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Planetary Physics: Science and Instrumentation


Admission requirements

  • Basic knowledge of atmospheric physics and radiative transfer.

  • Basic programming skills.


Planetary science is now in its “Golden Age”. Dozens of spacecrafts developed and operated by ESA, NASA and other space agencies have delivered a wealth of valuable data about Solar System planets and exoplanets. Data analysis, theoretical studies and numerical modelling, aiming at understanding of the conditions and processes on the planets in the Solar System and beyond, especially those relevant to habitability, are in high demand. Future more sophisticated and challenging planetary missions are being planned and developed by space agencies.

This course will provide an overview of the methods and instrumentation currently used in planetary research supported by representative examples from recent Solar System missions. The course will deliver a broad picture of conditions and processes on the Solar System planets in their complexity and diversity. The students will also get a preliminary understanding of how concepts of planetary missions payload are designed, including setting up science objectives and requirements, defining priorities and complementarities. The course will provide a “bridge” to exoplanet investigations where appropriate.

The detailed outline of the course is:

  • Remote sensing methods and instrumentation

  • Methods and instruments for in-situ investigations

  • Grand Tour of planetary surfaces

  • Grand Tour of planetary atmospheres

  • Science payload concepts: from objectives to requirements

Course objectives

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Understand the areas of applicability of various remote sensing and in-situ methods in planetary physics, their main features, advantages, limitations and main results

  • Acquire a broad picture of main features and conditions on the planets in the Solar System

  • Discuss and explain major open questions in the planetary physics

  • Understand and discuss the logics and the way science payload concepts for ESA planetary missions are being designed

  • Discuss and follow current literature in the field of planetary physics


See Astronomy master schedules

You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have successfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go to the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

The course will consist of eight 1.5 hour lectures and four tutorials. Two lectures and one tutorial session will be given per week. Topics of the course will be presented during the lectures. The tutorial sessions will be devoted to hands-on work on notional concepts of planetary missions and their payloads, access to experimental data in the ESA Planetary Science Archive, as well as presentation and discussion of relevant papers.

Assessment method

Written exam (50%), project (a concept of a payload suite) (30%), presentation of papers, discussions, and hands-on work during tutorials (20%).

Reading list

  • De Pater, I. and J.J. Lissauer. Planetary sciences, 2001.

  • Houghton, Taylor, Rodgers. Remote sounding of the atmospheres, 1984.

  • S.W. Squires et al., Overview of the Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover Mission to Meridiani Planum: Eagle Crater to Purgatory Ripple, Journal Geophysical Research, VOL. 111, E12S12, doi:10.1029/2006JE002771, 2006

  • Ph. Blondel and J.W. Mason (editors). Solar System Update. Springer-Praxis Books in Astronomy and Planetary Sciences, 2006.

  • ESA document. Definition Study Report (Red Book) for the JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer) mission

  • ESA document. Assessment Study Report (Yellow Book) for the EnVision mission.

  • Papers selected during the classes


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Lecturer: Dr. Dmitrij Titov


Soft skills

  • Oral and writing communication (presenting, speaking, listening, writing)

  • Critical thinking (asking questions, making assumptions, setting priorities and making trade-offs)

  • Creative thinking (resourcefulness, curiosity, thinking out of the box)