Physics and astronomy

Astrophysical Processes

Module code: 902F3
Level 7 (Masters)
15 credits in spring teaching
Teaching method: Lecture, Workshop
Assessment modes: Unseen examination, Coursework

This module covers:

  • Basic properties of interstellar medium and intergalactic medium
  • Radiative transfer
  • Emission and absorption lines, line shapes
  • Hyperfine transitions, 21-cm line of hydrogen
  • Gunn-Peterson effect, Lyman-alpha forest, Damped Lyman Alpha systems
  • Radiative heating and cooling processes
  • Compton heating/cooling, Sunyaev-Zeldovich effect
  • Emission by accelerating changes, retarded potentials, thermal bremstrahlung
  • Applications of Special Relativity in Astrophysics, relativistic beaming
  • Plasma effects, Faraday rotation, Synchrotron emission
  • HII regions, re-ionization

Module outline

Specific aims are to provide you with:

  1. An overview of instrumentation and detectors
  2. An overview of some of the topical cutting edge questions in the field.

An appreciation of how scientific requirements translate to instrument/detector requirements and design.

  1. A crash course in Astronomy & Astrophysics (6 hours and directed reading)
    1. Fluxes, luminosities, magnitudes, etc.
    2. Radiation processes, black bodies, spectra
    3. Stars
    4. Galaxies
    5. Planets
    6. Cosmology
    7. Key questions
    8. Key requirements
  2. Telescopes & Instruments (3 hours student-led seminars from reading)
    1. Optical telescopes
    2. Interferometry
    3. Cameras
    4. Spectroscopy
    5. Astronomy beyond the e/m spectrum
  3. Detectors by wavelength (6 hours taught and 3 hours seminars)
    1. Gamma
    2. X-ray
    3. UV
    4. Optical
    5. NIR
    6. Mid-IR
    7. FIR
    8. Sub-mm
    9. Radio
  4. Detector selection for a future space mission X (4 x 3 hours)
    1. Scientific motivation and requirements
    2. Detector options
    3. External Constraints, financial, risk, etc.
    4. Detector selection

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the courses, you should be able to:

  • Display a basic understanding of detectors in astronomy
  • Display communication skills
  • Distil technological requirements from scientific drivers
  • Make an informed choice of detector for given application with justification.


Level 4: (F3241) Foundation of Modern Physics [T1]
Level 5: (F3204) Electrodynamics [T1]
Level 6: (F3211) Atomic Physics [T1]

Module learning outcomes

  • Understand qualitatively the key physical phenomena occurring in the interstellar and intergalactic media and achieve basic familiarity with the relevant physical processes.
  • Receive some initial exposure to the scientific research methods and current scientific literature, be able to critically read and summarize papers.
  • Be able solve simple physical problems in the areas covered by the course.