BSc Physics / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Astrophysical Processes

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHYS20692
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? No


Astrophysical Processes


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Dynamics PHYS10101 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Introduction to Astrophysics and Cosmology PHYS10191 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Properties of Matter PHYS10352 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Electromagnetism PHYS20141 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


To provide an introduction to a wide range of fundamental astrophysical processes and their role in modern astrophysics. These processes range from those which control the structure of the interstellar medium to those associated with supermassive black holes in the centre of galaxies. The observational signatures of these processes are identified, which cover the entire electromagnetic spectrum from radio to gamma-ray and include non-photonic tracers such as cosmic rays.  

Learning outcomes

On completion successful students will be able to:

1. Explain fundamental physical processes such as

  • shock waves
  • accretion
  • radiative transfer
  • the physical mechanisms controlling the ionisation and temperature of atoms, molecules and dust and the processes responsible for the formation of complex species in space

2. Apply fundamental physical processes in contexts relevant in astrophysics

3. Describe the sky as seen across the electromagnetic spectrum and the involved radiation mechanisms

4. Relate observations of a wide range of astrophysical sources to their physical conditions 


a)  Introduction: observations and astrophysical processes
b)  Absorption and emission: radiative transfer and blackbody radiation
c)  Grains and molecules in space
d)  Shocks waves, supernovae and supernova remnants
e)  Spectral lines: their formation and diagnostics
f)   The composition and dynamics of the ISM, heating/cooling mechanisms and ionisation
g)  Non-thermal emission processes
h)  Compact objects and accretion on neutron stars and black holes
i)   Supermassive black holes, and Active Galactiv Nuclei

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 100%

Feedback methods

Feedback will be available on students’ individual written solutions to examples sheets, which will be marked, and model answers will be issued.

Recommended reading

Recommended texts
Dyson, J.E. & Williams, D.A. The Physics of the Interstellar Medium (2nd ed.) (IOP Publishing)
Rosswog, S. & Bruggen, M. Introduction to High-Energy Astrophysics (CUP)

Supplementary reading
Draine, B.T., Physics of the Interstellar and Intergalactic Medium, (Princeton)
Longair, M. S. High Energy Astrophysics, 3rd edition, (CUP)
Rybicki, G.B. & Lightman, A.P. Radiative Processes in Astrophysics

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 24
Independent study hours
Independent study 74.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Rebecca Bowler Unit coordinator

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