The University of Southampton

PHYS6004 Space Plasma Physics

Module Overview

The aim of this course is to explore the physical processes which occur in the space environment. Theories of solar wind propagation and its interaction with the earth are developed and compared with data from satellites and ground based observatories. The course will provide a brief revision of key elements of electromagnetic theory. Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) will be developed and applied, with application of kinetic theory to areas where MHD breaks down. The reasons why space plasma physics is important for modern day life will be discussed. The magnetospheres of other planets will be compared to Earth’s.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aim of this course is to explore the physical processes which occur in the space environment.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Understand theories of solar wind propagation and its interaction with the Earth
  • Understand disturbances in the near-Earth space environment
  • To apply fluid theory to large scale plasmas
  • Understand the complementary nature of kinetic and fluid plasma descriptions
  • Understand Earth’s space environment in relation to that of other planets
  • Have an introduction to current key research in space plasma physics


- Overview: the solar atmosphere, solar wind and interactions with planetary bodies - The fluid theory of plasmas, frozen-in theorem (use example of Parker spiral of interplanetary magnetic field) - The shape of the Earth's magnetosphere: the balance of thermal, dynamic and magnetic - Pressures - Magnetic reconnection and how it dominates energy flow in the magnetosphere - Convection and substorm phenomena - Coronal mass ejections and geomagnetic storms - Ionosphere and plasmasphere - Aurora - Trapped particles, ring current and radiation belts - Effects of terrestrial disturbance: satellite health and safety, satellite orbit prediction, disruption to communication, navigation, radar systems and power distribution networks - Applications in fusion research and astrophysics

Learning and Teaching

Preparation for scheduled sessions18
Wider reading or practice61
Follow-up work18
Completion of assessment task7
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

J D Haigh, M Lockwood, and MS Giampaper. The Sun, Climate and Solar Analogues. 

Thomas E. Cravens. Physics of Solar Systems Plasmas. 

M G Kivelson & C T Russell. An Introduction to Space Physics. 

W Baumjohann & R A Treumann. Basic Space Plasma Physics. 


Assessment Strategy

Groupwork examples will be marked in the sessions. Each of the five will contribute 2% to the final mark.


MethodPercentage contribution
Assessed Groupwork Sessions 10%
Exam  (2 hours) 90%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework marks carried forward %
Exam %

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Pre-requisites: PHYS3008 Atomic Physics 2016-17, PHYS2006 Classical Mechanics 2016-17, PHYS2001 Electromagnetism 2016-17, PHYS1013 Energy And Matter 2016-17

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