York University
Faculty of Science and Engineering

BC 1800D 3.0 FW04
Are we alone? The Hunt for Extra-Solar Planets.

LATEST POSTING April 29, 2005

April 29, 2005

Well, likely the last post for this class folks.  It has been a pleasure working with you all the last 8 months.  I do hope you stay in touch when you return to York in the Fall.  I wish you an enjoyable and successful summer not to mention the same for your academic careers and beyond.  Keep looking up and think fondly of the stars!

Oh yes, nearly forgot … your marks are here.  Enjoy!  As always, any questions, shoot them along and we will deal with them, together.  Cheers

March 23, 2005

So you are all fully versed on where you stand going into next week’s final term test here are your results to date including yesterdays oral presentation arks. … the results are .,.. here

Remember the test can cover anything from this term and will be of a format similar to December’s end-of-term test.  So shirt answer, calculations, multiple choice … Fermi question … you know the drill.  Good studying to you all!

March 16, 2005

And the results are .,.. here

March 4, 2005

Ok, time for a confession.  As I was leaving York tonight (recall I am away for a week) I picked up your exams with the intent of entering the remaining marks, marking the last couple and posting all the information.  Well … I walked off without the exams!  As a consequence, I am able to post only 9 of your marks at this time … check here for the current marks file.  I will now have to complete this posting on or about March 14 … my sincerest apologies.

In the meantime, remember that Chris Ryan will be presenting on Mach 9 (Kepler mission highlighting the transit method for extra-solar planetary detection).  The following week, March 16 we will conclude our discussion on SETI.  Clear skies to you all and good luck with your astrophotography.

February 18, 2005

I trust that reading week has treated you well and that you all saw the amazing halo and aphelia display this morning after sunrise … very impressive.  I also hope the snatches of clear sky have resulted in some stellar images … seen some from you so hope that the rest of you are meeting with success.

The midterm is next Wednesday so I thought I would add some links for you regarding all of the differing planet hunting techniques we have discussed.  (Of course, anything we have discussed or handed out this term could be on the test.)

        Radial velocity (wobble, Doppler) http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/science/finding_planets.html

February 9, 2005

A reminder that the term mid-term test on February 23 will include all material covered this term (in class material and handouts.  To this end, the material on extra-solar planet detections has as an excellent source the following website: http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov.  Feel free to snoop this site extensively!  In the meantime, enjoy your reading week (and if you have not started looking for your constellation, this would be a great time to check out the night sky)!

February 3, 2005

A reminder that the decision was made concerning the mid-term test … it will be held on February 23 AFTER reading week,.  It will cover material primarily from this term’s classes … but as we found yesterday, we are building on material learnt in the Fall term (eg albedo).  There will be one more hand-out next week (dealing with our discussion on stellar evolution).  Thus the test after reading week will ccentre on the Sun, stellar evolution, spaceprobes such as Deep Impact and Huygens, techniques to search for extra-solar plants (all 10 or so of them!).  Anything discussed in class (eg analemma) could be examined.  Naturally, our favourite Fermi question could put in an appearance as could any ‘quickie’ thought question. 

Also, recall that attendance is part of your class mark, please make it a point of ensuring that you sign in each week in class and check the attendance sheet for accuracy.  Check here for example.  Your homework submission information should also be checked here.

Clear skies to you all … do not delay your photographic work.  There are 2 cameras in circulation (soon to be 3) and all will be available for sign-out next Wednesday (February 9). 

January 19, 2005

A reminder to ensure you are up-to-date on the science and progress of Deep Impact and the Huygens probes.  Check out www.nasa.gov and follow the appropriate links.

We have concluded our discussion about our Sun.  We have some insight now into its structure (interior and atmosphere), its power source (nuclear fusion, the so-called Proton-Proton reaction), the balance between radiation pressure and gravity (hydrostatic equilibrium), and today, its ultimate fate (demise) in the form of a red giant.  WE spoke of the necessity for stability around and from a star for a planetary system and form and at least have the opportunity to generate life on a planet.  Gravitational stability, radiation stability and length of stellar life were all important factors when viewing stars to search for extra-solar planets.  We concluded that the mass of a star was the overwhelmingly most important attribute of a star that determines its life.

