BSc Physics with Theoretical Physics

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Physics of the Solar System

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHYS10692
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
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
Cosmology PHYS30392 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

ILO 1 - Explain the origin of concepts of date and time in motions within the solar system.
ILO 2 - Apply dynamical principles to understand gravitational phenomena in the solar system, including orbits, space travel and tides.
ILO 3 - Describe key features of the energy generation and internal structure of the Sun and explain how these can be determined from observation.
ILO 4 - Describe and use techniques to determine the internal structure of planets and physical properties of their surfaces and atmospheres.
ILO 5 - Explain current ideas for the origin of the solar system


       1. Overview of the Solar System

General description and inventory. Coordinates and time keeping. Date & time in the solar system

       2. Gravity

Kepler's laws; energy; orbits; space travel; tides.

       3. The Sun

Plasma and magnetism; nuclear energy and solar neutrinos; helioseismology.

       4. Planetary atmospheres

Origins; equilibrium temperatures; pressure and temperature profiles; atmospheric escape; composition; clouds; climate. 

       5. Planetary surfaces

Impact craters.  Isotope dating. 

       6. Planetary interiors

Moments of inertia; seismology; volcanoes & plate tectonics; heating & cooling; magnetic fields. 

       7. The formation of the solar system

Interstellar origins; planet formation; future evolution.

Teaching and learning methods

The course content is delivered via lectures (with notes and recordings available online) and interactive sessions in which solutions to problems will be discussed. Weekly online quizzes with automatic feedback will help with embedding course content. Weekly formative problem sheets with model solutions are also presented online.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

Students will receive feedback on a number of optional problem sheets.There will also be weekly quizzes to provide feedback on understanding.

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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