Our and Other Solar Systems

Physics, First Cycle
Educational Physics
2 year
Hours per week – 2. semester:

Enrollment in university studies. Lectures are suitable also for students of other faculties.

Content (Syllabus outline)

Kinematics in the Solar system: solution of the two-body problem, formulation with anomalies, orbit in space, motions of Solar system bodies, use of astronomical ephemeris and almanac, historical comparison of geo- and helio-centric system: comments on critical measurements.

Travels in the Solar system: rocket equation, artificial satellites, types of orbits, launching windows, gravity assist, alternative propulsions, satellite observation of the universe and the Earth (low orbits, navigation satellites, geostationary satellites, Lagrange points, orbits around the Sun), survey of missions.

Physical overview of the Solar system: properties of planets and moons, conditions on the surface and in the interior; occurence of an atmosphere; properties of asteroids, Kuiper belt and Oort cloud objects; properties of comets and dust.

Discovery of other solar systems: history; discovery methods, their advantages and limitations; statistics of properties and occurence of planets around other stars; formation of planetary systems.

Life in the universe: observation of Earth-like planets and planetary atmospheres, habitable zone, possibilities for life in the universe, expected technological advances in near future.


H. Karttunen et al.: Fundamental Astronomy, Fifth Edition, Springer, 2007.
John S. Lewis: Physics and Chemistry of the Solar System, Academic Press, 1997.
J. O. Bennett, S. Shostak, B. Jakosky: Life in the Universe, Benjamin-Cummings, 2002.
A. Čadež: Gibanje vesoljskih sond in fizikalne osnove astronavtike, v Uporaba vesoljskih tehnologij, Didakta 1996.

Objectives and competences

Examples from celestial mechanics connect personal experience with conditions on Earth and its place in the Universe even for students who lack solid knowledge of physics. This starting point then develops into discussion of conditions on other bodies of the Solar system, and on planets around other stars, including several Earth-like planets. Finally the possibility of emergence and evolution of life in different environments in discussed.

Intended learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding:
Understanding of basic principles of celestial mechanics and physical mechanisms which govern the formation, evolution and conditions on planets of our Solar system and those around other stars.

Application: Relation between the acquired knowledge of celestial mechanics, place of the Earth in the Universe and their physical conditions. Students get experience on methods of research in astronomy as a typical case of research in natural sciences.

Reflection: Celestial mechanics and motion of bodies in the Solar system is the basics of Galilean view of the Universe with served as a basis for natural sciences. A decade ago we learned that planets are frequently found also around other stars. Many of them are very different from Earth, but others are very similar at least in their basic properties. This promotes reflection on the uniqueness of life.

Transferable skills: Critical evaluation of information, search for the simplest possible explanation satisfying the observed properties, ability of quantitative evalution and assessment.

Learning and teaching methods

Lectures, numerical exercises, homework, consultations.


Written exam
Oral exam
grading: 5 (fail), 6-10 (pass) (according to the Statute of UL)

Lecturer's references

prof. dr. T. Zwitter:
1. KOS, Janez, ZWITTER, Tomaž, et al. Pseudo-three-dimensional maps of the diffuse interstellar band at 862 nm. Science, ISSN 1095-9203, 15. avgust 2014, vol. 345, no. 6198, str. 791-795. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/345/6198/791.full.pdf, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/suppl/2014/08/13/345.6198.791.DC1/Kos.SM.pdf. [COBISS-SI-ID 473217], [JCR, SNIP, Scopus do 1. 10. 2014: št. citatov (TC): 0, čistih citatov (CI): 0, normirano št. čistih citatov (NC): 0]
2. ŽERJAL, Maruška, ZWITTER, Tomaž, MATIJEVIČ, Gal, et al. Chromospherically active stars in the RAdial Velocity Experiment (RAVE) Survey : I. The catalog. The Astrophysical journal, ISSN 0004-637X, 2013, vol. 776, issue 2, article id. 127, str. 1-12. http://iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/776/2/127/pdf/0004-637X_776_2_127.pdf. [COBISS-SI-ID 418945],
3. KOS, Janez, ZWITTER, Tomaž, et al. Diffuse interstellar band at 8620 Å in RAVE : a new method for detecting the diffuse interstellar band in spectra of cool stars. The Astrophysical journal, ISSN 0004-637X, 2013, vol. 778, issue 2, article id. 86, str. 1-11. http://iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/778/2/86/pdf/0004-637X_778_2_86.pdf. [COBISS-SI-ID 421249]
4. ZWITTER, Tomaž, MATIJEVIČ, Gal, et al. Distance determination for RAVE stars using stellar models : II. most likely values assuming a standard stellar evolution scenario. Astronomy & astrophysics, ISSN 0004-6361, 2010, let. 522, št. A54, str. 1-15. [COBISS-SI-ID 363905]
5. ZWITTER, Tomaž, RE FIORENTIN, Paola, MATIJEVIČ, Gal, VIDRIH, Simon, et al. The radial velocity experiment (RAVE): second data release. The Astronomical journal, ISSN 0004-6256, 2008, let. 136, št. 1, str. 421-451. [COBISS-SI-ID 309377]