2023-2024 / SPAT0023-1

Terrestrial magnetosphere and polar lights


30h Th, 10h Pr

Number of credits

 Master in space sciences (120 ECTS)4 crédits 


Benoît Hubert

Language(s) of instruction

English language

Organisation and examination

Teaching in the second semester


Schedule online

Units courses prerequisite and corequisite

Prerequisite or corequisite units are presented within each program

Learning unit contents

The course is devoted to the introduction of the mechanisms responsible for the formation of the earth polar aurora. This includes the detailed excitation mechanisms of the aurora as well as the physics of the magnetosphere of the planet.
The fundamental laws of plasma physics are first detailed, so that it is not necessary to have first followed a course specifically devoted to that subject. More advanced topics such as magnetic reconnection and shock waves will be discussed later as needed for the study of the Earth magnetosphere. Excitation mechanisms of both the electron and proton aurora are described, as well as the magnetic substorm.
The solar wind is studied as magnetospheric and auroral phenomena are driven by its interaction with the space environment of the Earth. This interaction produces a shock wave and a boundary layer that surround the planet, and controls the magnetospheric configuration. Auroral phenomena also stem from that interaction and are studied in the last chapter in the framework of the Dungey cycle.
The course will be essentially based on the book of M.G. Kivelson and C.T. Russel, 'Introduction to space physics', completed with a few papers from scientific literature and other books.
1. Introduction 2. Plasma physics 3. Polar auroras 4. The solar wind 5. Shocks and discontinuities 6. Magnetic reconnection, magnetopause and magnetotail 7. Magnetospheric configuration and the plasmasphere 8. Auroral phenomena 9. Conclusion

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

Introduction to the physics of the magnetosphere and of the polar aurora.

Prerequisite knowledge and skills

Basic physics.

Planned learning activities and teaching methods

Lectures. Slides are used as a support.

Mode of delivery (face to face, distance learning, hybrid learning)


Recommended or required readings

The slides used during the lectures are made available to the students.

Any session :

- In-person

written exam ( open-ended questions ) AND oral exam

- Remote

written exam

- If evaluation in "hybrid"

preferred remote

Additional information:

A list of questions is made available to the students, to help them organizing the knowledges. Two questions among these ones will be asked during the oral examination, and at least one problem resolution will be asked to the students.
Due to the still apocalyptic sanitary conditions that we are experiencing, it will not be possible to organize a face-to-face oral examination. As a list of questions was distributed at the start of the term, the evaluation will remain based on this list of questions, so that the work already done is not wasted. On the agreed date of the exam, you will receive a list of 4 questions, and you will be asked to send the teacher the answer you have prepared for each of them. You will therefore need to scan your responses and send them by e-mail or other means of file exchange (eg belnet file sender, recommended by the university). The answers you scan should be handwritten (to avoid simple copy and paste), and your name should appear clearly on each page. A few sub-questions will also be added which you will have to answer in the same format: handwritten, scanned and sent work. You will only have 2 hours to submit your work. Therefore, it is advisable to scan all of your answers ahead of time. If you  have no scanner, photos taken with a camera or your phone will do. Please check beforehand that your electronic version is easily readable and can be easily sent electronically. The exam will therefore be a kind of homework, but based on the list of questions provided to you. The function of the sub-questions will be to make sure that you have some knowledge of the subject.
If you have no way of producing and sending an electronic copy of your responses, contact the professor and a solution will be found.
Since the exercise sessions must be organized under unfavorable conditions, without face-to-face sessions, they will not be subject to evaluation.

Work placement(s)

Organisational remarks and main changes to the course


B. Hubert

Association of one or more MOOCs

Items online

Magnetosphere and polar lights
This file contains the english version of the documents used during the lectures.

Magnétosphères et aurores polaires
This file contains the French version of the documents used during the lectures.