ASTR201: Astronomy Fundamentals & Stellar Astrophysics

Course content:

  • Positional astronomy: latitude and longitude; horizontal coordinates; equatorial coordinates (right ascension and declination); sidereal time; conversion between coordinate systems.
  • Gravitation: development of the heliocentric model of the solar system (from Ptolemy to Copernicus); retrograde motion; Kepler’s laws; Newton’s law of universal gravitation; Newton’s physical explanation of Kepler’s laws.
  • The nature of light: light as particles and waves; blackbody radiation; Wien and Stefan-Boltzmann laws; absorption and emission line spectra; Kirchoff’s laws; line series of Hydrogen and explanation by the Bohr model; the Doppler effect.
  • Telescopes: refractors; reflectors; magnification; light gathering power; chromatic and spherical aberration; angular resolution; active and adaptive optics; detectors; spectrographs; atmospheric windows; radio, IR, UV, and X-ray telescopes; space telescopes.
  • The solar system: terrestrial planets; gas giant planets; comets and asteroids; formation of the solar system; extrasolar planets.
    Properties of stars: parallax and distance measurements; flux and luminosity; the magnitude scale; photometric bands and colours; dust extinction and reddening; bolometric fluxes and luminosities; spectral classification; the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram; main-sequence lifetimes; mass-luminosity relation.
  • Stellar structure: the equations of stellar structure (mass conservation, hydrostatic equilibrium, energy production, radiative transport); nuclear reactions in stars; energy transport mechanisms; solar neutrinos.
  • Stellar evolution: the evolution of low and high mass stars; red giants; white dwarfs; planetary nebulae; the horizontal branch; supernovae; neutron stars; stellar clusters; binary stars; star formation and Jeans analysis.

After completing this module students are expected to be able to:

  • Explain basic facts, principles, terminology and nomenclature used in astronomy.
    Calculate the positions of objects on the sky using celestial coordinate systems and the times when they are best observed.
  • Understand Newton’s law of universal gravitation, its relation to Kepler’s laws, and use it to perform simple calculations.
  • Discuss the reasons for the use of telescopes in astronomy, and the effect of the atmosphere on astronomical observations at different wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • Understand the relationships between flux, luminosity, distance, apparent and absolute magnitudes, and extinction, and use them to perform simple calculations.
  • Describe and discuss the differences between terrestrial and gas giant planets, and the physical reasons for these, in terms of theories for the origin of planetary systems.
  • Explain the differences between continuous, emission, and absorption line spectra, in terms of the underlying physical principles.
  • Explain the physical reasons and principles that determine stellar structure and evolution, such as hydrostatic equilibrium, energy generation, radiation pressure and transport.