Institute of Astronomy

Topics in Astrophysics

Topics in Astrophysics  

Lent Term, 24 Lectures – Professor M. Wyatt, Dr O. Shorttle and IoA/Physics staff 

Most of your Part II Astrophysics courses follow a strictly disciplinary approach: teaching specific physics to tackle specific astrophysical problems.  Yet, much research is inherently interdisciplinary, motivated primarily by outstanding questions about the Universe and then adopting whatever mix of methods, observational and theoretical, are required to address these questions.  In Topics the aim is to develop your familiarity with this more research-oriented, question-first, approach to astrophysics, by exploring interdisciplinary astrophysics via two different, but complementary approaches: applying specific physical concepts to diverse astrophysical phenomena; and, applying diverse physical concepts to a specific research theme, ‘planet formation’. 

First, we will investigate how specific physical concepts can be applied to understand a wide diversity of astrophysical phenomena.  This approach is explored in lectures 1-12, where you will gain expertise in the physics of tides and the description of populations of astrophysical objects as distributions.  The lectures then illustrate how this Newtonian dynamics and tidal theory can be applied to a host of astronomical objects from quasars and super massive black holes, to stellar clusters, asteroids and moons.  This exemplifies how mastery of specific physical concepts can open up a diverse range of astrophysical processes to investigation. 

Second, we focus on a specific research theme, ‘planet formation’, and bring a range of physics to bear on this rich problem in planetary and exoplanetary science. In lectures 13-24 we begin by reviewing key results in planetary and exoplanetary science and primary questions and challenges these pose for the field of planet formation. Then we move through the key processes from protoplanetary disk to planet accretion, seeing how these are all linked in understanding ‘planet formation’.  This half of the course emphasises how by being question-led in research we often need to reach to a host of methods in physics to address that motivating problem. 

To further your understanding of astrophysics as a research discipline, the core lectures from these two halves of the course are interspersed with `Guest Lectures’, in which a number of staff in astronomy departments across Cambridge will provide a perspective on their cutting-edge research. 

  1. Timescales and Distributions [3] 

  1. Tides and Dynamics [6] 

  1. Guest lectures [3] 

  1. Lessons from the solar system [2] 

  1. Exoplanet demographics [2] 

  1. Protoplanetary disks and planetary accretion [6] 

  1. Guest lectures [2] 

The scheduling of lecture topics may deviate slightly (e.g., depending on the availability of the guest lecturers). 

Recommended Reading: 

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. 
  • D Catling & J Kasting, Atmospheric evolution on inhabited and lifeless worlds, CUP, 2017 
  • Frank, J., King, A., Raine, D., Accretion Power in Astrophysics, Cambridge   University Press, 2002. 
  • F. Mellia High Energy Astrophysics, Princeton University Press, 2009. 
  • D Turcotte, Geodynamics, CUP, 2018 
  • D. Ward-Thompson & A. Whitworth, An Introduction to Star Formation, Cambridge   University Press, 2011. 


Page last updated: 16 September 2022 at 14:03