Space Physics and Astronomy module (PH12003)

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Module code


The purpose for the module is serve as an introduction to Astronomy and Astrophysics. You will reinforce the fundamental physics and mathematical knowledge base expected at this stage from your high school Physics and Mathematics courses. This is achieved via application of the appropriate physical laws, together with related mathematical concepts and tools, in order to develop a more intuitive approach to [astro]physics based problem solving. It builds on the students’ knowledge of mechanics from semester 1 and develops understanding of gravitation and orbits and general appreciation of cosmology.
These concepts are developed within the context of modern astronomy and an equal objective is to provide an introductory overview of modern astronomical phenomena and methods, together with their physical underpinnings.

The module covers:

  • Gravitation; orbits; escape velocity. Kepler’s Laws as applied to the solar system, planetary orbits, distances and mass relations. Virial theorem.
  • Solar parameters: Colour, brightness, excitation and effective temperatures. Black body radiation and equilibrium thermodynamics including the Planck curve and Wien’s law.
  • Spectra: Boltzmann and Saha equations at a level to consolidate the Bohr-Rutherford atomic model. Doppler Shift.
  • Stellar classification via: distances, magnitudes, colour, radii, masses, temperatures and luminosities. Hertzsprung-Russell diagram and Harvard spectral class: giants & dwarfs. Proper motion. 
  • Stellar structure (core, radiation and convection zones): nuclear fusion physics and the proton-proton chain. Gravitational equilibrium processes.
  • Stellar evolution and star death. Main sequence characteristics, red giant phase; helium flash; multi-shell burning models as a function of stellar mass. Chandrasekhar limit. Supernovae, pulsars and black holes.
  • Cosmological distance determination: radar, parallax, Cepheid fitting; Type 1a supernova fitting; Tully Fisher method.
  • Galactic content and structure of the Milky Way as a typical spiral galaxy. Open and globular star clusters and determination of cluster age.
  • Galactic structure and formation including role of interstellar medium. Hubble classification.
  • Galactic parameters (nucleus, disk, halo, core, dark matter).
  • Dark matter & dark energy including dark matter rotation curves and Doppler analysis for understanding of red and blue-shift.
  • Introduction to space-time and general relativity as well as cosmological models.

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:

  • Explain concepts related to gravitation, orbits, and escape velocity.
  • Understand general astronomical ideas relating to solar, stellar and galactic phenomena.
  • Use basic physical and mathematical principles to estimate astronomical distances.
  • Classify stars by their physical parameters and relate this to Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams.
  • Relate astronomical spectra to basic atomic processes.
  • Appreciate the Hubble morphological classification of galaxies and also basic galactic properties.
  • Perform a group project involving computational, analytical and/or experimental work.


This module is available on following courses: