We, the authors, are three geologists with a strong interest in planetary science. All three of us began as terrestrial geologists and our graduate degrees all included some aspect of fieldwork on planet Earth. But none of us could resist the lure of the scientific data returned by the many planetary missions. Currently, two of us have active research programs on the planet Mars. Our background as geologists directly influences how we designed this course. We tend to think of the processes that contribute to shaping this planet and compare those to what we know from other bodies in the solar system.
This means that we will not simply march through the solar system, methodically cataloging the properties of individual bodies in some kind of sequence going from the body closest to the sun to the body furthest from the sun. Well, we’ll do it briefly in the overview section, but beyond that we’ll focus on processes and other specifics (role of water, life, resources) and discuss their roles on a variety of bodies. This means that we’ll return to some bodies (e.g. Mars) multiple times as we discuss some aspect of it.
As beings who like to stand on solid ground we’ll also spend the majority of time on bodies that actually have solid surfaces. So, while Jupiter is by far the most massive planet in the solar system, it will not get the most coverage. Jupiter’s moons, on the other hand, are very intriguing worlds, something we realized first in 1979 when Voyager flew past Jupiter and we’ll look at them in some detail. In fact, Europa is so intriguing that there is contemplation of a mission just to check it out)
That mission includes no lander, so for now we’re still following HAL’s last order
Just in case you missed the movie, here is that scene:
But we suspect that we’ll not listen to it forever since we’re already contemplating this.
What, no Textbook?
You will also have noticed that there is no text book in this course. The reason for this is that we wanted to include some of the recent and very exciting discoveries resulting from ongoing missions. We believe that we are very fortunate in that we are living in somewhat of a “Golden Age” of space exploration, with numerous ongoing missions, some of which were launched a decade ago. There simply is no textbook that is capable of keeping up with ongoing developments.
Better than a Textbook!?!
Instead we’ll provide you with the basic information you need in these online notes, but we’ll include lots of links to websites that contain up-to-date information as well as the latest announcements, images and videos. Some of the links will lead you to the actual people working on these ongoing missions. We hope that you take advantage of these links; hopefully simply because you find them interesting. On the next page we'll be more specific about expectations and also mention some of the pros and cons of this format.
So, what might you get out of this course? Yes, course credit is a good place to start, but hopefully there will be more than that. For starters, you live on a very special and dynamic planet and we hope that this course material will make you understand and appreciate that a bit more. You are also living in a civilization that is undergoing rapid change. At present, with the exception of the few who get to reside on the International Space Station, all humans live on this planet and virtually all economic activity is confined to it. But that will change in your lifetime.
There are now serious discussions about lunar colonies. The US congress passed a bill in 2015 insuring that asteroid mining companies could sell what they mine and there are already at least two companies intent on actually mining asteroids. They are Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries.
You may also see a real manned Mars mission, since this one seems to have been a bit of a scam. Let’s hope we don’t leave anybody behind! Or, we may find life in one form or another.
We believe that the reasons for keeping an eye on what’s going on off-planet can range from career options to intellectual curiosity, and that all these reasons are worthwhile. If you’re not already in the habit of following the news of the solar system, we hope this course provides you with some background and helps you develop that habit. Hopefully you enjoy it. For now we'll leave you with a short video that highlights some of the places we will visit throughout this course.
This page has paths:
Contents of this path:
This page references:
- 2010 Odyssey - Jupiter Ignition (Final scene)
- Earth Mars Comparison
- Alien Ocean: NASA’s Mission to Europa
- Europa Exploration Concept
- Rosetta Deploys Lander
- Wanderers - a short film by Erik Wernquist