Formation of Planetary Systems (Autumn 2023)

(MPAGS module AS8)

This is the course home-page for the Midlands Physics Alliance Graduate School (MPAGS) module AS8: Formation of Planetary Systems. This is a graduate level (PhD-student) course taught in Autumn Term 2023; lectures are 1-3pm on Tuesdays, beginning on November 7th.

This module aims to give students a broad overview of how planets form. We will primarily consider planet formation from an astrophysical perspective (rather than a planetary science or cosmochemistry approach), and the course will cover both observational and theoretical research into planets and their origins. We will review observations of both the Solar System and exoplanets, and discuss observations and models of the structure and evolution of protoplanetary discs (which are the sites of planet formation). We will then consider the dynamics of solid bodies, and discuss how sub-micron-sized dust grains grow to form larger bodies. From this point our theory of planet formation remains incomplete, but we will discuss and critique the leading models for both terrestrial and giant planet formation. Finally we will discuss planet migration and the dynamics of young planetary systems, and how these processes shape the architectures of planetary systems.

The course consists of five two-hour lectures. Supporting handouts ("lecture notes") and slides will be posted here in advance of the lectures.

Course materials

Lecture 1: Observations of planetary systems
    Notes (PDF); Slides (PDF); video recording.
Lecture 2: Protoplanetary discs
    Notes (PDF); Slides (PDF); video recording.
Lecture 3: Planetesimal formation
    Notes (PDF); Slides (PDF); video recording.
Lecture 4: Planet formation
    Notes (PDF); Slides (PDF); video recording. (Note: this video is from a previous year, as there were technical problems with the live recording.)
Lecture 5: Planet migration
    Notes (PDF); Slides (PDF); video recording.


The module is assessed through a short essay, reviewing and critiquing a recent research paper in this field. Full details of the assessment can be found here: the deadline is January 19th.

Textbooks & Background Reading

The handouts will provide a list of key papers and articles for each lecture, but there are also several books that provide excellent background reading. By far the most relevant textbook for this course is Astrophysics of Planet Formation, by Phil Armitage. It covers most of the material in the course (usually in greater detail than we will), and is an invaluable and up-to-date summary of the field. The book itself should be available from your library, but Phil has also made his lecture notes (on which the book is based) available on-line here.

In addition, the Protostars & Planets series provides a large collection of review articles that cover all aspects of star and planet formation. The PP meetings have been held once every 7-8 years since the late 1970s, and the proceedings books (which usually exceed 1000 pages in length) serve as standard reference texts in the field. The most recent meeting, PPVII, took place in Kyoto in April 2023. The PPVII book has now been published, and all of the chapters can be found via ADS/arXiv.
The previous meeting, PPVI, was held in Heidelberg in 2013. (High-quality) videos of all of the talks from the meeting can be viewed online (and on YouTube), and all but one of the chapters can be found on astro-ph or NASA ADS.

The older PP volumes also remain a valuable reference source. The contents page for PPV (2007) is here; most (but not all) of the articles can be found on astro-ph. The complete set of articles from PPIV (2000) used to be available from the University of Arizona Press, but is apparently no longer online; around half of them are on astro-ph. PPIII (1993) and earlier volumes, however, will only be found in libraries.