A Field Guide to the Planets

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and Visual Sabine loves her subject and I loved learning from her. Highly Recommend
Date published: 2020-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not Just Planets and not Just in Our Solar System This is a deceptively rich and detailed look at our solar system and also exoplanets. Deceptive because the first two lectures on the organization of our solar system and Mercury cover familiar ground, although even here there are items that were new to me (e.g. water in the form of ice being found at the poles). By the time we get to lecture four on Earth, it is clear that we are going to be treated to much more than just physical descriptions of the elements of the system, as Dr. Stanley spends quite a bit of time going over plate tectonics, that this is unique in our system and is essential to life as we know it. The theme of not only physical description of planets, comets, asteroids, etc. being important, but which items are usually present, infrequently observed and which ones are unique to one planet or moon. Usually with the thrust of what might be necessary or important for life to exist. There is really not a lot of math involved in the explanations, but what is being detailed is deep and insightful nonetheless, perhaps because of the straightforward, unpretentious explanations. Professor Stanley presentation skills are of a very high order. Each lecture and the course as a whole are well organized and flow easily from topic to topic, never leaving anyone in doubt as to the material. She has a rare skill of making the audience believe that they knew more about the topic than perhaps they really did, as even material that is new seems obvious. Plus she frequently throws in some quiet humor, just sometimes giving a slight smile to let us know it was intended. Most of the time Professor Stanley uses the metric system, although there is some back and forth, but the screen overlays almost always show both types of measurements. But that does not detract from things that are perhaps truly surprising. Who knew that planets could migrate, or even change their order within the system? And while many of these surprising things are still open questions, she always gives us the pros and cons of the academic debate. The lectures are enhanced by the use of graphics that greatly reduce the need for detailed explanations, as those graphics and photographs reinforce that verbal material. Kudos to TTC for this, as well as allowing Dr. Stanley to sit during the lectures, instead of pacing back and forth according to the dictates of the director. Perhaps in another five years or so, there will be enough new advances in technology, research and analysis that reviewers will complain that the material is out of date and needs to be redone, but in 2020 this is about as current as one could hope. There are so many, many positive things about the material covered in this course and the way in which it is presented, that I am hard-pressed to pick out examples. For me, the last five lectures perfectly close out the course in a direction that works the way I wish things to go. That Professor Stanley makes frequent references to Star Trek and includes some SiFi in her bibliography is just a bonus. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2020-08-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A field guide to the planets A very successful account of the planets in a language that a lay person is able to perfectly understand. The teacher is a must!!!
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful journey to space! A wonderful journey thru the heavens with a knowledgeable and clear speaking instructor.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course. Professor Sabine Stanley explained the planets in an informative and easy to understand method. At first I was hesitant to purchase this as I've been watching TV shows on the solar system for years. However, this course covered topics that I have never heard covered. I'm very glad I purchased this. If you want to learn about our neighborhood of planets I would highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2020-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The title sets the content of the course quite wel I teach a class titled Solar System Astronomy at the university level. I enjoyed this course a great deal. The presentation was different than the typical astronomy textbook. I will be incorporating some of the content and approach in my future classes.
Date published: 2020-07-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great Understanding of Our Solar System This course provides a great understanding of our solar system. This was achieved by two things: 1- excellent images of the planets, moons, asteroids, comets, the sun, and other objects from the numerous space exploration missions 2- the presentation of many facts and tidbits about each object (characteristics of their orbit, surface, and atmosphere) In some ways Professor Sabine makes it easy for us to understand the characteristics of and differences between the planets. She provides a lot of comparisons when discussing the different objects in the solar system which helps put each subject in perspective vs. trying to understand each in isolation (an example: object A’s distance from the sun is 5.5 times the distance of object B). In other ways I hoped she would've made certain concepts of science more accessible. There are sections of lectures I had a hard time grasping (likely due to my inexperienced knowledge of science). I was hoping for some more explanations of some of the scientific processes she would bring up (what do they mean/their ramifications). All in all I learned a tremendous amount concerning our solar system coming out of the course than I had going in. This is enough for me to recommend this course to novices like me and I'm sure those more experienced in the sciences would take even more from it.
Date published: 2020-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable I was pleasantly surprised by this course. This is not an area of science that I have much background in, and I learned much more than I expected....very clear. The instructor, visuals and content are all excellent. Well worth the time and effort.
Date published: 2020-06-30
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A Field Guide to the Planets
Course Trailer
How the Solar System Family Is Organized
1: How the Solar System Family Is Organized