A reminder to start your constellation assignment early!  Lastly, your mid-term test will be Wednesday February 9.

January 5, 2005

 Some more good news for you … well maybe … follow this link to the winter term essay/project!  More info in class.

January 3, 2005 

Happy New Year folks!  Trust the break was relaxing and you are ready for the winter term.

I know you are all waiting ‘breathlessly’ for your exam marks … so here they are.  Will return them on Wednesday and chat about them at that time.  Please note that the column ‘Marks to-date’ is a percentage mark based upon your 2 tests from the Fall term and the Oral presentation.  The essay and class participation marks are not included.

As for Wednesday’s class, onto stellar evolution and the lead-in to searching for extra-solar planets.

November30, 2004 

Final thoughts for tomorrow’s end-of-term test.  Anything covered this term can be on the test …. including of course your favourite Fermi question!  It is likely however, that the emphasis for the material being tested will be the material covered since the mid-term test.  Same basic format … shortish answer questions with a couple in greater detail.  There will also be 10 multiple choice questions … a little variety for you.  Feel free to bring along a calculator and certainly a contrasting pen for writing.  A medium blue or black is preferred.  In advance, good luck but do not panic!

Also, recall that attendance is part of your class mark, please make it a point of ensuring that you sign in each week in class and check the attendance sheet for accuracy.  Check here for example.  Also, your marks to date (mid-term test, oral presentation, homework submissions) can be viewed here.

November24, 2004 

The scenario for tomorrow is … you are standing at a bus stop and your bus is approaching (in the distance) … 2 minutes away … and the person beside you obviously recognises you as a person of science … and asks you a question.  In 2 to 2.5 minutes … ABSOLUTRELY NO LONGER (you miss the bus otherwise)  you need to summarise an answer to their question.  Marks awarded for clarity, conciseness, accuracy … answer is pitched at the non-scientist!

If we do not get through everyone … possibility … the balance will be concluded in the first class in January.  I will not interrupt the tend-of-term test next week.  The order of presentation will be random (drawn from the hat … and the topics will also be random (all based upon topics discussed in class) … you will all receive ‘one presentations worth of notice’ … that is 2 – 3 minutes to compose your thoughts.  Good luck to you all … you will be fine … in the immortal words of Douglas Adams: Do Not Panic.

November18, 2004 

So we have concluded our discussions on Mars and the search for life on that planet and now have discussed the Jovian environments and the promise that the larger satellites there may be sites for life.  Remember to forward a 100 word summary (email) on the role methane detection on Mars has within the discussion/debate of current life on that planet

I would like to alert you all to a small change in plan for next Wednesday November 24.  The first 10 to 15 minutes of class will involve a brief video taping exercise … while I am the focus, by definition you will be engaged.  To cut a longer story short, the style of class we engage in – highly interactive and me encouraging your interaction – will be taped (briefly).  To this end we will revisit some of commentary on life on Mars (you are now quite familiar with this topic) and blend your methane research into the discussion. .  Then we will return to the 2 minute oral presentations that I have warned you about … and yes timbits will still be freely available!  We may not get through all the presentations which means some may be deferred … will play this by ear.

More details into this video detour shortly …. Cheers for now and remember your essay deadline is drawing near.

November1, 2004 

While marking the mid-term test, a recurring issue was that the description of the aurora borealis was not as complete as I would have expected.  Thus, rather than reiterating the same comments every time on your answer books, please follow the following link for greater clarity:  http://www.exploratorium.edu/learning_studio/auroras/happen.html  The rest of this site is well worth looking at as well … some amazing auroral images!

October 27, 2004 

The following link will take you to the 1st term essay.  Remember that the deadline for its submission I Friday December 3, 2004, at noon in Bethune College room 205.  I also must point out that the handout indicates the essay is worth 15% … it is actually worth 12.5% … sorry!

I also direct you to the York Observatory web page for the eclipse flier I handed out today: www.yorku.ca/observe.  There is lots more information available on the net surrounding solar and lunar eclipses.  The conversation today concerning lunar phases, the Earth’s atmosphere and why the sky is blue was very enjoyable!

Next week … Mars!

