Course Exam—ASTR 310

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ASTR 310 is a three-credit astronomy course “about the physics of the Solar SystemIt is an intermediate-level astronomy course, meant to be taken after ASTR 210, and is for students who want to study planetary astronomy in a deeper way.” ASTR 310 further expands on topics of ASTR 210, “concentrating on the planets and smaller bodies found in our own solar neighborhood, the Solar System.” The pre-requisite for the course is ASTR 210 (or formerly known as ASTR 200) or ASTR 205 and MATH 265, PHYS 200 and MATH 265, or consent from the course coordinatorFor students who have not completed ASTR 210, if they have a strong mathematical background they may ask for permission to take the courseThe course is also available for challenge

Who Should Take This Course and Why

For this course we had the opportunity to interview Karen Fletcher, currently working full time as AUSU’s VP External; meaning she gets to advocate for students to AU as well as to the provincial and federal government, which she loves!  Karen wants getting an education to be a great experience for everyone.  Karen is currently taking a Bachelor of Science in Applied Math part time and going into her fourth year.  Aside from school and being AUSU’s VP External, Karen also has three kids who have been out of school for a year now because of COVID, so things are pretty busy for her!

Karen stated, “Astr310 covers astronomy in our solar system, answering questions such as: How did the solar system form?  How can we know what happened at the start of our solar system?  Why is each planet different?  How do we know about what’s inside other planets and astronomical bodies?  Why do planets and other things in space move the way they do?  How did people figure that out?” For anyone who has a strong interest in the solar system or finding an answer to these questions, this course is for you! Karen also added, “If you have taken physics and are looking for a senior science option I would highly recommend this, I did really enjoy it.”

Course, Assignment, Midterm and Final Exam Details

The course consists of five units with Unit One being Introduction and Overview, Unit Two: Stellar and Planetary Formation, Unit Three: Small Bodies, Unit Four: Planetary Interiors and Surfaces, and Unit Five: Planetary Atmospheres.  The course consists of five assignments each worth 6% of the overall mark.  The assignments are more challenging than the exams, according to Karen, she recommends students not to worry about exams but make sure to study for them.  The assignments rely on physics/mathematics knowledge, so it is recommended students have a physics/mathematics background before taking the course.  There is a midterm and final exam each worth 35% each.  The midterm and final exam are a combination of short and long answer questions.

How to Be Successful in the Course

Introducing Course Professor – Dr.  Martin Connors

Dr.  Martin Connors’ history with AU goes way back, more than half of AU’s existence, since he started tutoring in 1988.  Dr.  Connors was employed running computers in research support at the University of Alberta.  In 1998, Dr.  Connors got a Ph.D.  in the area he previously supported, and by then he had already been on faculty at AU for two years.  While a tutor Dr. Connors had developed ASTR 205 as a popular level astronomy course, and once onboard he was also in charge of the ASTR 210 science stream course, the big MATH 215 statistics course, and the PHYS introductory physics courses.  Dr. Connors became a Canada Research Chair and turned mostly to research, part of it on innovative methods in distance education physics, but mostly about auroras.  About this time Dr. Connors supervised development of ASTR 310 to give a more advanced astronomy course.

Tips from Course Professor

When we asked Dr.  Connors for his advice to students for the course, he stated, “ASTR 310 is about planetary science, which blends quite a few fields.  It takes a mathematical approach (GEOL 415 is also about planetary science but more from a geology perspective).  So, this is not a course to be taken without the necessary preparation.  We require an introductory astronomy course and calculus, and really one should have first year physics.  Of these, calculus is likely the most important, in part because it is used in a lot of parts of the course, but also because even the non-calculus parts use a lot of equations, and calculus makes one more comfortable with that.  This is not a course about the Solar System, but instead about how to understand the Solar System.”

Student Tips from Karen Fletcher

When we spoke with AUSU VP External, Karen, and asked her about her experience with the course and if she had any tips to share, she stated, “So, before I took the course they didn’t require introductory to physics as a prerequisite, and since I didn’t have that I struggled a ton in the assignments.  (They’ve changed it now, so it’s clear you need physics to take the course, the course coordinator really listened to my concerns about this, so you don’t need to worry about this!).  I actually did really well in the assignments, but I was basically teaching myself physics while doing them.  If you’ve taken first year physics and calculus you should be okay.  The assignments were really interesting, and over-all I did really enjoy the course.  The most challenging part was not having a physics background!  (But I really stuck up for you guys, so no one else should have this issue!).  I’m not sure any of it was really easy, but I did really enjoy the textbook.  Don’t assume an open book exam means you don’t have to study! You are allowed to look things up, but the exams are heavy so if you spend much time doing that you won’t finish.”

When we asked Karen about her experience with the course professor and tutor, she stated, “My tutor was Dr.  Martin Conners for most of it and he was amazing.  At the start, I was really intimidated because I had to tell him that given the assignments were so physics based I didn’t think I could pass the exam, and he really heard me and accommodated that (since AU had listed another prerequisite).  He was kind and encouraging and really wants his students to succeed.  At the end of the course I ended up having a new tutor, Christen Bredenson, who was also very friendly and approachable.  I was really impressed that when I went to them and said, “listen, it’s not reasonable to let people in this course if they don’t have physics because the assignments assume students have all this knowledge” that there was no push-back, they took my concerns into account and went and made sure future students wouldn’t have that, which is the sort of thing I think we all want from our profs.  They really see their students are people and were absolutely lovely to work with.”

Thanks so much to Dr.  Connors and Karen for their feedback!


If you have any further questions regarding the course, please do not hesitate to contact the Course Coordinator at  Happy studying!


[Editors note: This piece was authored by Karen Lam]