Montana State University

PHSX 514-801: Comparative Planetology: Establishing a Virtual Presence in the Solar System

The Office of Continuing Education at Extended University offers both face-to-face and online learning opportunities:

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Feb 01-Apr 01, 2016
Credit: 3 graduate
Instructor(s): Eric Brunsell and Jason Marcks

Course Description

Is there ice on Mercury? Why isn't Pluto a planet? As viewed by the modern astronomer, the Solar System includes more than 100 diverse worlds interacting as a dynamic system. This online course for K-12 in-service teachers focuses on fundamental questions driving NASA's exploration of the Solar System: How did it form? What's in it? How is it arranged? What does the study of other worlds (planets, moons, asteroids, and comets) teach us about our own? How do we learn about other worlds? How are these worlds similar and different? How do they interact, forming mini-systems within the Solar System? What are their surfaces, atmospheres, and interiors like, and how do we know? By taking advantage of NASA's virtual presence in the Solar System, course participants will learn about the "new" Solar System and how to engage their students in the wonder of exploration.

Meeting Place and Times

This course is taught online. Course participants login and participate at a time of day that is convenient for them. It is recommended that participants login at least 4 to 5 times per week and plan on spending 13 to 16 hours per week for the 9 weeks the course is in session to successfully complete this course. The time estimate above includes both the time teachers will spend online participating in group discussions and such, and the time spent offline working on assignments, projects, and other activities.


Eric Brunsell, EdD. Intercollege Programs for Science Education, Montana State University

Jason Marcks, MS, MAS, ATP.
Jason is a former high school Earth and space science teacher having spent several years teaching at Estes Park High School in Estes Park, Colorado. After leaving the traditional classroom he spent a decade as the Executive Director of Space Education Initiatives a non profit organization dedicated to improving STEM education through the excitement of spaceflight. He continues his education work as a consultant and also acts as an instructor pilot for Air Wisconsin Airlines Corporation training newly hired pilots to fly CL-65 regional jets.


Bachelor's degree, professional teaching certificate, and at least one year of K-12 teaching experience. Because the use of technology is integral to the course, some familiarity with using technology in the classroom is required.

Target Audience

K-12 science teachers with at least one year of teaching experience and some familiarity with using technology in the classroom.

Time Commitment:

13-16 hours per week. If you are unfamiliar with this field of study and/or method of delivery, you may require more time.

Tuition and Fees

If you are accepted into a qualified online program, see the appropriate MSU Online Only Tuition and Fee table below:

If you are also taking a face-to-face course, please refer to the MSU Fee Schedules.

Participants are on your own to purchase the required text. See information below.

Required Books/Materials

  • The Solar System
    8th Edition, by Michael A. Seeds and Dana Backman
    ISBN-10: 1111990654
    ISBN-13: 9781111990657
    Cengage Learning

Teacher/participants are responsible for purchasing the required text for the course on their own before the course begins.

Computer Requirements:

  • Computer running Windows XP Service Pack 3 or newer or Mac OS X.5 (Leopard) or higher
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Internet access
  • Microsoft Powerpoint software

This course uses a learning management system. You will learn more closer to the course start date.

For More Information

For specific questions about the course content, contact Dr. Eric Brunsell at, or for questions about registration and other administrative details, call NTEN at (800) 282-6062.

How to Register

You must be accepted as a student to Montana State University to take this course.

Learn how to apply.

After your application has been accepted, you will register via MSU's online registration system, MyInfo.

Registration requires a PIN number. Learn how to find your PIN.

Once you have your PIN, learn how to register through MyInfo.

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