September 29, 2004 

The continuation of the planet Earth’s motion and physical characteristics will occur in today’s class.  Recall our discussion on the Earth’s daily motion and seasonal variations tool place last week.  A handout to further summarise these concepts will be provided.

 September 22, 2004 

The discussion on the Fermi question process last week went very well.  Establishing the notion of defining the problem, selecting a method that will lead to an answer of this question and then making reasonable assumptions is a very important concept.  Generally speaking there is no correct answer per se to a Fermi question … just as there is often no one answer to a scientific problem.  There is a range of answers that invariably depend upon the underlying assumptions.  Review this process as it will be useful to you (not to mention be tested!).

Remember that the Academic integrity Tutorial (and thus its quiz) is due today. Remember, please go to this location

On to the Earth, our home in space and what makes a planet a planet …

Also, recall that attendance is part of your class mark, please make it a point of ensuring that you sign in each week in class and check the attendance sheet for accuracy.  Check here for example.

September 15, 2004

I have received most of your reports re the ‘What is a scientist, what is the scientific methoid’ homework … many thanks.  If I received the email from you, you should have received a response from me.  No rersposne, signals that you were NOT successful in sending me information.

Also, as attendance is part of your class mark, please make it a point of ensuring that you sign in each week in class and check the attendance sheet for accuracy.  Check here for example.

Also, here are the results from the survey you completed last week.  Do not be discouraged at the mark .. remember it does not count … but it does suggest a reason why you are in this course!

September 8, 2004

Welcome to this course. You will find a wealth of useful information about the course on this web site not to mention regular postings of the course marks. For the moment, check out the course outline ... and see you in class!

First ‘assignment’ is to do the Online Tutorial on Academic Integrity …. Please go to this location.  Due by Wednesday September 16.

(With special thanks to my colleague, Professor De Robertis for assistance on this web site.)

Short Course Description:

In this course, we will explore one of the most interesting and exciting questions being pursued by astronomers today: how many other planets exist in our galaxy and do any of these solar systems support extraterrestrial life? On the way, a variety of subjects will be discussed ranging from some basic astronomy, both planetary and stellar, through concepts of biology touching on fundamental issues of what is a science and the scientific process. A strong emphasis will be placed on you ability to communicate information effectively in both the written and oral formats as well as being able to think critically.

Evaluation Scheme:

Breakdown of Final Grade


Total (%)

Term 1 Essay/project


Term 2 Essay/project


Term 1 class presentation


Term 2 class presentation


Term 1 mid-term quiz


Term 2 mid-term quiz


Term 1 in-class end-of-term quiz


Term 2 in-class end-of-term quiz


Class participation (includes Fermi questions, etc.)






Professor Paul Delaney (Course Director)
Room 205 Bethune College, (736-2100) x 22035
E-mail: pdelaney@yorku.ca

Class Schedule:

Lectures: Wednesday
1430 - 1600 hours am
Bethune College 322

Special Dates:



First class

September 8, 2004

Term 1 in-class test

December 1, 2004

Term 2 inc-lass test

March 30, 2005

Last class

March 30, 2005

Office Hours

any time by e-mail
By arrangement any time in
Bethune College room 205

No Required Text:

Suggested background resources: (Steacie Library)

  • Fundamental Astronomy, 3rd edition, Karttunen et al. (Springer)
  • Astronomy: A Physical Perspective, M.L. Kutner (Harper & Row)
  • The Physical Universe - An Introduction to Astronomy, F. Shu (U. Science Books)
  • A Beginner's Guide to Scientific Method, Stephen S. Carey (Nelson Publishing)
  • At the Fringes of Science, Michael W. Friedlander (Westview Press)
  • Sky and Telescope magazine
  • SkyNews magazine
  • Scientific American magazine

Important Things to Note:

  • understanding concepts is the focus of the course, not memorization.
  • communication by e-mail will be emphasized.
  • use of University resources will be emphasised.
  • a "due date" is a due date.
  • in-class work must be written neatly and in sentences where possible.
  • essay must be typed.

Send comments to: pdelaney@yorku.ca

Document URL: http://yorkpublish.ca/pdelaney/nats1740/index.html