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Planetary Interiors


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 6
  • ConvenorEleanor Jennings
  • Assessment: a project assessed by poster (30%), a quiz (20%) and a 2400-word take-home essay (50%)

Module description

This module provides an overview of the methods used to remotely sound the interiors of distant planets by combining observations of their spin, gravity and magnetism with a wealth of complementary information in the form of comet and meteorite mineralogy and laboratory-based studies of minerals under extreme conditions.

You will be given a descriptive overview of the mathematical and physical concepts, providing the basis for future analytical study or research. The focus of the coursework assessment will be on a written discussion of contemporary research in each of the three main course themes: observations; experiments; modelling.

Indicative module content

Theme 1: Observational constraints

  • Mineralogy of comets, asteroids and meteorites as an insight into planetary composition
  • Use of seismic waves to probe planetary interiors
  • Application of gravity and planetary spin
  • Application of planetary magnetism

Theme 2: Matter under extreme conditions

  • Laboratory methods to learn about materials under planetary conditions
  • Properties of silicate rocks (mantles)
  • Properties of metallic alloys (cores)
  • Properties of planetary ices

Theme 3: Planetary evolution

  • Sources of heat - origins of differences between otherwise similar planetary bodies
  • Heat transport
  • Exoplanets - a universe of potentially weird objects

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand the physical and mathematical basis for remote sensing of planetary interiors as well as the range of laboratory techniques and computer models required to interpret these data
  • synthesise diverse pieces of information into a coherent story in the context of lab- and computer-based testing of observationally formulated hypotheses
  • appreciate the limitations inherent in various techniques and be aware of over-interpretation or speculation in the literature
  • make an oral presentation that collates diverse information into a succinct and interesting narrative and to field questions from an audience.