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Unit of study_

OLET1636: Astronomy: from Earth to Exoplanets

Intensive August, 2020 [Block mode] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

Several thousand planets orbiting other stars (exoplanets) have been discovered in recent years. This unit of study introduces our rapidly changing understanding of the place of the Earth in a universe where we now know that planets are common. You will learn about the characteristics and age of the Earth and other planets of the solar system and how they compare with exoplanets. What does this tell us about planetary formation and the number of Earth-like planets? You will also learn the criteria for 'habitability' and the prospects for finding habitable worlds in the near future. What is the relevance of these discoveries to other sciences such as geology, biology and chemistry? You will gain an appreciation and understanding of the methodology and techniques of modern astronomy, especially the technology of astronomical observation. The challenging nature of exoplanet observations will illustrate the need to carefully judge the reliability and significance of scientific data and conclusions. The unit also includes opportunities for day and night observing sessions.

Unit details and rules

Unit code OLET1636
Academic unit Physics Academic Operations
Credit points 2
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator John O'Byrne,
Lecturer(s) Simon Murphy,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Assignment Observing Worksheet
Report on night sky simulation
10% -
Due date: 27 Nov 2020 at 23:59

Closing date: 28 Nov 2020
4 pages
Outcomes assessed: LO7
Final exam (Open book) Type C final exam hurdle task Final online examination
Written short answer.
50% Formal exam period 1 hour
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Tutorial quiz Mini-quizzes
Mini-Quizzes embedded in online material
5% Weekly 5 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO3 LO2
Tutorial quiz Mastering Astronomy quizzes
Longer quizzes to build understanding
10% Weekly 30 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO3 LO2
Tutorial quiz Review quizzes
End of week review quiz
10% Weekly 30 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO3 LO2
Assignment Tutorials
Results from online data exercise
15% Weekly See Canvas
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
hurdle task = hurdle task ?
Type C final exam = Type C final exam ?

Assessment summary

  • Embedded quizzes: Comprehension of the online material will be tested by brief, automatically marked, multiple choice mini-quizzes. These are used to help you step systematically through the videos/readings.
  • Mastering Astronomy quizzes: MA quizzes at the end of each week are designed to build your understanding of aspects of the material with more complex questions incorporating hints, feedback and multiple, automatically marked attempts.
  • Review quizzes: Review assessments at the end of each week will be longer, automatically marked, multiple choice quizzes. These are used to measure your progress through each week of the unit.
  • Observing Worksheet: Observing night using night sky simulation. 
  • Tutorials: Results from online data exercises to be submitted weekly 
  • Final examination: Written exam comprised of short answer questions in the normal end-of-semester exam period. Note that attempting the final examination is required for a pass in this unit.
Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

Excellent understanding demonstarted in the end of week quizzes and the final exam; on-time completion of all aspects of the unit


75 - 84

Good understanding demonstarted in the end of week quizzes and the final exam; on-time completion of all aspects of the unit


65 - 74

Acceptable understanding demonstarted in the end of week quizzes and the final exam; sometimes combined with a lower standard of results in some other aspects of the unit.


50 - 64

Basic understanding demonstarted in the end of week quizzes and the final exam; often combined with poor results or lack of completion of some other aspects of the unit.


0 - 49

Poor understanding demonstarted in the end of week quizzes and the final exam; usually combined with lack of completion of some other aspects of the unit.  i.e. Not meeting the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Multiple weeks Observing - single session Practical (2 hr) LO7
STUVAC Revision and Preparation for final exam Individual study (5 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Week 01 The Solar System - Canvas pages Online class (5 hr) LO1 LO2
The Solar System - tutorial Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4
The Solar System - workshop Lecture and tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 02 Criteria for habitable planets - Canvas pages Online class (5 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5
Criteria for habitable planets - tutorial Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5
Criteria for habitable planets - workshop Lecture and tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5
Week 03 Stretching the bounds of habitability - Canvas pages Online class (5 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5
Stretching the bounds of habitability - tutorial Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO5
Stretching the bounds of habitability - workshop Lecture and tutorial (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5
Week 04 Exoplanet – the search for Earth 2.0 - Canvas pages Online class (5 hr) LO2 LO3 LO6
Exoplanet – the search for Earth 2.0 - tutorial Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO3 LO4 LO6
Exoplanet – the search for Earth 2.0 - workshop Lecture and tutorial (1 hr) LO2 LO3 LO6

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 2 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 40-50 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

All readings for this unit can be accessed on the Canvas site for this unit.

Other resources

Extensive and reliable astronomy information is available on-line, beyond the materials and links presented on the Canvas pages.  Introductory astronomy textbooks at a suitable level (similar to the online text linked in the canvas pages) are available in the SciTech library. For example, a book we have used in the past is The Cosmic Perspective, Jeffrey O. Bennett (various editions).

Be aware that astronomy is a rapidly advancing field and, while all the basic information will be correct in older books and give you a good background, the latest information and perspectives that we embed in this unit may be missing.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. compare and contrast the make-up, characteristics and age of the planets, moons and smaller objects of the solar system
  • LO2. summarise the characteristics of known exoplanets
  • LO3. explain the methodology and techniques used to detect exoplanets and ultimately determine their composition
  • LO4. carry out simulations to understand how exoplanet data is used
  • LO5. outline current theories explaining the distribution of planets in exoplanet systems and contrast the formation of our solar system
  • LO6. analyse the selection effects at work in current methods for detection of exoplanets and assess the resulting significance of data and conclusions to modern astronomy, culture and our changing world view
  • LO7. carry out simple observations of the planets and stars using an optical telescope to illustrate the central role of observation in astronomy.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

The Astronomy units OLET1636, OLET1638 and OLET1640 ran for the first time in 2019. Student feedback and our experience has led to some changes in tutorial content and changes to the mark balance between various types of online quizzes and the final exam. In the first half of 2020, Covid-19 forced the face-to-face components of this unit to be presented online. In semester 2, this option will remain for students who need it, but face-to-face opportunities will also be offered as it becomes practical.

Equity, Access and Diversity statement

The School of Physics recognises that biases, bullying and discrimination, including but not limited to those based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and age, continue to impact parts of our community disproportionately. Consequently, the School is strongly committed to taking effective steps to make our environment supportive and inclusive and one that provides equity of access and opportunity for everyone.

The School has three Equity Officers as a point of contact for students who may have a query or concern about any issues relating to equity, access and diversity. If you feel you have been treated unfairly, discriminated against, bullied or disadvantaged in any way, you are encouraged to talk to one of the Equity Officers or any member of the Physics staff.

More information can be found at

Any student who feels they may need a special accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact Disability
Services: who can help arrange support.

Work, health and safety

We are governed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and Codes of Practice. Penalties for non-compliance have increased. Everyone has a responsibility for health and safety at work. The University’s Work Health and Safety policy explains the responsibilities and expectations of workers and others, and the procedures for managing WHS risks associated with University activities.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.