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Syllabus for

Academic year
RRY120 - Planetary sciences
Syllabus adopted 2014-02-23 by Head of Programme (or corresponding)
Owner: TKTFY
4,5 Credits
Grading: TH - Five, Four, Three, Not passed
Education cycle: First-cycle
Major subject: Engineering Physics

Teaching language: English
Minimum participants: 10

Course module   Credit distribution   Examination dates
Sp1 Sp2 Sp3 Sp4 Summer course No Sp
0109 Written and oral assignments 4,5 c Grading: TH   4,5 c    

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Forskarassistent  Eva Wirström

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In order to be eligible for a first cycle course the applicant needs to fulfil the general and specific entry requirements of the programme(s) that has the course included in the study programme.

Course specific prerequisites

The basic courses in mathematics and physics on the programme.


The aim of this course is to introduce students to the rapidly 
developing field of planetary sciences and to show how a broad range  of topics in physics can be brought together to understand complex  systems like planets.

Learning outcomes (after completion of the course the student should be able to)

The broad goal is to understand how different areas of physics can be applied to (1) the interpretation of observations of planetary systems and (2) the quantitative description of the physical and chemical state of a complex system like a planet. Specifically, the student should be able to:

  • construct a simple model of a planetary atmosphere

  • make a testable prediction based upon a model

  • organize and analyze clues about the origin of planetary systems

  • make quantitative comparisons between the Earth and other planets of the solar system

  • review recent scientific literature through use of bibliographical databases

  • clearly present the results of a short research project in written form to the teacher
  • clearly present the results of a short research project in oral form to the other students


The field of planetary sciences offers rich opportunities for students to enjoy applications of physics. The geophysical understanding of our Earth is urgently important to us. Our knowledge of our solar system has grown enormously since the first space probes began to explore the other planets in the 1960s. The discovery in 1995 of extra-solar planets orbiting normal stars has enlarged our cosmic vision. As of 2014-02-5 there are 763 known exoplanets, including more than 250 in multiple systems. In recent years, it has been possible to measure accurately the masses, sizes, and even some atmospheric constituents of a few of these exoplanets. We can expect to see the discovery of other Earth-like planets in the near future. It is possible to observe evidence of the formation and growth of solid bodies in regions of recent star formation.

The study of planetary interiors involves equations of state of matter under extreme conditions. The important distinctions among planets, brown dwarfs, and stars are fundamentally questions of nuclear physics. The study of planetary atmospheres involves spectroscopy, atomic and molecular physics, hydrodynamics, statistical physics, and thermodynamics. Planetary ionospheres provide a rich playground for plasma and cosmic-ray physics. The measurement techniques applied to the Earth and other planets cover an enormous range of technical subjects.

Students will learn about the Earth's place among the planets of our solar system. Students will be introduced to planets as examples of complex physical systems. Emphasis will be placed on the underlying physics that controls (1) the equation of state of a planetary interior, (2) the physical and chemical state of an atmosphere, and (3) the origin of planetary systems. Students will learn to obtain and organize information about a scientific topic and will gain experience in making an oral presentation of that information.


The course will revolve around lectures (two two-hour periods per week) including discussions. The discussions will be used to review solutions of exercises and to prepare topics for the term papers and presentations.


The textbook is Planetary Sciences, by Imke de Pater and Jack Lissauer, Cambridge University Press, second edition 2010, ISBN 9780521853712. There will also be assigned readings in recent journal articles. Students will learn to use bibliographic databases and search engines. Some detailed notes will be posted on the course web page.


See course organization: there will not be a conventional examination. The required work for the course will include (1) regular exercises, (2) a short, written paper on a topic of current research interest, and (3) an oral presentation of the research paper. The final grade will be based on the written report and oral presentation of the research project. 

Page manager Published: Mon 28 Nov 2016.