Since 1962, robots have been exploring our solar system to help answer this most important question: Who are we? With fascinating data and images now in hand, explore this family album overview of our planets, dwarf planets, moons, asteroids, Kuiper Belt objects, and long-period comets—and fly through some of our solar system’s most unique features!

31 min
Mercury, the Extreme Little Planet
2: Mercury, the Extreme Little Planet

Mercury is a planet of many solar system extremes—smallest planet, closest to the Sun, shortest year, most elliptical orbit, smallest axis tilt, and largest fraction of iron. Learn how these characteristics and others have resulted in a planet where the Sun sometimes moves backwards across the sky, where water ice has been found at the poles, and a magnetic field that offers more protection than Mars’.

31 min
Venus, the Veiled Greenhouse Planet
3: Venus, the Veiled Greenhouse Planet

While the Venusian carbon dioxide atmosphere has resulted in a runaway greenhouse effect and the hottest surface temperature in the solar system, the Earth and Venus actually contain about the same amount of carbon. Explore the forces that resulted in the extreme atmospheric differences between these two otherwise-similar planets.

32 min
Earth: How Plate Tectonics Sets Up Life
4: Earth: How Plate Tectonics Sets Up Life

Given the striking similarities between the four terrestrial planets, why is Earth the only one teeming with life? Proposed as a bold theory less than 70 years ago, could plate tectonics be a main driver of life on Earth? Explore the fascinating movement of our planet’s surface and the many ways in which a geologically-active Earth has sustained our biologically-active planet.

31 min
Orbiting Earth: Up through the Atmosphere
5: Orbiting Earth: Up through the Atmosphere

Compared to Venus or the giant planets, Earth has a relatively thin atmosphere. And yet, without this single, fragile layer, life would not have evolved and thrived. Discover the unique properties of each atmospheric layer— and encounter specific ways we’ve explored each layer as a springboard to exploring the rest of our solar system.

31 min
Exploring the Earth-Moon System
6: Exploring the Earth-Moon System

Our Moon, formed from the Earth about 4.5 billion years ago, is by far the largest moon in the solar system relative to its planet’s size. Explore the many ways in which this uniquely coupled system affects the tides on Earth and on the Moon, our rotation and revolution, the process of tidal locking, and even the planetary stability that has allowed for the development of life on Earth.

30 min
Humans on the Moon: A Never-Ending Story
7: Humans on the Moon: A Never-Ending Story

Even before the invention of telescopes, humans were familiar with the dark lunar highlands and bright maria on the Moon’s surface. But now, with knowledge gained from both robotic and crewed missions, you can also explore fascinating and complex lunar swirls, sinuous rilles, and the lava tubes that hold promise as ideal locations for future lunar bases.

32 min
Exploring Mars from Space and the Ground
8: Exploring Mars from Space and the Ground

Humanity’s fascination with Mars is never-ending—from the days when we posited a planet covered in straight-line canals and vegetation to NASA’s current Moon to Mars program. Learn how the intriguing similarities and differences between Earth and Mars have resulted in Mars’ planet-wide dust storms, migrating polar ice caps, and 3.9-billion-year-old impact craters.

32 min
Water on Mars and Prospects for Life
9: Water on Mars and Prospects for Life

Recent robotic exploration provides tantalizing evidence: Mars’ barren landscape could have been much more Earth-like in the past. With warmer temperatures, a thicker atmosphere, and the possibility of water oceans and tsunamis, could Mars have an Earth sibling that supported life? Learn about the thrilling recent discoveries that will guide future exploration and scientific inquiry on the red planet.

