Rice University logo

Space Plasma Physics Topics

Physics and Astronomy Department Candidacy Exam

(Version, 7/1/2016)

Introduction: The following list of topical areas and subtopics covers Space Plasma Physics, which includes Solar Physics and Magnetospheric Physics. The more specialized topics under Solar and Magnetospheric Physics pertain to students in those respective areas.

Electricity and Magnetism

Maxwell’s Equations: Basic properties, electrostatics, magnetostatics, boundary value problems, waves

Basic Numerical Methods

Roundoff and truncation errors, curve fitting and interpolation, numerical integration, basic linear algebra, solutions to ordinary and partial differential equations

Basic Plasma Physics

• Plasma characteristics:

o Plasma Frequency, Debye Length, coulomb collision frequencies, Spitzer resistivity

• Particle motion in electric and magnetic fields.

o Drifts, adiabatic invariants Waves in plasmas

o Cold unmagnetized and magnetized plasma waves

• Magnetohydrodynamic description of plasma

o MHD Approximation, frozen-in-Flux, MHD equilibria, waves, instabilities, shocks, force and motion in MHD

• Magnetic reconnection

o Basic features, MHD models

• Kinetic Description of plasma

o Vlasov theory, Landau damping, basic kinetic instabilities, the Fokker-Planck equation and binary coulomb collisions


Solar Physics

• Basic Information about the Sun

o Radiative interior/convective envelope, radius/mass/luminosity,structure of atmosphere

• Radiative Transfer

o Specific Intensity, limb darkening, transfer equation

• Hydrostatic atmospheres

o Hydrostatic equilibrium, coronal heating scaling laws

• Magnetic Field

o Potential vs. force-free, open vs. closed, MHD/magnetostatic descriptions

• Particle Acceleration and Transport

o DC vs. stochastic acceleration, energy loss mechanisms

• Radiation Processes

o Thermal vs. non-thermal, bremsstrahlung, synchrotron

• Observational Issues

o Spectroscopy vs. Imaging, remote sensing vs. in-situ

• Eruptive Phenomena

o Flares vs. CMEs, role of reconnection

• Solar Wind

o Fast vs. slow, Parker spiral, Parker’s model


Magnetospheric Physics

• Basic information about the Magnetosphere

o Magnetopause, bow shock, plasma sheet, ring current, radiation belts, plasmasphere and associated current systems

• Basic information about the Ionosphere

o Structure, Chapman Theory, conductances

• Solar wind magnetosphere interaction

o Energy transfer processes, role of the solar wind and the ionosphere

• The aurora

o Types of aurora, acceleration processes

• Magnetospheric Storms and Substorms

o Definition, basic properties, relation magnetic Indices

• Magnetospheric Convection

o Basic properties, theoretical foundations

• Magnetosphere Ionosphere coupling

o Basic properties, theoretical foundations

• Basic information about the magnetospheres of the other planets

o Rotation dominated planets, Ionosphere dominated planets