2023-2024 / SPAT0063-1

Introduction to exoplanetology


20h Th, 10h Pr

Number of credits

 Master in space sciences (120 ECTS)4 crédits 


Olivier Absil, Michaël Gillon


Michaël Gillon

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

Since the end of last century, several thousand planets have been detected outside our solar system. The thorough characterization of a fraction of them has inaugurated a new scientific discipline called exoplanetology, i.e. planetology applied to extrasolar planetary systems. The purpose of the course is to provide an introduction to this young branch of astrophysics. It begins with a lesson presenting an overview of the features of our own solar system, followed by a description of the current paradigm of its formation. The dynamics of planetary systems is then discussed during the second lesson. Come then several lessons presenting respectively the indirect and direct methods of exoplanets detection and characterization, including a summary of their results. The next lesson discusses the architecture of planetary systems and the observed properties of circumstellar disks. Follows then a more theoretical lesson that discusses the models of planetary structure and atmosphere. The final lesson is focused on habitability, and uses the overall picture sketched by the observational results to examine the frequency of planets that could harbor life and our potential ability to detect its existence.

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

The objectives of the course are to introduce the student to the physical phenomena involved in a planetary system, to the methods of detection and study of exoplanets, and to the theoretical and statistical implications of the observational results. At the end of the course, the student should have sufficient basis for the deepening of the subject via the consultation of the literature, and for a possible active involvement in exoplanetology research.

Prerequisite knowledge and skills

No specific prerequisite.

Planned learning activities and teaching methods

The theoretical part of the course consists of 10 sessions of 2hrs each. It is supplemented by an additional 2hrs session to inform the student of the objectives and methodology of the practical work (PW) to be carried out. This work will focus on the analysis of observations of an exoplanet. Two PW options will be offered to students: one based on the transit method and the other on the direct imaging method. Students will do this work individually, and will have to present orally their PW and its results at the end of the year.



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

Face-to-face course

Recommended or required readings

PowerPoint slides shown during the courses will be provided to the students in electronic format.
Although not mandatory, the consultation of the following books in English can be seen as a good complement:
* Transiting exoplanets, Carole A. Haswell, Cambridge University Press (2010)
* Exoplanets, Sara Seager (Editor), Space Science Series, University of Arizona Press (2011).
* The Exoplanet Handbook (2nd Edition), Michael Perryman, Cambridge University Press (2018).

Exam(s) in session

Any session

- In-person

oral exam

Additional information:

The final mark is made up of a mark for the presentation of the practical work (1/3) and the mark for the oral examination (2/3). During the oral examination, students are questioned on the theory of the course (two questions, 15 min per question), the assessment being based both on the restitution of theoretical concepts, and on their correct understanding and application. During the exam session, on a different date, students will be asked to present their practical work individually (10 min) and answer questions about it (10 min).
In the event of failure in the first session, the student who presented the practical work in the first session may decide whether or not to keep his or her mark for the practical work in the 2nd session. 

Work placement(s)


Organisational remarks and main changes to the course

The two lectures on direct imaging and the one on planetary systems architecture and circumstellar disks are given by Dr. Absil, and the others by Dr. Gillon. 

Compared with previous years, practical work now counts for 33% of points. Furthermore, it will be presented orally by students during the examination session, rather than in the form of a written report.


Dr. Michaël Gillon, EXOplanets in Transit: Identification and Characterization (EXOTIC) research group, ASTROBIOLOGY research unit, ULiege
Institut d'Astrophysique et de Géophysique, Bât B5C, Allée du 6 août, 19, 4000 Liège (Sart-Tilman), office -1/1
Phone: +32-(0)4 366 9743 E-mail : michael.gillon@uliege.be

Dr. Olivier Absil, Planetary & Stellar systems Imaging Laboratory (PSILab) research group, STAR research unit, ULiege
Institut d'Astrophysique et de Géophysique, Bât B5C, Allée du 6 août, 19, 4000 Liège (Sart-Tilman), office +2/19
Tél: +32-(0)4 366 9724 Courriel: olivier.absil@uliege.be  

Association of one or more MOOCs

Items online

Slides shown during the course
This URL links to the slides presented during the lectures. Each presentation is replaced by its updated version after each lecture.