Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Space Plasmas
Academic Year
Semester 2
(MP26020 or FG26020) and PH22510.
External Examiners
  • Professor Pete Vukusic (Professor - Exeter University)
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Lecture 22 x 1 Hour Lectures


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Exam 2 Hours   Written Exam  70%
Semester Assessment 2 Assignment sheets  30%
Supplementary Exam 2 Hours   Written examination  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. State mathematically and derive expressions for basic plasma properties such as Debye length, plasma frequency, the gyrofrequency and gyroradius
2. Derive expression for single charge particle motion in electric and magnetic fields and the drift motions when external forces are present
3. List and derive the main properties of MHD waves and the conditions for plasma instabilities such as Rayleigh-Taylor and Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities
4. Discuss the formation of shocks in a collisionless medium and derive shock jump conditions

Brief description

The course covers the essentials of plasma physics, including the nature of a plasma, motion of single charged particles in a magnetic field, magnetohydrodynamics, waves in plasma, and instabilities. The theory will be illustrated by examples from interplanetary space and the magnetospheres of planets.


  • Occurrence of plasmas, temperature of a plasma, Debye shielding, plasma oscillations.
  • Motion of a single charged particle in (a) a homogenous magnetic field; gyro-radius and frequency; (b) a converging magnetic field; magnetic mirror; (c) an inhomogenous magnetic field; drift motion (d) a magnetic field with a perpendicular electric field.
  • Magnetohydrodynamics: Maxwell's equations applied to a plasma; diffusion time of magnetic field in a plasma; 'frozen-in' fields, magnetic Reynold's number.
  • Waves in a plasma: electron plasma waves, ion-acoustic waves, MHD waves, shear Alfven waves, fast and slow magneto-sonic (compressional) waves.
  • Waves in cold magnetized plasmas: Alfven waves, ion cyclotron waves, whistler waves, waves at very high frequencies.
  • Collisionless shocks.
  • Types of instability, two-stream instability (simple 'doppler-shift' treatment), Rayleigh-Taylor and Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Questions set in examples sheets and formal examinations will include numerical problems.
Communication Written communication is developed via the assignments.
Improving own Learning and Performance Assignments with feedback are used in order that students might reflect on their progress during the module.
Information Technology Students will be required to research topics within the module via the internet.
Personal Development and Career planning The module will highlight the latest developments in this field and hence will assist with career development.
Problem solving Problem solving is a key skill in physics and will be tested via the assignments and formal examination at the end of the module.
Research skills Some of the assignment sheet examples will require the student to research in the library and over the internet.


This module is at CQFW Level 6