PX443-15 Planets, Exoplanets and Life
The detection of planets orbiting stars other than the sun is technically challenging and it was not achieved until 1995. This module looks at how exoplanets are now being discovered in large numbers and how these discoveries are challenging existing theories of planet formation and evolution. Various methods of detection are considered, as well as methods used to determine physical properties such as temperature, density and composition. We explore likely physical explanations for the observed properties and identify questions that remain open in this active research field. Finally, we consider the prospects for detecting life on distant planets.
To explore the impact of recent advances in the field on our understanding of planet formation, structure and evolution. To illustrate how established theories can be challenged using careful experimentation.
This is an indicative module outline only to give an indication of the sort of topics that may be covered. Actual sessions held may differ.
Geometry and contents of the Solar System; the interior, atmospheric composition and structure of the Solar System planets
Models of planet formation developed to explain the observed properties of the Solar System: accretion discs, dust coagulation, planetesimal formation, gas accretion, orbital evolution, disc evaporation
Challenges and opportunities presented by exoplanetary systems; Debris discs and protoplanetary discs
Observational techniques relevant to exoplanets: precision radial velocities, transits, microlensing, direct imaging, polarimetry, astrometry, Rossiter-McLaughlin effect, transmission spectroscopy
Physical properties of exoplanets: mass, radius, temperature, albedo, composition, irradiation, evaporation, meteorology, orbital orientation, dynamical stability
Challenges to planet formation theory: migration, evaporation, system geometry, free-floating planets. Future observational techniques: extreme adaptive optics, nulling interferometry
Conditions for life: definition of life, extremophiles, energy sources, carbon chemistry, water, habitable zone, alternative habitats; detection of extra-terrestrial life: in-situ measurements, atmospheric spectroscopy, biomarkers, planned space missions, Drake equation, SETI.
By the end of the module, students should be able to:
- Describe the interior, atmospheric composition and structure of the Solar System planets
- Explain the experimental methods used to search for extra-solar system planets
- Explain the models being developed to describe exoplanets and discuss the open questions in the field
- Evaluate critically the prospects for the discovery of extra-terrestrial life
Indicative reading list
The module is based on the primary research literature and students are expected to read selected journal articles. In addition the following books are recommend for additional background:
R Dvorak (Ed.), Extrasolar Planets, Wiley-VCH;
I de Pater and JJ Lissauer, Planetary Sciences, CUP;
M Perryman, 2011, The Exoplanet Handbook, CUP;
Philip J. Armitage, Astrophysics of Planet Formation, CUP
Subject specific skills
Knowledge of mathematics and physics. Skills in modelling, reasoning, thinking.
Analytical, communication, problem-solving, self-study
|Lectures||30 sessions of 1 hour (20%)|
|Private study||120 hours (80%)|
Private study description
Working through lecture notes, solving problems, wider reading, discussing with others taking the module, revising for exam, practising on past exam papers
No further costs have been identified for this module.
You must pass all assessment components to pass the module.
Assessment group B1
|3 hour online examination (Summer)||100%|
Answer 3 questions from 4
Feedback on assessment
Personal tutors, group feedback
This module is Optional for:
- Year 4 of UPXA-F304 Undergraduate Physics (BSc MPhys)
- Year 4 of UPXA-F303 Undergraduate Physics (MPhys)
This module is Option list B for:
- Year 4 of UPXA-FG33 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (BSc MMathPhys)
- Year 4 of UPXA-FG31 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (MMathPhys)