Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Ionospheres & Magnetospheres
Academic Year
Semester 2
PH38510 or approval by Degree Scheme Co-ordinator
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 Assessment Research Essay  20%
Semester Exam 2 Hours   Written Examination  80%
Supplementary Exam 2 Hours   Written Examination  100%

Learning Outcomes

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

Describe the regions of the atmospheres of different solar system planets; explain the balance of energy in an atmospheric system; explain the vertical structure of the neutral atmosphere in terms of the underlying physics.

Discuss the physical processes governing the production and loss of ionisation including reference to the role of ionospheric and thermospheric chemistry; explain the characteristics of the different ionospheric layers in terms of the variation with height of the production, loss and transport mechanisms.

Outline the principles of propagation of radio waves in an ionised medium and from them derive the principles of radio sounding.

Discuss the different methods of investigating ionospheric structure and critically compare how they might be useful in investigating the ionosphere.

Discuss the motion of particles in a magnetosphere.and solar-planet coupling processes and their effects on the ionospheres and magnetospheres of different solar system objects; show how different regimes lead to very different planetary magnetospheres.


This module examines the physics of atmospheres, both neutral and ionised, and the interaction of their upper regions with both the planet's own magnetic field and the interplanetary magnetic field.

Brief description

This module examines the physics of atmospheres, both neutral and ionised, and the interaction of their upper regions with both the planet's own magnetic field and the interplanetary magnetic field.


  • Vertical structure. Hydrostatic equilibrium and scale heights. Atmospheric layers.
  • Regions of ionospheres.
  • Ionisation production and loss mechanisms, Chapman layers. Transport of ionisation and its effects on vertical density structure.
  • Ionospheric chemistry and the physical basis of anticorrelations between electron temperature and density.
  • Ionospheric dynamics and the servo-theory of the F-region.
  • Experimental techniques: Radio wave propagation: plasma frequency, gyrofrequency, phase velocity, group velocity, refractive index. The Appleton- Hartreee equation and radio sounding. Scatter radars and transionospheric propagation methods.
  • High-Latitude Ionospheres and Magnetospheres.
  • Magnetospheric regions.
  • Magnetic field; dipolar and distorted.
  • Motion of charged particles; gyro, bounce and drift motion.
  • Solar wind-magnetosphere coupling; magnetic reconnection. Plasma convection.
  • Electric currents; Pedersen, Hall, field-aligned. High-latitude ionosphere coupling to Magnetosphere, auroral electrojets, substorms, aurora.

Module Skills

Skills Type Skills details
Application of Number Throughout the module.
Communication Students will be expected to submit written worksheet solutions.
Improving own Learning and Performance Feedback via tutorials.
Information Technology Use of internet materials and software.
Personal Development and Career planning Students will be exposed to an area of application that they have not previously encountered.
Problem solving All situations considered are problem-based to a greater or lesser degree.
Research skills Students will be encouraged to consult various books and journals for examples and for the research essay.
Subject Specific Skills Knowledge of new material.


This module is at CQFW Level 6