32 min
Near-Earth Asteroids and the Asteroid Belt
10: Near-Earth Asteroids and the Asteroid Belt

Fans of science fiction, or the natural history of our planet, know that a collision with an asteroid has the potential to obliterate civilization as we know it. With 20,000 asteroids identified in near-Earth orbit, how can collision be avoided? Learn why these rocky bodies, and those in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, never accreted into planets and how we might harness their resources for future space travel.

33 min
Mighty Jupiter, The Ruling Gas Giant
11: Mighty Jupiter, The Ruling Gas Giant

Does Jupiter have a greater similarity to the Earth or to the Sun? It depends on which characteristics you consider. Explore the many ways in which Jupiter is unique among the planets and consider what our solar system would be like without it. This gas giant might seem too far away to make a difference in your daily life, but without Jupiter, life on Earth might never have had a chance.

31 min
Jupiter’s Planetlike System of Moons
12: Jupiter’s Planetlike System of Moons

Today we know of 79 Jovian moons—the spherical Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, and dozens of other smaller, odd-shaped satellites. Learn why Jupiter’s gravitational forces plus the orbital resonance of the three interior moons make these some of the most promising places to search for extraterrestrial life—and why scientists believe the Jovian system once included generations of other moons, now gone.

32 min
Saturn and the Rings: Gravity’s Masterpiece
13: Saturn and the Rings: Gravity’s Masterpiece

With its exquisitely complex ring system, NASA describes Saturn as the “jewel of our solar system.” Learn what decades of exploration have revealed about the origin and morphology of these ever-changing icy rings and how they interact with Saturn’s closest moons. From the rings to propeller moonlets, a massive hexagonal polar storm, and the giant vortex, our fascination with Saturn never ends!

32 min
Saturn’s Moons: Titan to Enceladus
14: Saturn’s Moons: Titan to Enceladus

With a system of 62 moons located in and far beyond its ring system, Saturn has outer moons that are some of the most fascinating worlds in the solar system. Learn why Titan and Enceladus hold such promise in our search for extraterrestrial life—from global subsurface oceans of water on both moons, to Titan’s Earth-like surface and organic molecules in its atmosphere. It’s no wonder that NASA has announced its Dragonfly mission to Titan, scheduled to launch in 2026.

32 min
Uranus: A Water World on Its Side
15: Uranus: A Water World on Its Side

What a fascinating world Voyager 2 revealed in 1986 during its short flyby of Uranus! Learn why Uranus seems to orbit “on its side” surrounded by a delicate system of 13 rings and 27 moons, how we discovered its multi-polar magnetic field, and why scientists think Uranus might contain an ocean made of liquid diamond, with floating chunks of solid “diamond-bergs!”

32 min
Neptune: Windy with the Wildest Moon
16: Neptune: Windy with the Wildest Moon

Neptune is the coldest, but also the stormiest, planet in the solar system and the only planet that cannot be seen with the naked eye from Earth. Its moon Triton is the only spherical moon in the solar system that’s an irregular satellite that orbits opposite the direction of all the planets. Learn how tidal forces are not only changing that orbit, but also causing geologic activity on its surface—a surface that contains organic compounds.

32 min
Pluto and Charon: The Binary Worlds
17: Pluto and Charon: The Binary Worlds

Although Pluto is no longer categorized as a planet, Pluto the “dwarf planet” and its “moon” Charon are considered the closest thing in the solar system to a binary planet system. Explore the fascinating revelations from the New Horizons mission, including Pluto’s glacial flows, floating mountains, extreme seasons, unexpectedly complex atmosphere, and a surface that appears to be dusted in complex organic molecules.

