PX44315 Planets, Exoplanets and Life
Introductory description
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.
Module aims
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.
Outline syllabus
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, RossiterMcLaughlin 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, freefloating 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 extraterrestrial life: insitu measurements, atmospheric spectroscopy, biomarkers, planned space missions, Drake equation, SETI.
Learning outcomes
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 extrasolar 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 extraterrestrial 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, WileyVCH;
I de Pater and JJ Lissauer, Planetary Sciences, CUP;
M Perryman, 2011, The Exoplanet Handbook, CUP;
Philip J. Armitage, Astrophysics of Planet Formation, CUP
View reading list on Talis Aspire
Subject specific skills
Knowledge of mathematics and physics. Skills in modelling, reasoning, thinking.
Transferable skills
Analytical, communication, problemsolving, selfstudy
Study time
Type  Required 

Lectures  30 sessions of 1 hour (20%) 
Private study  120 hours (80%) 
Total  150 hours 
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
Costs
No further costs have been identified for this module.
You must pass all assessment components to pass the module.
Assessment group B2
Weighting  Study time  

Inperson Examination  100%  
Answer 3 questions

Feedback on assessment
Personal tutors, group feedback
Courses
This module is Optional for:
 Year 4 of UPXAF303 Undergraduate Physics (MPhys)
This module is Option list B for:

UMAAG105 Undergraduate Master of Mathematics (with Intercalated Year)
 Year 4 of G105 Mathematics (MMath) with Intercalated Year
 Year 5 of G105 Mathematics (MMath) with Intercalated Year

UMAAG100 Undergraduate Mathematics (BSc)
 Year 3 of G100 Mathematics
 Year 3 of G100 Mathematics
 Year 3 of G100 Mathematics

UMAAG103 Undergraduate Mathematics (MMath)
 Year 3 of G100 Mathematics
 Year 3 of G103 Mathematics (MMath)
 Year 3 of G103 Mathematics (MMath)
 Year 4 of G103 Mathematics (MMath)
 Year 4 of G103 Mathematics (MMath)
 Year 4 of UMAAG107 Undergraduate Mathematics (MMath) with Study Abroad
 Year 4 of UMAAG106 Undergraduate Mathematics (MMath) with Study in Europe
 Year 4 of UPXAFG33 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (BSc MMathPhys)

UPXAFG31 Undergraduate Mathematics and Physics (MMathPhys)
 Year 4 of FG31 Mathematics and Physics (MMathPhys)
 Year 4 of FG31 Mathematics and Physics (MMathPhys)
 Year 4 of UMAAG101 Undergraduate Mathematics with Intercalated Year