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Exo-planets B: Space Physics


Admission requirements

The student must have successfully completed the course Exo-planets: Interiors and Atmospheres A.


The emphasis of Part B of the Exoplanets course is on the “exterior” of planets, namely, from the upper atmosphere and beyond. Planets do not exist in empty space, but they are rather embedded in the particle, magnetic and radiation environments of their host stars. As a consequence, the interaction between planets and their host stars leads to escape of planetary atmospheres, shapes (and sometimes induces) planetary magnetospheres, and affects the space weather on a planet.

This course focuses on Space Physics, and covers the following topics:

  • Planetary upper atmospheres: atmospheric escape (thermal vs non-thermal); Jeans escape; hydrodynamic escape and energy-limit approximation; primary and secondary atmospheres; detection of escaping atmospheres in exoplanets

  • Planetary magnetospheres: magnetism in solar system planets, intrinsic magnetosphere, induced magnetosphere, magnetopause distance, ionopause, magnetic fields in exoplanets.

  • Solar and stellar activity: spot cycle, flares, magnetism and proxies for magnetic activity; effects of stellar activity on exoplanet detection.

  • The interplanetary medium — solar and stellar winds: basic concepts of fluid dynamics, overview of stellar winds over the HR diagram, forces driving a stellar wind, thermally-driven winds, winds of a magnetic rotator, Alfven surface, mass- and angular-momentum losses, evolution of stellar rotation.

  • Space weather: origin, impacts, events and mitigation.

Course objectives

On successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Derive the equations responsible for the stability of planetary atmospheres and magnetospheres

  • Explain the key processes responsible for solar and stellar activity and their space weather effects on (exo)planets

  • Explain the physics of winds of planet-hosting stars; derive the basic wind equations and evaluate the wind forcing on (exo)planets


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 sucessfully 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 the 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

Lectures and tutorial sessions. During the lectures there will be an introduction to the topic and basic physics followed by a discussion of relevant papers on the topic presented by the students and debates on this. During the tutorial sessions, students will use open source codes used in exoplanet research to solve different problems.

Assessment method

Homework assignment (25%); Paper presentation (25%); Final project (50%)

Reading list

No formal book will be used in this course. Some useful books are listed below:

  • “Space Physics - An Introduction”, Russell, Luhmann, Strangeway

  • “Atmospheric evolution on inhabited and lifeless worlds” (Catling and Kasting)

  • “Introduction to stellar winds”, by Lamers & Cassinelli


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. A. De Almeida Vidotto
Assistants: Andrew Allan, Markus Strickert


**Soft skills

  • Critical thinking

  • Problem solving

  • Computational thinking

  • Analytical skills

  • Oral and Written communication