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MPhys Physics with Astrophysics / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:

Unit code PHYS20491
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Department of Physics & Astronomy
Available as a free choice unit? No




Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Introduction to Astrophysics and Cosmology PHYS10191 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


To understand the observed properties of galaxies in the context of the current hierarchical structure formation theory.

Learning outcomes

‘This course unit detail provides the framework for delivery in 20/21 and may be subject to change due to any additional Covid-19 impact.  Please see Blackboard / course unit related emails for any further updates.’

On completion of the course, students will be able to:

1. Classify galaxies using the Hubble scheme.
2. Discuss critically methods of distance measurement to galaxies.
3. Describe the properties and main components of the Milky Way and compare its properties to external galaxies.
4. Explain how to determine the mass of a galaxy and discuss the implication of this for the existence of dark matter.
5. Describe the winding dilemma and give simple explanations for spiral arms.

6. Describe the properties of galaxy clusters and groups and discuss the interactions between dark matter, gas and galaxies in clusters and groups.

7. Describe the properties of black holes in the centres of galaxies and their influence on the galaxy.

8. Describe the galaxy and dark matter structures that exist in the Universe and compare models for how the structure forms.



1.  Introduction – Our view of galaxies:  - Hubble and de Vaucouleurs classification schemes – the distance ladder and methods of measuring distances to Galaxies - luminosity function of galaxies – surface brightness magnitude – galaxy surveys.

2.  Our Galaxy – The Milky Way: - principal components and their kinematics – stellar mass function - rotation curve – Oort constants - mass budget and evidence for dark matter – satellite streams – Galactic Centre.

3.  Disk galaxies:  - surface brightness distribution – Tully-Fisher relation:  application as a distance measurement – dynamics of disk galaxies – origin of spiral arms- properties of Galactic bars.

4.  Elliptical galaxies: - composition and structure - surface brightness distribution – King models and comparisons with globular clusters – the fundamental plane – black hole mass versus velocity dispersion relation – dynamics of ellipticals galaxies.

5.  Groups, clusters and Galaxy formation:  membership of galaxy groups and clusters – the Local Group – methods for estimating the mass of groups and clusters – morphology versus density relation for galaxies and for clusters of galaxies – classic and modern views of galaxy formation – open questions.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 33%
Written exam 67%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be provided through comments and solutions to weekly online examples.

Recommended reading

Binney, J. & Merrifield, M. Galactic Astronomy (Princeton University Press)
Sparke, L.S. & Gallagher, J.S. Galaxies in the Universe (CUP)
Combes, F. Galaxies and Cosmology (Springer)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 76.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Malcolm Gray Unit coordinator

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