Introduction to Astrophysics and Cosmology

Unit code: PHYS10191
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 1
Teaching period(s): Semester 1
Offered by School of Physics and Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit?: N




To show how the properties of astronomical objects and the Universe relate to simple physical laws and processes


Introduction to Astrophysics and Cosmology

Learning outcomes

On completion successful students will be able to:

1.       Have an understanding of the role and physics of detectors and telescopes including geometric optics;

2.       Understand how distances are measured;

3.       Know how basic laws of physics determine the properties and evolution of stars;

4.       Know Kepler's Laws and how they relate to extrasolar planet detection;

5.       Understand how the dynamics of galaxies indicate the presence of dark matter;

6.       Be able to demonstrate an understanding of the evolution of our Universe, including the evidence for the Big Bang, dark matter and dark energy.

Assessment methods

  • Other - 15%
  • Written exam - 85%




1.      The Universe and its physics: A tour of the Universe, its scale and contents; Gravity; Pressure; Radiation


2.   Observational astronomy: the electromagnetic spectrum; geometrical optics; resolving power, and the diffraction limit; telescopes and detectors; gravitational waves


3.    Distances: parallax measurements, standard candles


4.      Physics of the Sun and Stars: blackbody radiation, the Planck, Stefan-Boltzmann and Wien laws, effective temperature, interstellar reddening); hydrogen spectral lines and Doppler effect); Hertzprung-Russell diagram; Freefall and Kelvin-Helmholtz time; nuclear fusion; basic stellar structure (hydrostatic equilibrium, equation of state); white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes


5.      Planetary systems:  Kepler's laws; Detection methods of extrasolar planets; search for life elsewhere; SETI.


6.      Galaxies:  Star formation and the interstellar medium; stellar populations; the interstellar medium; galaxy rotation curves, mass and dark matter; Galaxy collisions; central engines


7.      Cosmology: Olber’s paradox, Hubble's Law; the age of the Universe; Evolution of the Universe: Madau diagram; Evidence for the Big Bang (blackbody radiation, nucleosynthesis); dark energy and the accelerating Universe.

Recommended reading

There is currently no course textbook but references for appropriate background reading will be provided throughout the course. The following text provides useful additional reading:

Carroll, B.W. & Ostlie, D.A., An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics (Pearson)

Feedback methods

Feedback will be offered by tutors on students’ written solutions to weekly examples sheets, for which model answers will also be issued.

Study hours

  • Assessment written exam - 1.5 hours
  • Lectures - 22 hours
  • Tutorials - 6 hours
  • Independent study hours - 70.5 hours

Teaching staff

Gary Fuller - Unit coordinator

Albert Zijlstra - Unit coordinator

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