in this course. A student who does not write with the skill normally required of an upper-division student will not earn a passing grade, no matter how well the student performs in other areas of the course.

Required Texts

Required Texts from UA Supply Store:No required textbooks found.

I will be working from a mixture of literary materials including textbooks on Planetary Sciences, journal articles and materials on more focused concepts.

The main intent is that most material will be self-contained within the lectures, though additional reading is encouraged.

In particular, the following books are great references for people interested in the subject. Some of these are already in the library and I am working on getting additional materials.

Planetary Sciences (Imke de Pater and Jack J. Lissauer), 2015. Updated second edition. Cambridge.


Introduction to Planetary Sciences (Gunter Faure and Teresa M. Mensing) 2007. Springer.

Full Text Accessible through UA Library.


More advanced readings focused on cosmochemical aspects of Planetary Sciences:

Cosmochemistry (H. Y. McSween and G. R. Huss), 2010. Cambridge University Press.


Planetary Mineralogy (Editors M. R. Lee and H. Leroux), 2015. European Mineralogical Union, Notes in Mineralogy #15.


Student Learning Outcomes

  • The course will cover a range of topics from an introduction to nucleosynthesis and planet formation, through to impact events, space missions and even the search for life on other planets. 

    The primary goal of the course is to provide students with an understanding of how the Solar System formed, and the importance of the study of extra-terrestrial materials. In particular, students will develop fundamental tools and knowledge in the following areas:

    1)    Describe the main processes that caused Nucleosynthesis and Solar System formation, and the processes that followed until present day.

    2)    Describe and identify different extra-terrestrial materials, including meteorites, and analyse data to determine meteoritic types.

    3)    Define the main planetary bodies in our Solar System and explain their differences and similarities, including atmospheres, interiors and surfaces.

    4)    Describe how solar activity has shaped our Solar System, and how stars evolve.

    Evaluate scientific journals on important Planetary Science topics and present a review on certain subjects.

Other Course Materials

Journal papers for presentation work will be provided during the course of the class.

Outline of Topics

Updated Friday 20th March, 2020.

Exams and Assignments


As noted above, there are two midterm exams and a final exam. All exam questions and related answers will be derived from topics covered during the lectures, including the presentation lectures. There may be slight differences between information derived from the textbook and material covered in lectures: The lecture materials supersede textbook information.

All exams are closed book; however, the use of a standard calculator is permitted – no other electronic device can be used, including phones, laptops, watches, nor should any other device be present on the desk/wrist etc. If a student is found to be using either an electronic device or unapproved material during an exam, or if a student is found to be cheating in another way during the exam, their case will go before the dean’s office, which may lead to a zero grade.

The FINAL Exam will be on Tuesday, 28th April, 7 - 9:30 pm, as directed by the Academic Calendar.

See https://registrar.ua.edu/academiccalendar/   for more details about exam schedules for the semester. Should a scheduling conflict occur, please determine the relevant priorities, and contact me.

Each student is expected to take all exams at the designated time and place.

Excused absence:

Should a student miss a midterm or exam, a make-up will be provided in the case that the absence is considered an “Excused absence” – see relevant section.

Late arrival:

Should a student arrive within 15 minutes of the midterm or exam, they will be permitted to sit the exam, to finish within the scheduled time of the midterm or exam. If a student arrives after this time, they may not be allowed to sit the midterm or exam, or may have a penalty applied.

The date of the final exam cannot be changed. According to University regulations, no final exam will be given at an earlier date. Disability accommodations must be documented and approved by the Office of Disability Services – and arrangements should be made in advance by the student. Testing rooms in the ODS fill up quickly, so early booking in advised.

Students who wish to appeal a grade should do so in writing, at latest one day after the exam grade is published.

NB: The Exam and Attendance policy for each class is under the full discretion of the instructor.

Written Assignments:

Midterm Project:

In the first half of the semester, students will be assigned to produce a short essay from a topic related to Planetary Sciences. This project will require the writing of a paper/essay of ~1500 words to include information from scientific journals on the subject of choice. This project will be worth 10% of the course grade. Students will work with the instructor to determine suitable readings and themes as necessary. The resulting grade and any comments from the instructor will be available for the student by the Midterm period of the semester.

Final Project:

Towards the second half of the semester, students will be assigned a final project – from a topic related to Planetary Sciences. This project will require the writing of a paper or essay of ~3000 words to include information from scientific journals on the subject of choice. Additionally, this project will serve as the same topic with which to present the final presentation (Presentation #2) of the semester. This project will be worth ~15 % of the course grade. Students will work with the instructor to determine suitable readings and themes as necessary.

Writing Guidelines:

Students are expected to submit their own work for written projects – this is not a group-work scenario, and each student will have a separate topic to write about. These assignments will be graded based on the following attributes:

  • Scientific Content,

  • Quality and Accuracy,

  • Appropriately cited materials,

  • Linguistic skills,

  • Understanding of the subject/topic,

  • Critical thinking and analysis.

An overview grading rubric will be provided.

Students are expected to write in a coherent style with logical structure, and to submit pieces of work that are carefully edited prose – lists of information or data, short reports or descriptions of figures will not be accepted.

Writing proficiency within the discipline is required for a passing grade in this course.

The instructor will provide some examples of styles and writing skills to help the students prepare for their written assignments. The assignments will be graded by the instructor, and feedback can be given to the students at their request.

The main instructor for this course (Dr. Cartwright) holds a PhD in the subject, and any additional instructors will require at least a Masters degree in the subject to grade these assignments.

Oral Presentations:

The course includes two separate presentation assignments. Students are expected to produce a powerpoint (or equivalent) presentation on a selected subject to present in front of the class. Each student will be assessed separately for their contribution to the presentation and their summary of the research paper or topic. Following the class presentations, we shall have a discussion on the topics.

Each presentation shall be worth 7.5%, culminating to 15% total.

Grading Policy

Course Grading:

The final grade for the course will be calculated using the scores for the Midterms, presentations, quizzes and the Final Exam. These assignments are weighted as follows:

GEO 424

Presentations 1-2                          15%

Midterm Exam 1                            15%

Midterm Exam 2                            15%

Midterm Project (W)                   10%

Final Project (W)                           15%

Final Exam                                       30%

Grading Scale:

***This is a guide***

A+:         97.00-100%

A:           93.00-96.99%

A-:          90-92.99%

B+:         87.00-89.99%

B:           83.00-86.99%

B-:          80.00-82.99%

C+:         77.00-79.99%

C:           73.00-76.99%

C-:          70.00-72.99%

D+:        67.00-69.99%

D:           63.00-66.99%

D-:         60.00-62.99%

F:           < 59.99%

NB: The Grading policy for each class is under the full discretion of the instructor, and may evolve during the course.

Policy on Missed Exams and Coursework

Attendance definitions:

  • Excused Absences: An excused absence is any absence for which the student can provide documentation showing that there was a legitimate reason for missing the midterm, exam or class. Examples can include a doctor’s note, jury duty, court summons, military service, an official university event (athletics/band/debate), personal/family matters (in which case, the student should consult with me). This does not include attendance at interviews or equivalent, nor vacation. If you are unsure if you have an absence that counts as ‘excused’, please do not hesitate to contact me. The excused documentation must cover the date of the absence.

In the event of an excused absence from an exam…

==> Students must contact me within three days of the exam to be eligible for a make-up exam.

==> The make-up exam must be taken within 10 days of the original exam, unless additional documentation is acquired, detailing a longer absence.

==> The exam will differ from that of the missed exam.

==> If a make-up exam is missed and no further documentation was provided in advance of the exam, additional make-up exams will not be permitted.



  • Unexcused Absences: An unexcused absence is any absence for which the student does not provide a viable reason or supporting documentation.

NOTE: Unexcused absences are not valid for Midterms, Presentations or Exams.

Attendance Policy

All students enrolled in the course are expected to attend class.

Class attendance will be documented using a sign-in sheet.

Please note that forged signatures will be treated as academic misconduct, and will not only affect the named student, but also the person forging the name.

It is the responsibility of the student to make complete notes for this course. At my discretion, partial notes will be available for download prior to class.

Students are expected to attend all midterms, presentations and the Final Exam.

It is the student’s responsibility to obtain notes etc. missed due to absence from class. Poor attendance will not only result in missed lecture material but may result in poor class performance. If a class is missed due to a death in the family, jury duty, military service or other serious event, the Office of the Dean of Students can be contacted at 348-3326, and they will contact all of your classes on your behalf. Feel free to contact me if there is an issue that may result in a missed attendance.

Excused absences from class shall not be counted toward the overall attendance value for the course. Unexcused absences (where no documentation is provided) will count towards the attendance value. The first two lectures will not count towards the overall attendance score.

Notification of Changes

The instructor will make every effort to follow the guidelines of this syllabus as listed; however, the instructor reserves the right to amend this document as the need arises. In such instances, the instructor will notify students in class and/or via email and will endeavor to provide reasonable time for students to adjust to any changes.

Extra Credit Opportunities

Students have the opportunity to earn up to 5% extra-credit per midterm, and towards the Final Exam.


Prior to each midterm, a short quiz will be available on Blackboard. The quiz will consist of 20 questions, for a total 5% extra credit to be applied to the upcoming midterm.

You can start the quiz at any time in the ~2 days prior to the midterm, but it must be finished within 30 minutes of when you start, and in one sitting.


Prior to the Final exam, students will be able to earn up to 5% extra-credit, achievable through a number of tasks to be announced at the end of the semester.

If you have any technical issues during an online quiz…STOP! Send me an email immediately. Do not attempt to continue the test. If your time stamp matches your logout of Blackboard, the test can be reset. Note that a reset would be issued during reasonable working hours!

Note that it is advisable to use a stable internet connection to perform this test, and that questions may not load properly if accessed on a phone rather than on a computer. I suggest using a computer to complete these tests.

Disabilities Policy & Special Needs/Accommodations with ODS:

Students with disabilities or who require reasonable accommodations to fully participate in course activities or meet course requirements are encouraged to contact me or see me during office hours at the start of the semester

To receive academic adjustments, students must first register with the U.A. Office of Disability Services (ODS) in advance of classes and exams. They can be contacted at 348-4285 (Voice) or (205) 348-3081 (TTY) or by visiting 1000 Houser Hall.

Once I receive the relevant paperwork, accommodations shall be applied. Please note that Academic adjustments cannot be retroactively applied.

Electronic Devices

Laptop computers and tablets can be used for note-taking in class, though should be turned to silent mode, and students should position themselves towards the back of the class to avoid causing a distraction to others. Cell phones and smartwatches should be silenced and put away for the duration of the class, unless for emergency purposes. As stipulated in the Exam section, laptops, cell phones, smart watches and any other electronic devices are not allowed during the Exams and should not be present on the desk.

Academic Integrity

There are multiple penalties for cheating during an Exam, which can include a failing grade, as well as a recommendation for expulsion from the University. There are also heavy penalties for academic plagiarism. For more information on the UA Code of Academic Integrity see the UA General Catalog. I have a zero tolerance to cheating, and anyone suspected of not conforming with the academic integrity established in my classroom will face the appropriate consequences, as a case will be made to the dean’s office.

NB: Academic misconduct also includes instances where students falsify attendance sign-in sheets.

Any assignment, exam or laboratory work that a student submits must be the work of that individual. While students are encouraged to work together to review each other’s work and provide support, students must not directly copy the work of another or borrow material from secondary sources (including internet sources) without acknowledging those sources. This also applies to the lecture materials and exams, which remain the copyright of the instructor – any distribution of such materials will be considered a breach of copyright, and legal paths may be pursued.

All students in attendance at the University of Alabama are expected to be honorable and to observe standards of conduct appropriate to a community of scholars.  The University expects from its students a higher standard of conduct than the minimum required to avoid discipline.  Academic misconduct includes all acts of dishonesty in any academically related matter and any knowing or intentional help or attempt to help, or conspiracy to help, another student.  The Academic Misconduct Disciplinary Policy will be followed in the event of academic misconduct.

Expected Behaviour and Social Graces

Students are expected to behave in a professional manner for the duration of the course, and to treat the instructor, the TA’s, proctors and their fellow students with respect. Discussion of topics is encouraged during group work, where comments should be factual, constructive and non-harassing. Poor, disruptive behavior and conduct exhibited within the classroom and laboratory environment, towards other students or to instructors, may result in dismissal from the course.

Eating during class is not encouraged, though drinking water in sealable flasks is! Should a student have a food allergy, or have a reason to not be around food, please contact me so that appropriate arrangements can be made. 

Ethical Community Statement

Professional courtesy is fundamental for providing a suitable learning environment, with respect to race, culture, religion, politics, sexual orientation, gender, gender variance, and nationality. I have a zero tolerance policy to any form of discrimination or intolerance inside or outside of the classroom.

The University of Alabama is committed to an ethical, inclusive community, defined by respect and civility. The UAct website http://www.ua.edu.uact provides a list of reporting channels that can be used to report incidences of illegal discrimination, harassment, sexual assault, sexual violence, retaliation, threat assessment and fraud. If students wish to discuss an issue, as an obligated reporter, recommendations can be made using the Uact policy to help find resolutions and pursue issues.

Preferred Name & Preferred Gender Pronouns

Students are encouraged to advise me of any preferences, such as preferred name and preferred gender pronouns, they have early in the semester so that my records can be amended and improved.

Please address me as Dr. Cartwright.

My preferred pronouns are: she, her, hers.

Pandemic Circumstances

Update Friday, 20th March, 2020.

As you are aware, UA has moved on an online system following the outbreak and subsequent pandemic of COVID-19. As such, online classes will be commencing the week of March 30th.   I am in the process of developing the best technique with which to lecture to you, and will be sending out a short survey to determine access to high-speed internet etc.

My current plan is that classes will move to a recorded lecture, and I will be available for a zoom discussion should you have questions.

The remaining assessments for the class include a midterm, Final Project – a written essay, and a related presentation on that topic. The midterm can be completed through Blackboard. Your project can be uploaded to be through blackboard. For the final presentation, you can upload a video of your presentation and schedule a zoom meeting to answer questions on the topic.

The Final Exam: I am working out the best way to administer this – though it will likely be through Blackboard, and it will be timed.

This information is subject to change – given the unprecedented circumstances that we are facing. Do make sure to stay healthy!!

Statement on Academic Misconduct

Students are expected to be familiar with and adhere to the official Academic Misconduct Policy provided in the Online Catalog.

Statement On Disability Accommodations

Contact the Office of Disability Services (ODS) as detailed in the Online Catalog.

Severe Weather Protocol

Please see the latest Severe Weather Guidelines in the Online Catalog.

Pregnant Student Accommodations

Title IX protects against discrimination related to pregnancy or parental status. If you are pregnant and will need accommodations for this class, please review the University’s FAQs on the UAct website.

Religious Observances

Under the Guidelines for Religious Holiday Observances, students should notify the instructor in writing or via email during the first two weeks of the semester of their intention to be absent from class for religious observance. The instructor will work to provide reasonable opportunity to complete academic responsibilities as long as that does not interfere with the academic integrity of the course. See full guidelines at Religious Holiday Observances Guidelines.

UAct Statement

The University of Alabama is committed to an ethical, inclusive community defined by respect and civility.  The UAct website (www.ua.edu/uact)  provides extensive information on how to report or obtain assistance with a variety of issues, including issues related to dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, sexual violence or other Title IX violations, illegal discrimination, harassment, hate or bias incidents, child abuse or neglect, hazing, threat assessment, retaliation, and ethical violations or fraud.