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PH20104: Planets and exoplanets

[Page last updated: 15 October 2020]

Follow this link for further information on academic years Academic Year: 2020/1
Further information on owning departmentsOwning Department/School: Department of Physics
Further information on credits Credits: 6      [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Further information on notional study hours Notional Study Hours: 120
Further information on unit levels Level: Intermediate (FHEQ level 5)
Further information on teaching periods Period:
Semester 2
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Summary: EX 100%
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Detail:
Further information on supplementary assessment Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Further information on requisites Requisites: Before taking this module you must take PH10004 AND take PH10007 AND ( take PH10005 OR take PH10053 )
Description: Aims:
The aim of this unit is to review our current picture of planets and exoplanets, discuss the physics behind the discoveries and behind planetary processes, describe the link between laboratory experiments, computer models and in situ or remote observations, and provide a quantitative approach to planetary physics, both in our solar system and beyond.

Learning Outcomes:
After taking this unit the student should be able to:
* describe current knowledge of the constituents of our own Solar System;
* describe the latest advances in our knowledge of exoplanetary physics;
* explain the tools of current and future planetary exploration, quantifying their advantages, limits and accuracies;
* explain the physical processes determining a planetary environment, from the magnetosphere to the core;
* quantify the variations of planetary parameters and explain their significance.

Numeracy T/F A, Problem Solving T/F A.

Taking Stock (3 hours): Current knowledge of the Solar System. Review of planetary bodies, from interior planets to gas giants, from the Kuiper Belt to the Oort Cloud. Large asteroids and comets.
Planetary Exploration (4 hours): The tools of planetary exploration and their underlying physics (satellites, landers, instruments). Examples of recent planetary missions: Venus missions and Cassini-Huygens.
Remote Sensing (6 hours): Electromagnetism, from radio-sounding to radar mapping. Optical spectroscopy. Neutron mapping (Mars/Moon/Earth). Seismics/acoustics (helioseismology, moonquakes).
From the magnetosphere to the core (6 hours): Magnetospheres and solar wind interactions. Atmospheres. Surface processes (volcanism, tectonics, erosion). Impact cratering. Planetary interiors (tidal forces/convection processes).
Exoplanets (3 hours): Overview of current status and main results so far. Detection techniques. Analogies and differences with the Solar System. The search for water. Habitable zones and the physics of exobiology.
Further information on programme availabilityProgramme availability:

PH20104 is Compulsory on the following programmes:

Department of Physics
  • USPH-AFB01 : BSc(Hons) Physics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAB02 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKB02 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Year long work placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM02 : MPhys(Hons) Physics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM04 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Research placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM03 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM12 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM03 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Professional Placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM04 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Professional and Research Placements (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics (Year 2)
  • USPH-AFM11 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Research placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AAM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Study year abroad (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Professional Placement (Year 2)
  • USPH-AKM11 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Professional and Research Placements (Year 2)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2020/21 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2021/22 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2020/21.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.