Course Length:



This is a 4-day course on the rapidly developing science of exoplanets. The course provides an overview of exoplanet detection techniques; interior, atmospheric and surface characterization; models of planetary formation, evolution, and orbit migration; characterization of habitability; current and future observational platforms; and bio-signatures.

This course provides a comprehensive introduction to the observational techniques used to detect and characterize exoplanets, illustrated with examples discovered with the Hubble Space Telescope, the Kepler Space Telescope, and from the various ground-based observatories around the world. Characterization of exoplanet atmospheric structure, based upon models of coupled chemical-dynamical- radiative processes and constrained by exoplanet observations, will be introduced and discussed. Planetary formation models, along with orbital migration, will be covered with the goal of understanding the inferred ranges of exoplanet compositions and orbital parameter distributions.

Finally, exoplanet habitability will be explored using terrestrial life, especially extremophiles, as a biological baseline in the search for chemical signatures of disequilibrium processes that could indicate biology. Anticipated advances in exoplanet science expected from the upcoming deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope and the TESS sky survey telescope will be addressed.

A broad survey of exoplanets is provided, as well as a rigorous description of the physics and chemistry of their interiors and atmospheres, at a level suitable for those beginning research in this arena.

What you will learn:

  • Exoplanet detection with the radial velocity and transit techniques.
  • Characterization of exoplanet atmospheric temperature structure from transits.
  • Using primary and secondary transits in determination of atmospheric composition and brightness temperatures.
  • Using transit observations to constrain exoplanet meteorology and climate.
  • Factors controlling exoplanet evolution and habitability.
  • The use of disequilibrium chemistry to infer biology.
  • Current and future observational platforms important in exoplanet observations.

Course Outline:

  1. Exoplanet Detection and Observation. Use of radial velocity and transit techniques for determining exoplanet mass, size, and orbital parameters. The Kepler Space Telescope.
  2. Transit Spectroscopy. Absorption, emission, and scattering in exoplanet atmospheres. Effects of clouds. Primary and secondary eclipses. Brightness temperatures.
  3. Thermodynamics of Exoplanet Atmospheres. Factors governing atmosphere temperature structure. Radiation and convection in atmospheres. Exoplanet tropospheres, stratospheres and thermospheres.
  4. Atmospheric Composition. Thermal chemistry and photochemistry. Surface-ocean-atmosphere interactions. Role of geophysics on atmospheric compositions.
  5. Exoplanet Bulk Compositions. Mass – radius relationships and interior compositions. Water worlds, metallic planets, exotic gas giants, and other bizarre worlds. Exotic phases of water and other ices.
  6. Exoplanet Formation and Evolution: Planetary system formation. The iceline, terrestrial and gas giant planet formation, instabilities, and planetary migration. Planetary collisions and near-collisions.
  7. Exoplanet Habitability. External and internal factors controlling habitability. Atmospheric stability and escape, interaction with central stellar star’s wind. Terrestrial extremophiles. Subsurface ecologies. Quantifying habitability.
  8. Biosignatures. Disequilibrium chemistry in planetary atmospheres, and implications for bio-signatures. Case studies: Methane on Mars, HCN on 55 Cancri e. Future ground-based and space observatories and expected capabilities. Exoplanet imaging.


REGISTRATION:  There is no obligation or payment required to enter the Registration for an actively scheduled course.   We understand that you may need approvals but please register as early as possible or contact us so we know of your interest in this course offering.

SCHEDULING:  If this course is not on the current schedule of open enrollment courses and you are interested in attending this or another course as an open enrollment, please contact us at (410)956-8805 or ati@aticourses.com. Please indicate the course name, number of students who wish to participate. and a preferred time frame. ATI typically schedules open enrollment courses with a 3-5 month lead-time.   To express your interest in an open enrollment course not on our current schedule, please email us at ati@aticourses.com.

For on-site pricing, you can use the request an on-site quote form, call us at (410)956-8805, or email us at ati@aticourses.com.


  • Michael E. Summers is Professor of Planetary Science and Astronomy at George Mason University. He has over 30 years experience in planetary research, and has served as co-investigator on the NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, as well as in a range of planning and science support roles on other Space Shuttle, satellite, and planetary missions. He won the 2013 George Mason University Teaching Excellence Award. He is the co-author, with Jim Trefil, of the recent book “Exoplanets” published by The Smithsonian Press.

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