31 min
Comets, the Kuiper Belt, and the Oort Cloud
18: Comets, the Kuiper Belt, and the Oort Cloud

Learn why scientists believe comets—the “leftovers” of planet formation in the outer solar system—could be partially responsible for the flourishing of life on Earth, bringing both water and organic material to the inner solar system. And explore the more distant Oort Cloud, where billions of cometary objects orbit at the outermost boundary of the solar system.

32 min
How Our Sun Defines Our Solar System
19: How Our Sun Defines Our Solar System

Fly through the corona of what is by far the largest, most massive, and most significant object in the solar system: the Sun. In fact, at 99.9 percent of the total mass of the system, you could say the Sun IS the solar system. With its gravity, heat, light, magnetic fields, and plasma storms, learn how the Sun affects every object in the system—and how we are in a race to learn more about coronal mass ejections before one destroys trillions of dollar’s worth of electronics on Earth.

32 min
A Solar System Time Machine and Meteorites
20: A Solar System Time Machine and Meteorites

Today we see an orderly solar system with planets staying in their orbits around the sun, moons staying in their orbits around the planets, and comets coming and going in predictable fashion. But how did it all start? Learn how a molecular cloud gave rise to a proto-planetary disk in which our solar system developed step by step across time and space—and is developing still.

32 min
What the Biggest Exoplanets Reveal
21: What the Biggest Exoplanets Reveal

Planets orbiting other stars used to be purely in the realm of science fiction. How did we begin discovering them by the thousands? Learn about the methods scientists have used to discover so many exoplanets so quickly. From “hot Jupiters” to “mini-Neptunes” to planets whose clouds rain molten glass, these discoveries demonstrate that ours is not the only type of planetary system possible!

31 min
Closing in on Earthlike Exoplanets
22: Closing in on Earthlike Exoplanets

Beginning in 2009, the Kepler Space Telescope began staring intensively at a single patch of sky, about one quarter of one percent of the sky. After staring for four years straight, scientists had identified about 1,200 new planets. Sift through the Kepler discoveries for planets with a variety of Earth-like features, including presence in a “habitable” zone, and learn why billions of Earthlike planets are estimated to exist in our galaxy.

31 min
Planets Migrated in Our Early Solar System!
23: Planets Migrated in Our Early Solar System!

The surprising detection of gas giant planets orbiting extremely close to other stars has led to the realization that planets can form in one part of a stellar system and then migrate to another part. Did that happen in our own solar system? Learn about the evidence for a “Late Heavy Bombardment” on the Moon, Mars, and Mercury, how migration of one or more giant planets could have caused it, and how such migration could have affected the solar system we see today.

31 min
Human Futures in the Solar System
24: Human Futures in the Solar System

What are the next big ideas that will help us ask and answer the next big questions? Consider the fascinating future technologies of centimeter-sized satellites propelled by laser photons, liquid mirror telescopes on the Moon, a magnetic shield large enough to help terraform Mars, and more. Nourish your imagination, and experience the inspiration of space exploration!

33 min
Sabine Stanley

I’m here to lead you through the solar system; back in time and even to planets around other stars in a way you’ve never experienced before.


Harvard University


Johns Hopkins University

About Sabine Stanley

Sabine Stanley, Ph.D., is a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. She received a HBSc degree in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Toronto and then completed M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Geophysics from Harvard University. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Professor Stanley was a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a professor at the University of Toronto. At Johns Hopkins, she also holds appointments in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Applied Physics Laboratory’s Space Exploration Sector, and the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute.

Professor Stanley has received several honors and awards for both her research and teaching. Her research honors include the American Geophysical Union’s William Gilbert Award for her major theoretical contributions to the study of planetary magnetism, and her teaching awards include the Dean’s Outstanding Teaching Award from the University of Toronto.

Professor Stanley’s research includes studies of the magnetic fields of Earth, Mercury, Mars, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and exoplanets. She is also a coinvestigator on NASA’s Mars InSight mission. In addition to her research work, Professor Stanley has served as the editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets and has chaired the Women in Physics Canada Conference.

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