Institute of Astronomy

Physics of Astrophysics

Lent Term, 24 Lectures – Prof. C J Clarke and IoA staff

How do astronomers make deductions about the important physical processes operating in the Universe when they are forced to play the role of passive observer rather than active experimentalist? Despite all the complicated analytical machinery that has been developed to process astronomical data and to perform complex theoretical simulations, there is still a vital role in astrophysics for the order of magnitude estimate in order to sort out the relative importance of different physical effects.  This is a skill that is rarely taught and one that is not always easily acquired, even though its mastery generally involves little more than the physics that is taught in the first two years of an undergraduate education.

This course aims to teach a set of skills by looking at a large range of astrophysical phenomena on scales from exoplanets to quasars. The issues to be discussed span well established astronomical truths (and how we know them) as well as a range of topics that are still at the forefront of debate.  The lectures will provide an immersion in topics in contemporary astrophysics but the examinable content of the course - and the supervision problem sets - do not involve significant factual recall of the lecture content; instead these exercises are designed to develop clear thinking and the ability to make intelligent deductions from information presented.

The scheduling of lecture topics may occasionally deviate slightly from what is set out below except in the case of the Guest Lectures

Lectures 1-3 Intro., Timescales and Distributions

Lectures 4-5  Tides and dynamics (planets and binaries)

Lecture 6: Guest Lecture: C. Tout, Type IA Supernovae

Lectures 7-9 Tides and dynamics (star clusters and galactic encounters)

Lectures 10-12: The physics of matter and radiation

Lecture 13: Radiative properties of accretion discs

Lecture 14: Guest Lecture: V. Belokurov, Tidal stripping in action: the field   of streams

Lecture 15: Guest Lecture: A. Fabian, The radiation physics of AGN

Lecture 16 Physics of feedback

Lecture 17: Guest Lecture: M. Wyatt, The formation of the Moon

Lectures 18-19: The physics of feedback

Lecture 20:  Guest Lecture: D. Sijacki,  Feedback, AGN and galaxy formation. 

Lecture 21: Unsolved problems in star and planet formation

Lecture 22 Guest Lecture: N. Madhusudhan, The physics of planetary  atmospheres

Lecture 23-24: Guest Lecture: D. Queloz, The discovery of extrasolar planets

Recommended books:

There are no textbooks to support the course.  However for students who are interested in learning more about some of the topics covered, the following books (in addition to those supporting other Part II Astro. courses) are recommended:

P. Armitage,  The Astrophysics of Planet Formation, Cambridge University Press,  2010.

Frank, J., King, A., Raine, D., Accretion Power in Astrophysics, Cambridge   University Press, 2002.

F. Mellia High Energy Astrophysics, Princeton University Press, 2009.

D. Ward-Thompson & A. Whitworth,  An Introduction to Star Formation, Cambridge   University Press, 2011.

PoA examples sheet 150.59 KB
Handout1 - slides16.11 MB
PoA.1.2017.pdf48.35 KB
Page last updated: 18 January 2017 at 17:01