ASTRO 720 : Planetary Science


2024 Semester One (1243) (15 POINTS)

Course Prescription

Explores celestial bodies and planetary systems and the processes of their formation. Emphasis is on planetary geology and geophysics over the 4.6-billion-year-history of our solar system, evaluating the origination, evolution, and habitability of diverse worlds, using varied tools and techniques. Also addressed are modes of scientific enquiry, knowledge perspectives and the ethics of space exploration.

Course Overview

This course examines the origination, evolution and habitability of our solar system, including creation of matter, solar system formation, celestial body interiors, meteorites, asteroids, comets, impacts, the rock cycle, volcanism, moon/marsquakes, tectonics, habitability factors guiding the search for extra-terrestrial life, and ethics of planetary exploration. These topics are explored through lectures, class readings and discussions, and a case study for a sample return mission via a report and group presentation. Assessed laboratories build transferrable skills by utilising remote sensing for investigation of planetary histories.

Course Requirements

No pre-requisites or restrictions

Capabilities Developed in this Course

Capability 1: People and Place
Capability 2: Sustainability
Capability 3: Knowledge and Practice
Capability 4: Critical Thinking
Capability 5: Solution Seeking
Capability 6: Communication
Capability 7: Collaboration
Capability 8: Ethics and Professionalism
Graduate Profile: Master of Science

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
  1. Appreciate how different multidisciplinary datasets can be used to examine geological processes revealing solar system evolution (Capability 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8)
  2. Critically evaluate and synthesise planetary science literature (Capability 3 and 4)
  3. Communicate knowledgeably about current planetary science literature through presentation and discussion (Capability 3 and 7)
  4. Develop solar system mission concept design and justification in a case study (Capability 2, 4, 5 and 8)
  5. Understand, analyse and apply remote sensing techniques as applied to planetary exploration (Capability 3 and 5)
  6. Demonstrate an understanding of the importance that people's diverse backgrounds can provide in group discussions (Capability 1, 6, 7 and 8)


Assessment Type Percentage Classification
Annotated Bibliographies & Class Discussions 20% Individual Coursework
Laboratories 40% Individual Coursework
Report & Presentation 40% Group & Individual Coursework
Assessment Type Learning Outcome Addressed
1 2 3 4 5 6
Annotated Bibliographies & Class Discussions
Report & Presentation

Must pass at least 50% of assessment to pass the course


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Key Topics

10 weeks of linked lecture materials, readings, annotated bibliographies and class discusssions, covering creation of matter, solar system formation, celestial body interiors, meteorites, asteroids, comets, impacts, the rock cycle, volcanism, moon/marsquakes, tectonics, habitability factors guiding the search for extra-terrestrial life, and ethics of planetary exploration.

11 weeks of laboratories will cover remote sensing lab exercises, open-lab project work on solar system mission concept design/justification, and project presentations

Workload Expectations

This course is a standard 15 point course and students are expected to spend 10 hours per week involved in each 15 point course that they are enrolled in.

In this course, you can expect 5 hours of pre-recorded lectures, 36 hours of readings, 18 hours of class discussions, 36 hours of labs, 15 hours of preparing annotated bibliographies, and 40 hours of work on a habitability/sample return mission proposal concept (individual report and group presentation).

Delivery Mode

Campus Experience

This course uses a hybrid delivery style. Pre-recorded lectures are available for the students weekly to provide background content for understanding readings and facilitating weekly discussions. In-person class discussions of the lecture topics and associated readings - summarised in annotated bibliographies - occur in weeks 2-11. In addition, there will be 5-6 skills-based, in-person laboratory sessions on solar system remote sensing methods and applications. Attendance is required at scheduled activities including labs and lectures to complete components of the course. Lastly, students will work independently on a semester-long research project, with several open lab sessions for project work with an instructor on hand to provide advice and assistance.

The activities for the course are scheduled as a standard weekly timetable. See course outline on Canvas, or contact Course Coordinator/Director, Professor Kathy Campbell (

Learning Resources

Course materials are made available in a learning and collaboration tool called Canvas which also includes reading lists and lecture recordings (where available).

Please remember that the recording of any class on a personal device requires the permission of the instructor.

There is no textbook for the course. Course readings will be assigned through a class reading list.

Student Feedback

During the course Class Representatives in each class can take feedback to the staff responsible for the course and staff-student consultative committees.

At the end of the course students will be invited to give feedback on the course and teaching through a tool called SET or Qualtrics. The lecturers and course co-ordinators will consider all feedback.

Your feedback helps to improve the course and its delivery for all students.

Student suggestions for course improvements are taken into consideration for on-going course design and delivery.

Other Information

No pre-requisites or restrictions for this course, but a basic background in science is advantageous.

Academic Integrity

The University of Auckland will not tolerate cheating, or assisting others to cheat, and views cheating in coursework as a serious academic offence. The work that a student submits for grading must be the student's own work, reflecting their learning. Where work from other sources is used, it must be properly acknowledged and referenced. This requirement also applies to sources on the internet. A student's assessed work may be reviewed for potential plagiarism or other forms of academic misconduct, using computerised detection mechanisms.

Class Representatives

Class representatives are students tasked with representing student issues to departments, faculties, and the wider university. If you have a complaint about this course, please contact your class rep who will know how to raise it in the right channels. See your departmental noticeboard for contact details for your class reps.


The content and delivery of content in this course are protected by copyright. Material belonging to others may have been used in this course and copied by and solely for the educational purposes of the University under license.

You may copy the course content for the purposes of private study or research, but you may not upload onto any third party site, make a further copy or sell, alter or further reproduce or distribute any part of the course content to another person.

Inclusive Learning

All students are asked to discuss any impairment related requirements privately, face to face and/or in written form with the course coordinator, lecturer or tutor.

Student Disability Services also provides support for students with a wide range of impairments, both visible and invisible, to succeed and excel at the University. For more information and contact details, please visit the Student Disability Services’ website

Special Circumstances

If your ability to complete assessed coursework is affected by illness or other personal circumstances outside of your control, contact a member of teaching staff as soon as possible before the assessment is due.

If your personal circumstances significantly affect your performance, or preparation, for an exam or eligible written test, refer to the University’s aegrotat or compassionate consideration page

This should be done as soon as possible and no later than seven days after the affected test or exam date.

Learning Continuity

In the event of an unexpected disruption, we undertake to maintain the continuity and standard of teaching and learning in all your courses throughout the year. If there are unexpected disruptions the University has contingency plans to ensure that access to your course continues and course assessment continues to meet the principles of the University’s assessment policy. Some adjustments may need to be made in emergencies. You will be kept fully informed by your course co-ordinator/director, and if disruption occurs you should refer to the university website for information about how to proceed.

The delivery mode may change depending on COVID restrictions. Any changes will be communicated through Canvas.

Student Charter and Responsibilities

The Student Charter assumes and acknowledges that students are active participants in the learning process and that they have responsibilities to the institution and the international community of scholars. The University expects that students will act at all times in a way that demonstrates respect for the rights of other students and staff so that the learning environment is both safe and productive. For further information visit Student Charter


Elements of this outline may be subject to change. The latest information about the course will be available for enrolled students in Canvas.

In this course students may be asked to submit coursework assessments digitally. The University reserves the right to conduct scheduled tests and examinations for this course online or through the use of computers or other electronic devices. Where tests or examinations are conducted online remote invigilation arrangements may be used. In exceptional circumstances changes to elements of this course may be necessary at short notice. Students enrolled in this course will be informed of any such changes and the reasons for them, as soon as possible, through Canvas.

Published on 16/11/2023 09:57 a.m.