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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


As a student, you are responsible for registering on time, i.e. 14 days before the start of the course. This can be done via Mystudymap. You do this twice a year: once for the courses you want to take in semester 1 and once for the courses you want to take in semester 2. Please note: late registration is not possible.

Registration for courses in the first semester is possible from July; registration for courses in the second semester is possible from December. First-year bachelor students are registered for semester 1 by the faculty student administration; they do not have to do this themselves. For more information, see this page

In addition, it is mandatory for all students, including first-year bachelor students, to register for exams. This can be done up to and including 10 calendar days prior to the exam or up to five calendar days in case of a retake exam. You cannot participate in the exam or retake without a valid registration in My Studymap.

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)