MPhys Physics with Astrophysics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Introduction to Astrophysics and Cosmology

Course unit fact file
Unit code PHYS10191
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Introduction to Astrophysics and Cosmology


To demonstrate how the basic physical laws explain the properties of astronomical objects and the universe and how these preperties are measured. 

Learning outcomes

On completion successful students will be able to:

1. Carry out calculations in using common astrophysical units

2. Describe and explain the physics of detectors and telescopes including geometric optics

3. Explain how astronomical distances are measured

4. Use the basic laws of physics to explain the global properties and basic evolution of stars

5. Derive Kepler’s Laws and apply them with Newton’s laws and theorems to a range of astrophysical objects including extrasolar planets

6. Describe the structure of the Milky Way and other galaxies

7. Describe the fundamental constituents of the Universe: baryons, dark matter and dark energy, and the observational evidence for their presence

8. Describe and explain the evolution of our Universe, including the evidence for the Big Bang.

9. Use the equations which describe the evolution of the Universe to derive properties of the Universe.



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; 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.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 10%
Written exam 90%

* 10% Tutorial Work/attendance 

Feedback methods

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

Recommended reading

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

This book covers considerably more material than covered in this module. This additional material will be valuable for future modules in astrophysics.

Maoz, D, Astrophysics in a Nutshell, 2nd edition (Princeton University Press)

Most of the topics in the course are covered in this book at the appropriate level, but a few topics are not covered.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1.5
Lectures 22
Tutorials 6
Independent study hours
Independent study 70.5

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Gary Fuller Unit coordinator
Albert Zijlstra Unit coordinator

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