Nature of project: theory, data analysis
Available to students on full-time physics degree schemes only.
Given the frequent discovery of exoplanets with sizes and orbits - and therefore temperature profiles - quite unlike the bodies found within our own solar system, the local environmental conditions and potential for habitability are not well understood.
The explicit aim of the project is to investigate the potential environments of these distant planets by considering the changes that would occur in the environments of local planetary bodies if the temperatures were within the habitable range. By researching the currently understood properties of these local bodies and projecting the physical changes that increased irradiance, and therefore temperature, would induce in their local environments the student(s) should be able to analyse the potential hazards and possible habitability of the body and by extension other, similar bodies. Indeed, such temperature increases and environmental changes are the anticipated outcome of the Sun's eventual growth into a Red Giant.
The project requires that the student(s) identify key processes that warming should induce, and outcomes particularly notable for their impact on habitability; such as atmospheric production and thus the density of the atmosphere, the presence of carbon dioxide, the potential for liquid water, tectonic conditions and so on. For a given solar system body, the currently understood properties will need to be drawn from literature and catalogued so that these identified key processes can be analysed in context.
A successful project will develop beyond the above in one/some of the following directions:
Given the number and variety of bodies within the solar systems, from the gas giants to dwarf planets, natural satellites to the telluric planets, the opportunities to expand the breadth of the project are almost boundless. The initial, and clearest, path for the projects development is to expand to several bodies within a specific group, say each of the inner planets, and perform a detailed comparison of the anticipated differences given the same key physical processes.
As a further challenge, the student(s) may wish to develop the project by considering a wider and deeper breadth of physical process, such as the rate at which the body warms and the presence of nearby bodies that are also warming. For example, one could consider not only the effect warming on Ganymede itself, but also take into account the potential for a greater density of ejected material from Europa being deposited on Ganymede's surface.
When considering where to take your project, please bear in mind the time available. It is preferable to do fewer things well than to try many and not get conclusive results on any of them. However, sometimes it is useful to have a couple of strands of investigation in parallel to work on in case delays occur.
This project is only available as a Y3 project.
Please speak to Tom Knight (tmk08) if you consider doing this project.
Initial literature for students:
Difficulty is moderate, but somewhat dependent on the student's pace through the project and therefore the number of bodies considered and the depth of analysis applied.
|milestone||to be completed by|
|Identification of data sources for key thermal processes||end of October|
|Key processes identified, and data sources for planetary body/bodies identified||Christmas|
|Analysis of a single body completed||end of February|
|Comparison with a secondary body completed||mid-March|