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Unit of study_

OLET1636: Astronomy: from Earth to Exoplanets

Intensive March, 2024 [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 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) Daniel Huber,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Participation group assignment Optional Observing
Optional night time observing using telescopes on the roof of SNH
0% Multiple weeks 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO7
Tutorial quiz 1st Mastering Astronomy quiz
#earlyfeedbacktask Longer quiz to build understanding
2.5% Week 02
Due date: 25 Feb 2024 at 23:59

Closing date: 03 Mar 2024
30 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO3 LO2
Assignment Tutorial 1 submission
Results from tutorial exercise
10% Week 02
Due date: 25 Feb 2024 at 23:59

Closing date: 03 Mar 2024
2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Assignment Tutorial 2 submission
Results from tutorial exercise
10% Week 03
Due date: 03 Mar 2024 at 23:59

Closing date: 10 Mar 2024
2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Assignment Tutorial 3 submission
Results from tutorial exercise
10% Week 04
Due date: 10 Mar 2024 at 23:59

Closing date: 17 Mar 2024
2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Assignment Tutorial 4 submission
Results from tutorial exercise
10% Week 05
Due date: 17 Mar 2024 at 23:59

Closing date: 24 Mar 2024
2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Supervised exam
hurdle task
Final examination
Written short answer exam
50% Week 06
Due date: 22 Mar 2024 at 16:00
1 hour
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Tutorial quiz Mastering Astronomy quizzes
Longer quizzes to build understanding
7.5% Weekly 30 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO3 LO2
hurdle task = hurdle task ?
group assignment = group assignment ?

Early feedback task

This unit includes an early feedback task, designed to give you feedback prior to the census date for this unit. Details are provided in the Canvas site and your result will be recorded in your Marks page. It is important that you actively engage with this task so that the University can support you to be successful in this unit.

Assessment summary

  • 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.
  • Tutorials: Students individually submit results from the weekly tutorial exercise, many of which use real astronomical data. These are (hopefully) a sigificant learning exercise, as well as a major contribution to marks in the unit.
  • Optional Observing: This is an optional group activity to use optical telescopes on the roof of the Sydney Nanoscience Hub (SNH) to view the night sky.  There is no marked assessment associated with this activity.
  • Final examination: Understanding of key concepts of the unit is tested in an on-campus exam comprised of short answer questions.  See the Sample Exam papers in the Canvas pages for this unit for an accurate indication of the exam structure.
Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.


Note that attempting the final examination is required for a pass in this unit.

If you miss the final exam for any reason you should submit an application for Special Consideration to request a replacement exam in the same format.

If a second replacement exam is required, this exam may be delivered via an alternative assessment method, such as a viva voce (oral exam). The alternative assessment will meet the same learning outcomes as the original exam. The format of the alternative assessment will be determined by the unit coordinator.

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 quizzes and the final exam; thorough understanding of tutorial materials; on-time completion of all aspects of the unit


75 - 84

Good understanding demonstarted in quizzes and the final exam; good understanding of tutorial materials; on-time completion of all aspects of the unit


65 - 74

Acceptable understanding demonstarted in quizzes and the final exam; usually a good understanding of tutorial materials; sometimes combined with a lower standard of results in some other aspects of the unit.


50 - 64

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


0 - 49

Poor understanding demonstarted in quizzes and the final exam; usually combined with lack of completion of some other aspects of the unit, particularly tutorials.  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.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

Standard University late penalties apply. As an example, on a Tutorial submission given a mark of 4/5, the penalty would be 0.25 marks if submitted up to 24 hours late, resulting in a final mark of 3.75/5. If the assignment is submitted 6 days late, the penalty would be 1.5 marks and the final mark would be 2.5/5. If you have difficulty submitting an assessment on time, you should submit an application for Special Consideration. A Simple Extension of up to five working days on Assignments is also available through the special consideration portal, or for Quizzes may be negotiated with the unit coordinator. However, in this unit, negotiated Simple Extensions will only rarely be granted since justifiable reasons for extension should usually be eligible for Special Consideration.

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.

Support for students

The Support for Students Policy 2023 reflects the University’s commitment to supporting students in their academic journey and making the University safe for students. It is important that you read and understand this policy so that you are familiar with the range of support services available to you and understand how to engage with them.

The University uses email as its primary source of communication with students who need support under the Support for Students Policy 2023. Make sure you check your University email regularly and respond to any communications received from the University.

Learning resources and detailed information about weekly assessment and learning activities can be accessed via Canvas. It is essential that you visit your unit of study Canvas site to ensure you are up to date with all of your tasks.

If you are having difficulties completing your studies, or are feeling unsure about your progress, we are here to help. You can access the support services offered by the University at any time:

Support and Services (including health and wellbeing services, financial support and learning support)
Course planning and administration
Meet with an Academic Adviser

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Multiple weeks Observing - Optional single session Practical (2 hr)  
Week 02 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 - lecture Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2
Week 03 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 - lecture Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5
Week 04 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 - lecture Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO5
Week 05 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 - lecture Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO3 LO6
Week 06 Revision and Preparation for final exam Individual study (5 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 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.

We welcome comments on all aspects of this unit. You should feel free to talk to your lecturers, tutors or the Unit Coordinator A/Prof. John O’Byrne at any time. There is also a formal opportunity for feedback via the USS questionnaire for this unit, available online towards the end of semester. This semester we are making some significant changes to reduce the number of formal assessment tasks - dropping marks on mini-quizzes and making all Observing related tasks optional. In addition, a significant change is the introduction University-wide of an early assessment task to ensure student engagement early in the semester. In this unit, that is the first Mastering Astronomy quiz.

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 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.