Module Identifier PH28720  
Academic Year 2007/2008  
Co-ordinator Dr Andrew R Breen  
Semester Semester 2  
Other staff Dr Martin C Wilding, Balazs Pinter, Dr David Barnes  
Pre-Requisite Satisfactory completion of part 1 of the degree scheme  
Mutually Exclusive PH29610  
Course delivery Lecture   30 Hours.  
  Seminars / Tutorials   3 seminars and 1 poster presentation workshop.  
  Practical   6 practicals  
Assessment TypeAssessment Length/DetailsProportion
Semester Exam3 Hours Examination  70%
Semester Assessment Assignment sheets  15%
Semester Assessment Modelling worksheets  10%
Semester Assessment Poster presentation  5%
Supplementary Exam3 Hours Examination  100%

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:
1. Describe the physical processes that underlie the evolution of the solid planets.

2. Explain how climate is influenced by orbital motion.

3. Describe the evolution of terrestrial and planetary atmospheres. Explain how non-Keplerian orbital motion arises. Explain how observations enable us to probe planetary interiors.

4. Explain the balance of energy in an atmospheric system. Solve simple problems in radiative transfer.

5. Explain the vertical structure of the neutral atmosphere in terms of the underlying physics.

6. Discuss the factors controlling fluid flow above a planetary susface.

7. Use a computational modelling suite to derive flow pattenrs above a planetary surface, display the results using a visualisation system and interpret them in terms of the underlying physics.

8. Use the model results to plan the best path for an airbourne planetary robot to follow above the terrain for specific experiment targets.

8. Present the results in poster form.

Brief description

This course will provide students with an overview of planetary science, including the constraints on robotic planetary exploration and the use of computational modelling of planetary atmospheres.


The end of lower atmosphere research at UW-A and the departure of staff with a background in meteorology has led a gap in our teaching programme. The aim of this revised module is to replace the traditional atmospheric science section of the course with a series of lectures and workshops on planetary atmospheres and atmospheric modelling which is integrated much more closely with the planetary science section of the course and with the 3rd year Ionised Atmospheres module (PH39010).

Planetary science is one of the fastest-developing fields of solar system science. In particular, recent years have seen rapid advances in studies of planetary atmospheres. The changes to the module add a section discussing planetary exploration and introduce a series of workshops in interpreting the results of modelling planetary atmospheres - an important introduction to the use of computational modelling and data visualisation.


Introduction to the solar system. Origin, age and mass of the solar nebula. Contraction of the solar nebula.

Orbits, resonances. Non-Keplerian orbits.

Tides, moons and rings.

Condensation and accretion of planetismals.

Planetary interiors - self compression and density structure in terrestrial planets and gas giants. Gravity fields and planetary shape.

Planetary thermodynamics, heat sources and variation of temperature with depth.

Planetary magnetic fields - movement of material inside planets and the dynamo mechanism.

Planetary exploration: control and communication, timelag and bandwidth.

Introduction to atmospheres. Structure of the Earth's atmosphere. Heating and layer formation.

Atmospheric energy balance. "Greenhouse effect". Convection and atmospheric dynamics.

Vertical structure. Hydrostatic equilibrium and scale heights. Atmospheric layers.

Planetary atmospheres - differences from Eath

Atmospheric flow - fluid mechanics as applied to atmospheres

Modelling planetary atmpospheres - approaches and constraints

Interpreting model results for flow over a planetary surface.

Module Skills

Problem solving Students are required to apply theoretical concepts covered in lectures to specific science problems.  
Research skills Students are required to plan the best path for an aerobot on a research mission over terrain on another planet.  
Communication Students are required to present the results of the modelling section of the module via a poster.  
Improving own Learning and Performance Reflection on poster results  
Team work Students will work in pairs or small groups during the computational modelling section of the course.  
Information Technology Use of a computational fluid flow suite to simulate the interaction of a planet's atmosphere with its surface. Use of visualisation facilities to view the results. Use of presentation software to generate posters.  
Application of Number Solve quantitative problems will naturally involve application of number. Use of a computational modelling.  

Reading Lists

** Recommended Text
Hargreaves, J.K. (1995) The solar-terrestrial environment: an introduction to geospace - the science of the terrrestrial upper atmosphere, ionosphere and magnetosphere 0521427371
Hartmann,W.K. Moons and Planets Wadsworth


This module is at CQFW Level 5