PHYC20040 Exploring the Solar System

Academic Year 2023/2024

The aim of this module is to introduce students to our solar system and other planetary systems. The observed properties of our solar system are discussed, as well as how these properties may be explained by proposed theories of solar system formation. The fundamentals of orbital mechanics are introduced. Theories and observations of star and planet formation are examined, and the rapidly growing field of exoplanet research is explored.

The module includes a computer-based laboratory component in which students become familiar with the fundamentals of observational astrophysics. Using imaging, photometric and spectroscopic observations, students will conduct analysis to arrive at measurements of astrophysical distance and cosmic time.

The module includes a project component, in which students work in teams to conduct a case study of a current or upcoming space mission related to solar system or exoplanet research. Each student team is assigned a different mission, and organises itself to research and present the motivation for the scientific goal of the space mission and the justification for the methodology chosen to attain that goal.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module, students should be able to:
- describe the main properties of our solar system;
- apply basic principles of orbital mechanics;
- explain star and planet formation theories and observations;
- interpret standard astrophysics observational data and justify conclusions;
- utilise research skills, such as accessing and synthesising complex information from primary source material, including original journal articles;
- work collaboratively in a team environment;
- demonstrate improved mastery of oral and written presentation skills.

Indicative Module Content:

Lecture topics:
Properties of the solar system
Solar system formation theory
Orbital mechanics
Star and planet formation

Laboratory topics:
Hubble Constant
Astrometry of astroids
Spectroscopic classification of stars
Hertzsprung-Russell diagram applied to open clusters

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning










Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Teaching and learning approaches include traditional-style lectures. Students work individually on a small number of homework problems which are then discussed in tutorial sessions. There is a computer-based laboratory component for which the students work individually. Lastly, there is a group work project for which students are required to organise themselves in teams to research and present a case study.
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations
Learning Requirements:

First year core Physics modules.

Learning Recommendations:

First year astronomy module - PHYC10050

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Introduction to Solar System (PHYC27040)

Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Continuous Assessment: Project & homework Varies over the Trimester n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Practical Examination: Practical laboratory based assessment Varies over the Trimester n/a Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Examination: Written exam at end of semester 2 hour End of Trimester Exam No Standard conversion grade scale 40% No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn Yes - 2 Hour
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Group/class feedback, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

The results of the homework will be shown during the tutorials. The students can collect their corrected assignments a few weeks after submission. The results from the lab reports are given at the following laboratory session including detailed feedback communicated directly to the student.

Name Role
Ms Antonia Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg Tutor
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Thurs 11:00 - 11:50
Tutorial Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Thurs 18:00 - 18:50
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Tues 12:00 - 12:50
Practical Offering 1 Week(s) - 21, 23, 25, 29, 31, 33 Tues 15:00 - 17:50
Practical Offering 2 Week(s) - 21, 23, 25, 29, 31, 33 Wed 15:00 - 17:50