EEPS 1810: Physics of Planetary Evolution

Instructor:                    Alex Evans

Online Office Hours by Appointment


**Put ‘EEPS 1810’ in subject of any email sent to Prof. Evans regarding class**

Teaching Assistant:    Evan Bjonnes

Online Office Hours TBA


Course Website:

Time and Location:       T/Th 10:30am-11:50am via Canvas/Zoom

Syllabus PDF –>

For non-DEEPS graduate students: If your department requires additional coursework for this class to be considered a graduate course, see the additional requirement here ->

Course Description:
The course will explore and expose students to the fundamental physics necessary to understand how planetary bodies evolve. The evolution of planetary bodies will be discussed on the basis of geological and geophysical evidence derived from exploration of the Solar System. This course will study the physical processes responsible for and that occur as a consequence of differentiation and deformation of planetary bodies. Includes the study of physical processes responsible for volcanism and deformation on the surface as well as the state and structure of the interior of planets. As a result of COVID-19, this course will not have exams or projects. Students are not required to attend the lectures. Students will be expected to complete the reading material and this will be assessed through checkpoint assessments. Lectures will be recorded and provided via Canvas. Lectures will serve as an expansion of the reading material through example problems and supplementary information. Most of the homework problem sets will directly follow from assigned readings.  The course will conclude by Thanksgiving Recess.


The following courses are recommended prerequisites (and/or permission of the Professor):

  • MATH 0090, 0100;
  • PHYS 0030, 0040 or 0050, 0060 or 0070; and,
  • GEOL 0250, 0220,1610, or 1950H

Learning Goals

The intended purposes and desired achievements of this course are listed below.

  • Develop basic understanding of the structure and formation of the Universe, Solar System, and planetary bodies
  • Develop understanding of key physical processes that operate across known planetary bodies
  • Ability to simplify and approximate key physical process that operate across known planetary bodies
  • Develop understanding of key data that are used to understand the physical processes related to the evolution of planetary bodies
  • Ability to use planetary data to elucidate physics of planetary evolution
  • Ability to competently manipulate and analyze planetary data on multiple planetary bodies to elucidate physics of planetary evolution
  • Ability to discern strengths and weaknesses of geophysical techniques

Tentative Schedule

Note: Dates, topics, and assignment dates are subject to change. All changes will be announced during class time. Students are responsible for keeping up-to-date on changes to syllabus and coordinating with classmates to obtain any lecture material missed during absences.

Date Topic Pre-Class Reading Due
Unit I: Physics of Building A Stellar System
Thu, 10-Sep Course Overview; Solar System Syllabus
Tue, 15-Sep Solar System & Planet Formation PG Chapter 4 & 5
Thu, 17-Sep Structure, Differentiation, Magma Oceans PG Chapter 6
Tue, 22-Sep Structure, Differentiation, Magma Oceans No Reading
Unit II: Physics of Isostasy
Thu, 24-Sep Loading and Flexure  I PG 8.1–8.3, GD 3.1–3.9
Tue, 29-Sep Loading and Flexure II GD 3.10–3.18 PS1
Thu, 01-Oct Gravity I PG 8.4, GD 5.4–5.9
Tue, 06-Oct Gravity II GD 5.10–5.14
Thu, 08-Oct Loading and Flexure III with Gravity No Reading
Unit III: Physics of Planetary Thermal Evolution
Tue, 13-Oct Planetary Heating & Cooling I PG 8.5 PS2
Thu, 15-Oct Planetary Heating & Cooling II GD 4.1–4.9
Tue, 20-Oct Planetary Heating & Cooling III GD 4.11–4.18, 4.26–4.28
Thu, 22-Oct Loading and Flexure IV with Relaxation PG 8.6–8.7
Unit IV: Physics of Planetary Structural Failure
Tue, 27-Oct Faulting & Tectonics PG Chapter 9 PS3
Thu, 29-Oct Planetary Expansion and Contraction No Reading
Unit V: Physics of Planetary Volcanism
Tue, 03-Nov No Class – Election Day No Reading
Thu, 05-Nov Planetary Melting & Volcanism I PG Chapter 10 PS4
Tue, 10-Nov Planetary Melting & Volcanism II No Reading
Unit VI: Physics of Impact Cratering
Thu, 12-Nov Impact Cratering PG Chapter 11
Unit VII: Physics of Planetary Cores
Tue, 17-Nov Core Dynamos & Magnetism I TBA PS5
Thu, 19-Nov Core Dynamos & Magnetism II TBA
Unit VIII: Physics of Planetary Rotation
Tue, 24-Nov Planetary Figure & Rotational Dynamics TBA
Thu, 26-Nov No Class – Thanksgiving Break No Reading
Tue, 01-Dec No Class – Reading Period No Reading PS6
Thu, 03-Dec No Class – Reading Period No Reading

Course-Related Work Expectations

Over 12 weeks, students will spend an average of 15 hours per week on the class (180 hours total). Two lectures and weekly checkpoints will account for 3 hours per week (36 hours), required reading and preparation for class is expected to take up approximately 4 hours per week (48 hours), and the six homework assignments are expected to take 16 hours each (96 hours), Workload was estimated using online tool at

Course Grading Scheme

  1. PROBLEM SETS (70%):There will be six problem sets throughout the semester. Each problem set will cover a different subset of the topics discussed throughout the course. Assignments are due at the beginning of class. Late assignments will be reduced in grade by 20% for each day overdue, beginning 5 minutes after class commencement on the due date. No late assignments will be accepted after 3 days past the due date. Students may work and collaborate on their assignments. However, all students must hand in their own work – distinct from and independent of classmates’ work. If you do work collaboratively, you must provide the list of names of the people that you worked with on your assignment.
  2. COURSE CHECKPOINTS (30%): Weekly checkpoints will be issued throughout the course on assigned reading materials. These will consist of simple straightforward, multiple choice questions that directly follow from the assigned reading.

Textbook and Pre-Class Reading Assignments

Throughout the course, select readings from the following publications will be required. Excerpts from the required readings will be provided through the course website.


  • McSween Jr, H et al., Planetary Geoscience, Cambridge University Press, 2019. Available online through Brown University Library. Noted as PG on Syllabus.
  • Turcotte, D.L., and G. Schubert, Geodynamics (3rd edition), Cambridge University Press, 2014. Available online through Brown University Library. Noted as GD on Syllabus.


  • Lowrie, W., Fundamentals of Geophysics (2nd edition), Cambridge University Press, Available online through Brown University Library.
  • Fowler, M., The Solid Earth: An Introduction to Global Geophysics (2nd edition), Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Stacey, F. D., and P. M. Davis, Physics of the Earth (4th edition), Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Diversity and Inclusion

The instructed is committed to creating and sustaining a learning environment for all students that supports a diversity of thoughts, perspectives, experiences, and identities. Please feel free to communicate to the instructor suggestions on ways to improve the effectiveness of the course for you personally, or for other students or student groups. Your suggestions are encouraged and appreciated.


The instructor is committed to full inclusion of all students. Please inform the instructor early in the term if you have a disability or other conditions that might require accommodations or modification of any of these course procedures. You may speak with the instructor after class or during office hours. For more information, please contact Student and Employee Accessibility Services at 401-863-9588 or Students in need of short-term academic advice or support can contact one of the deans in the Dean of the College office.