Stars, Galaxies and the Universe - PH607

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Spring 6 15 (7.5) PROF M Smith checkmark-circle


Aims: To provide, in combination with PH507, a balanced and rigorous course in Astrophysics for B.Sc. Physics with Astrophysics students, while forming a basis of the more extensive M.Phys. modules.

Physics of Stars

  • Review of hydrostatic and thermal equilibrium, use to calculate stellar properties. Virial theorem and timescales. Radiative equilibrium, radiation and conduction, energy sources. Fission and fusion. Nucleosynthesis: PPI, PPII, PPIII chains; CNO cycle, Triple-alpha process; elemental abundances; Solar neutrino problem. Post main sequence evolution. Convection; conditions for convective instability. Convective vs radiative energy transport for stars of different mass. Stellar structure equations and description of techniques for solutions. Formation and properties of binary stars.
  • Our galaxy. Hubble classification of galaxies. Luminosity functions. Distribution of galaxies in space. Mass and dynamics of galaxies. Interpretation of spiral and elliptical galaxies. Dark Matter. Active galaxies, quasars; observational properties.
  • General Relativity and Cosmology
    Inadequacy of Newton's Laws of Gravitation, principle of Equivalence, non-Euclidian geometry. Curved surfaces. Schwarzschild solution; Gravitational redshift, the bending of light and gravitational lenses; black holes. Brief survey of the universe. Robertson-Walker metric, field equations for cosmological and critical density. Friedmann models. The early universe. Dark Energy.


    This module appears in the following module collections.

    Contact hours

    26 lectures + 2 workshops. This module is expected to occupy 150 total study hours, including the contact hours above.


    This is not available as a wild module.

    Method of assessment

    Coursework assessment 30%, including class tests; Exam (Length 2 hours) 70%.

    Indicative reading

    Recommended Texts:

  • Carroll & Ostlie, Modern Astrophysics, Addison Wesley
    Background reading:
  • Bohm-Vitense, Volume 3; Stellar Structure and Evolution, Cambridge University Press
  • Taylor, The stars: Their structure and Evolution, Cambridge University Press
  • Berry, Principles of Cosmology and Gravitation, Adam Hilger
  • Roos, Introduction to Cosmology, Wiley

    See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

    Learning outcomes

  • Knowledge and understanding of physical laws and principles of astrophysics, and their application to diverse areas of physics.
  • An ability to identify relevant principles and laws when dealing with problems, and to make approximations necessary to obtain solutions.
  • An ability to solve problems in physics involving stars and galaxies using appropriate mathematical tools.
  • An ability to use mathematical techniques and analysis to model physical behaviour of stars and galaxies and the universe.
  • An ability to present and interpret information about stars and galaxies graphically.
  • An ability to make use of appropriate texts, research-based materials or other learning resources about astrophysics as part of managing their own learning.
  • Problem-solving skills, in the context of both problems with well-defined solutions and open-ended problems. Numeracy is subsumed within this area.
  • Analytical skills – associated with the need to pay attention to detail and to develop an ability to manipulate precise and intricate ideas, to construct logical arguments and to use technical language correctly.


    1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
    2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
    3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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