METEO 466 -- Planetary Atmospheres

Instructor: James Kasting, 10 Deike TR 9:05-10:20

Meteo 466 -- Planetary Atmospheres 

Instructor: James Kasting                            
10 Deike TR 9:05-10:20
Office: 435A Deike
Office hours: T 10:30-11:30, W 2-3
Ph: 865-3207

Lecture schedule:

  • T Jan 10 Course overview: survey of planets and their atmospheres (Habitable Planet (HP) Ch. 1) 

    Formation of the Solar System and the Earth
  • R 12 Formation of the Earth, Moon, and the terrestrial planets (HP Ch. 2; AE Ch. 6)
  • T 17 Planetary migration/the Nice and Grand Tack models
  • R 19 Origin of the atmosphere/excess volatiles/noble gases

Evolution of Earth’s atmosphere and climate

  • T 24 Blackbody radiation/planetary energy balance (ES Ch. 3)
  • R 26 Long-term climate stability/carbonate-silicate cycle/faint young Sun paradox (HP Ch. 3)
  • T 31 The rise of atmospheric O2 (HP Ch. 4; Holland, Phil Trans B, 2006)
  • R Feb 2 The methane greenhouse
  • T 7 Climate stability revisited: Snowball Earth (HP Ch. 5) 

Hydrogen escape

  • R 9 Maxwellian velocity distributions/Jeans escape of hydrogen (AE Ch. 5)
  • T 14 Nonthermal escape mechanisms/diffusion-limited flux
  • R 16 Hydrodynamic escape of hydrogen


  • T 21 Venus’ current atmosphere and surface (HP Ch. 6)
  • R 23 The runaway greenhouse
  • T 28 Future evolution of the Earth (HP Ch. 7)
  • R Mar 2 Midterm exam

Spring break (Mar. 5-11)    


  • T 14 Mars’ current atmosphere and surface (HP Ch. 8)
  • R 16 SNC meteorites/loss of heavy gases
  • T 21 Long-term climate evolution on Mars

Giant planets and their moons

  • R 23 The giant planets and their atmospheres (AE Ch. 14)
  • T 28 The moons of Jupiter and Saturn
  • R 30 Titan’s atmosphere and haze layer

Is the Earth rare?

  • T Apr 4 Stellar evolution and classification (HP Ch. 10)
  • R 6 Habitable zones around stars
  • T 11 Other factors affecting planetary habitability: size, magnetic fields, ozone, plate tectonics, impacts (HP Ch. 9)
  • R 13 Milankovitch climate cycles on Earth and Mars/chaotic obliquity variations

Student posters

  • T 18 Student poster session I
  • R 20 Student poster session II

Finding and identifying Earth-like planets

  • T 25 Direct imaging of extrasolar planets (HP Ch. 13)
  • R 27 Simulated planetary spectra and their interpretation (HP Ch. 14)                      

Final exams (May 1-5) 

Grading: %       

  • Midterm 25%
  • Homework 30%
  • Poster presentation 15%
  • Final exam 30% 


  • HP How to Find a Habitable Planet, James Kasting (Princeton Univ. Press, 2010)            (need to purchase this one)
  • AE Atmospheric Evolution on Inhabited and Lifeless Worlds, David Catling and James Kasting (Cambridge Univ. Press, in press) (three on-line chapters)
  • ES The Earth System, Ed. 3, L. R. Kump, J. F. Kasting, and R.C. Crane (Pearson, 2010) (one on-line chapter) 

Assistance with Textbooks

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, contact the Office of Student and Family Services (120 Boucke Building, 863-4926, For additional need related to socioeconomic status please visit

Academic Integrity 

Students in this class are expected to write up their problem sets individually, to work the exams on their own, and to write their papers in their own words using proper citations.  Class members may work on the problem sets in groups, but then each student must write up the answers separately.  Students are not to copy problem or exam answers from another person's paper and present them as their own; students may not plagiarize text from papers or websites written by others.  Students who present other people's work as their own will receive at least a 0 on the assignment and may well receive an F or XF in the course.  Please see: Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Policy:, which this course adopts. To learn more, see Penn State's "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students." 

Course Copyright 

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: ( For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website ( 

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation based on the documentation guidelines ( If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations. 


This course abides by the Penn State Attendance Policy E-11:, and Conflict Exam Policy 44-35: Please also see Illness Verification Policy:, and Religious Observance Policy: Students who miss class for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work, including exams and quizzes.  Students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel in the case of illness or injury and should use their best judgment on whether they are well enough to attend class or not; the University Health Center will not provide medical verification for minor illnesses or injuries. Other legitimate reasons for missing class include religious observance, military service, family emergencies, regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities, and post-graduate, career-related interviews when there is no opportunity for students to re-schedule these opportunities (such as employment and graduate school final interviews).  Students who encounter serious family, health, or personal situations that result in extended absences should contact the Office of the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs (AVPSA) and Student and Family Services for help:  Whenever possible, students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form available from the Registrar's Office:, at least one week prior to the activity. 

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