PHYS2160 Astronomy

Level 2 Physics course
Offered every year, Session 2

Information for Session 2, 2013

Prof. Chris Tinney Weeks 1 to 6 – Website

Prof. John Webb Weeks 7 to 12

Lecture times: Monday, 10AM, OMB 150; Thursday, 11AM, OMB 145A


Galaxies, the distance scale, large scale structure of the universe, galaxy
evolution, the very early universe.

Assumed Knowledge:

The course assumes familiarity with first year physics, e.g. PHYS1002 or PHYS1221 or PHYS1231 or PHYS1241 or PHYS1022.

Course Goals and learning objectives

This course provides a broad introduction to some of the most fascinating concepts in modern science.  In general terms, it is hoped that the course will hone your critical thinking skills, will lead to a better understanding of the nature of science, and allow you to appreciate the plethora of intriguing astrophysical objects the universe has to offer.  You will understand astronomical sizes and scales, and discover the structure of the universe.  You may well also develop an increased interest in following up new discoveries in astronomy, as a life-long learning activity.

Why is astronomy important?

Through a desire to understand astronomical observations of the observed universe came our present knowledge of fundamental subjects such as mechanics and gravity.  Whilst astronomy is probably the oldest science, the revolution it has experienced within the last decade arguably also makes it the youngest.  New technological advances, new large ground-based telescopes and telescopes in space, provide new views of unprecedented precision into the furthest realms of the universe ever reached.  Whilst pure research is not usually strongly motivated by practical spin-offs, these do sometimes occur, an example being the development of CCD detectors.  More importantly, astronomy is fascinating in its own right, and is intimately linked with other fundamental areas in science such as particle physics.  This helps astronomy play an invaluable role in heightening general interest in science, and encouraging education in other important and practical areas of science and mathematics.


Two assignments, each worth 10%
Mid-session test, 20%
Final exam, 60%

There are also tutorial exercises.  These are not formally assessed, but are designed to assist in doing well with the assessed work.

For rules regarding academic honesty, etc, see the School website here.


Printed copies of all lecture notes are available for each student.  The course is not designed around any specific textbook.  However, several books are used:

M. Zeilik & S. Gregory, Introductory Astronomy & Astrophysics, (Saunders)
F. Shu, The Physical Universe – an introduction to astronomy, (University Science Books)

The following are all good introductory texts on astronomy, with excellent illustrations, but the material is covered at a lower level than this course:

  • W. Kaufmann, R. Freedman, Universe, (Freeman)
  • M. Zeilik, The Evolving Universe, (Wiley)
  • M. Seeds, Foundations of Astronomy, (Wadsworth)
  • G. Abell, D. Morrison & S. Wolff, Exploration of the Universe, (Saunders)

Those students having difficulties should consult the lecturer for help. Further information on student support services may be found on the School website here.

Detailed Syllabus

  K Z Week
Types, basic properties, our galaxy, spiral galaxies, active galaxies.
16,17,18 18,19,20 1-4
The Distance Scale
Primary, secondary, tertiary distance indicators; redshifts; Hubble’s constant and its determination; review of galaxy properties; bulk motions amongst galaxies.
17 19 5-6
Galaxies at High Redshift and Evolution
The present-day picture; look back techniques; galaxy number counts, cluster and field galaxy evolution; redshift surveys; gravitational lensing.
17, 19 - 7-10
Cosmology and the Early Universe
Cosmology: Models and observation; Big Bang model; Inflation and GUTs; initial perturbation spectra; galaxy formation; cosmic microwave background; QSOs; dark matter models; cold dark matter scenario.
19 21 10-12
Texts: W. J. Kaufman, Discovering the Universe (K)
M. Zeilik, The Evolving Universe (Z)

Our galaxy

  • Magnitude system in Astronomy
  • Structure of our Galaxy
  • Stellar populations
  • Formation of our Galaxy
  • Interstellar medium
  • Gaseous nebulae
  • Extinction
  • Optical depth
  • Stromgren radius
  • Synchrotron radiation
  • Thermal bremsstrahlung
  • 21cm HI spin-flip transition
  • Galactic dynamics
  • Stellar motions
  • Differential rotation
  • Oort's constants
  • Rotation curve of our Galaxy

Other galaxies

  • Observational evidence for dark matter
  • Dark matter candidates
  • Searches for dark matter
  • Hubble's galaxy classification
  • Different galaxy types
  • Density waves and star formation

Active Galactic Nucleii

  • Seyferts, quasars, BL Lacs, radio galaxies
  • AGN radiation mechansims
  • AGN spectral shape
  • Broad and narrow emission line regions
  • AGN standard model
  • Quasars - discovery
  • Number density
  • Optical spectrum
  • Emission properties
  • Absorption systems
  • Damped Lyman alpha systems
  • Lyman alpha forest
  • Gunn-Peterson effect
  • Proximity effect

Distance Scale

  • Discovery of the expansion
  • Hubble's constant and age of universe
  • Distances to other galaxies/distance scale
  • Standard candles
  • Eight methods for determining distances:
  • Cepheid variables; globular clusters; novae; supernovae; Tully-Fisher relationship;  planetary nebulae; Dn-sigma for elliptical galaxies; surface-brightness fluctuations for elliptical galaxies.

Black Holes

  • Schwarschild radius and event horizon
  • Gravitational redshift of photons
  • The centre of our Galaxy
  • Black hole evaporation - Hawking radiation


  • Evidence for the big bang
  • Interpreting the expansion
  • Olber's paradox
  • Cosmological principle
  • Critical density
  • Cosmic microwave background radiation
  • Light element abundances/big bang nucleosynthesis
  • Inflation
  • Gravitational lensing
  • Hubble deep field

Further Information

For more information about PHYS2160 contact:

last updated 25th March 2013