Physics of the Space Environment


  • Vytenis M. Vasyliünas


This book, one in the Cambridge Atmospheric and Space Science Series, joins a growing list of advanced-level textbooks in a field of study and research known under a variety of names: space plasma physics, solar-terrestrial or solar-planetary relations, space weather, or (the official name of the relevant AGU section) space physics and aeronomy. On the basis of graduate courses taught by the author in various departments at the University of Michigan, complete with problems and with appendices of physical constants and mathematical identities, this is indeed a textbook, systematic and severe in its approach.

The book is divided into three parts, in length ratios of roughly 6:4:5. Part I, “Theoretical Description of Gases and Plasmas,” starts by writing down Maxwell's equations and the Lorentz transformation (no nonsense about any introductory material of a descriptive or historical nature) and proceeds through particle orbit theory, kinetics, and plasma physics with fluid and MHD approximations to waves, shocks, and energetic particle transport. Part II, “The Upper Atmosphere,” features chapters on the terrestrial upper atmosphere, airglow and aurora, and the ionosphere. Part III, “Sun-Earth Connection,” deals with the Sun, the solar wind, cosmic rays, and the terrestrial magnetosphere. The book thus covers, with two exceptions, just about all the topics of interest to Space Physics and Aeronomy scientists, and then some (the chapter on the Sun, for instance, briefly discusses also topics of the solar interior: thermonuclear energy generation, equilibrium structure, energy transfer, with a page or two on each). One exception reflects a strong geocentric bias: there is not one word in the main text on magnetospheres and ionospheres of other planets and their interaction with the solar wind (they are mentioned in a few problems). The other exception: the chapter on the terrestrial magnetosphere lacks a systematic exposition of the theory of magnetosphereionosphere coupling.