PHY 424: Atmospheric and Space Physics

3 credits | Prerequisites: PHY 302 for Major; PHY 102 for Minor | Co-offered with PHY 434

Course rationale

This is an elective course designed for students majoring in physics, mathematics, engineering or computer science. Students can take it as part of a minor or specialization in astronomy and astrophysics or as a free elective. The course intends to give an overview of atmospheric physics and space physics.

Course content

Earth’s atmosphere: sun, solar radiation, terrestrial radiation, structure and profiles of the atmosphere, composition of the atmosphere. Meteorology: dynamic meteorology, real and fictitious forces in the atmosphere, hydrostatic equation, conservation laws, continuity equation, thermodynamic energy equation, balanced flow, trajectories and streamlines, circulation and vorticity, planetary boundary layer, condensation and precipitation. Space plasma and particle motion: field equations, gyration, electric drifts, magnetic drifts. Trapped particles: dipole field, bounce motion, drift motion, sources and sinks, ring current. Collision and conductivity: ionosphere formation, ionospheric conductivity, ionospheric currents, auroral emissions. Convection and substorms: diffusion and frozen flux, convection clectric field, corotation and plasmasphere, high-latitude electrodynamics, auroral electrojets, magnetospheric substorms, substorm currents.

Course objectives

  1. Introduce the basic structure, profiles and dynamics of earth’s atmospheric.
  2. Demonstrate the use of physics in meteorology to determine the behavior of the atmosphere.
  3. Relate earth’s atmosphere with the atmosphere of the sun, i. e. the whole solar system.
  4. Analyze the equations describing the structure and behavior of space plasma.


  1. James R. Holton, An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology, Academic Press, 5th edition.
  2. Robert G. Fleagle, An Introduction to Atmospheric Physics, Academic Press, 2nd edition.
  3. W. Baumjohann and R. A. Treumann, Basic Space Plasma Physics, Imperial College Press, 1997.