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MPhys Physics with Astrophysics

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Physics of the Solar System

Unit code PHYS10692
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Department of Physics & Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit? No


Physics of the Solar System


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Mathematics 1 PHYS10071 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Introduction to Astrophysics and Cosmology PHYS10191 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


To show how many Solar System phenomena may be understood in terms of the physics already known to first year students.

Learning outcomes

This course unit detail provides the framework for delivery in 20/21 and may be subject to change due to any additional Covid-19 impact.  Please see Blackboard / course unit related emails for any further updates

On completion successful students will be able to:

  1. give a qualitative description of the Solar System and to know how the current picture emerged.
  2. apply dynamical principles to understand phenomena such as tides and orbits in the Solar System.
  3. make simple orbit calculations, based on energy and angular momentum conservation. Understand the basis of Kepler's laws and the Virial Theorem.
  4. know what may be deduced about the Sun by considering it as a black body and body in hydrostatic equilibrium.
  5. explain the basic principles behind the energy generation in the Sun.
  6. gain some knowledge of planetary atmospheres and to understand the origin of the Earth's greenhouse effect.
  7. gain some simple knowledge of the internal constitution of the planets.
  8. know how planetary ring systems may be formed.
  9. know the consequences of impacts in the Solar System.
  10. understand in outline how the Solar System is thought to have formed and evolved.


       1. Overview of the Solar System

General description and inventory. Coordinates and time keeping.

       2. Gravity

Kepler's laws and Newton's law of gravity. Properties of orbits.

The virial theorem. Tidal forces and tidal friction. Evolution of the Moon. 

       3. The Sun

Freefall time scale and Kelvin Helmholtz time scale. Hydrostatic equilibrium.

Nuclear reactions; Neutrinos.  Helioseismology.

       4. Planetary atmospheres

Albedo and optical depth. Scale height; Escape.  Reducing and oxidising atmospheres; Greenhouse effect; Ice ages. 

       5. Planetary surfaces

Impact craters.  Isotope dating. 

       6. Planetary interiors

Liquid cores; Heat generation; 

       7. The formation of the solar system

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

Students will receive feedback on a number of optional tutorial sheets.

Recommended reading

An Introduction to the Solar System, revised ed., 2011, Rothery, McBride & Gilmour (Cambridge University Press)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 24
Independent study hours
Independent study 76

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Timothy O'Brien Unit coordinator

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