ECE 5164 Introduction to Space Science I: The Solar Wind and Magnetosphere | ECE | Virginia Tech


Course Information


Describes the space environment from the sun to the earth's upper atmosphere. Fundamental concepts in space plasma physics will be presented, as needed, throughout the course. Numerous examples of observations and data will be utilized to illustrate the environment and its dynamic variability. An emphasis will be placed on the practical impacts of this environment and its dynamic variability. An emphasis will be placed on the practical impacts of this environment (space weather) on modern technologies such as solid state devices, satellite technology, communication and global navigation systems.

Why take this course?

The near-earth space environment has profound effects on radio waves, electrical devices, power systems, satellites, space vehicles, as well as humans. As society becomes more dependent on technologies embedded in this environment, more physical understanding and predictive capabilities in terms of “space weather” will become crucial. This course provides an introduction to the basic physical science concepts of the Sun-Earth environmental system by describing the details of the electrodynamics and plasma physics in the region from the center of the sun to the ionized atmospheric regions of the Earth. In addition to describing the physics of the geospace environment, observations and data will be utilized to illustrate the processes and dynamics of the Sun-Earth system. The practical impact of space weather on various technological systems will be also discussed.


3106 or equivalent. Coreq: 5105

An undergraduate background in electromagnetic such as that provided in 3106 is required. Concurrent or previous enrollment in graduate electromagnetic 5105 or equivalent is also required.

Major Measurable Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate the principles of basic plasma physics in terms of single particle motion, including guiding center drift, and the adiabatic invariants
  • Apply the basic magnetohydrodynamic equations and conservation laws to the analysis of a variety of space plasma problems
  • Describe qualitatively the physical processes in the sun and solar wind that ultimately drive space weather effects
  • Describe solar variability and theories that explain it
  • Describe qualitatively and quantitatively the processes that comprise the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth’s magnetosphere and the variability in these processes
  • Describe qualitatively the response of the magnetosphere and ionosphere during active space weather conditions
  • Analyze space weather data to predict active space weather conditions, and
  • Predict the effects of space weather conditions on various technologies
  • Contrast and compare the solar wind interaction with the Earth to other planetary environments

Course Topics


Percentage of Course

1. Basic plasma Physics 10%
2. The Sun and Solar Wind 10%
3. The Earth's Magnetic Field 10%
4. The Earth's Magnetosphere 25%
a. Bow Shock and Magnetosheath 5%
b. Magnetopause 5%
c. Magnetotail 5%
d. Magnetospheric Cusps 5%
e. Inner Magnetosphere 5%
5. The Earth's Ionosphere 10%
a. Conductivity tensor %
b. Convective or total derivative %
c. Currents %
6. Magnetic Variability 10%
a. Global currents, Sq variation %
b. Observations and indices %
c. Substorms and Storms %
7. Technological Impact of Space Weather 10%
a. Satellite technologies %
b. Power distribution systems %
c. Communiations and navigation %
d. Radiation Exposure %
8. Comparative magnetospheres 10%
a. Mercury %
b. Venus %
c. Jupiter and Saturn %
d. Io %
e. Uranus %
f. Mars %
9. Magnetohydrodynamic Global models 5%