Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years
Core Physics Modules at Level 2
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Exam 2 Hours   end of semester examination for BSc students  80%
Semester Exam 3 Hours   end of semester examination for MPhys students  80%
Semester Assessment Coursework Deadlines (by week of Semester): Exercise 1 Week 5 Exercise 2 Week 10  Course Work: 2 Exercise Classes  20%

Learning Outcomes

After taking this module students should be able to:

  • describe the basic principles of the theories of relativity and answer relevent problems thereon
  • appreciate the new branches of astronomy that have developed over the past 50 years;
  • explain the basic physical processes that generate signals over the whole spectrum;
  • compare the observations with the theoretical predictions of cosmology;
  • recognise the problematic areas of modern cosmology and appreciate how future tests may resolve or accentuate these problems

Brief description

The development of different branches of astronomy, such as radio, x-ray and y-ray astronomy, has greatly enlarged the radius of the observable Universe and uncovered many strange objects that have provided a major stimulus to the whole of physics. The kinetics of galactic rotation indicates the controlling influence of hidden mass distributed throughout a volume of space much larger than the limits of the Galaxy previously imagined. The presence of hidden mass is also indicated by the kinetics of clusters of galaxies. The accretion of mass under the pull of a strong central gravitational field, possibly centred on a black hole, is thought to provide the energy to fuel quasars and radio galaxies. These objects are so powerful they can be observed at very great distances and hence their study illuminates the nature of the early Universe. Such observations suggest a Universe that started in a "Big Bang" and has expanded to form our present Universe. This suggestion is strongly re-inforced by measurements of the microwave background radiation which originated when the Universe was only 100,000 years old. Penetrating even further back, inflation theory reconciles the isotropy of the background radiation with the limits of observation and explains why the Universe has a geometry that is almost "flat".


Special Theory i.e. Lorentz transformation; relativistic interval; Minkowski diagram; causality; transformation of velocities
Relativistic optics: aberration of light; Doppler effect
Relativistic Dynamics: energy momentum transformations and four vector.
Compton Scattering

General Theory i.e. Inertial and gravitational mass; Principle of Equivalence.
Gravitational redshift; Clicks in a gravitational field. Einstein's theory of gravity; geodesics; non-Euclidean space-time. the Schwarzschild solution; black holes.

Physical processes in high-energy astrophysics:
Interaction of electrons and photons with matter; interaction of electrons and photons (Compton and inverse-Compton effect); Fermi acceleration; Synchroton radiation.

Cosmic-ray astronomy:
Primary and secondary radiation.
Galactic and extra-galactic sources; ultra-high-energy cosmic rays.

X-ray astronomy:
Thermal and non-thermal production processes; accretion processes and X-ray stellar binaries; black holes.

y-ray astronomy:
Production processes in nuclear and particle physics; Galactic and extragalactic sources.

Radio astronomy:
Galactic sources (HII regions; supernovae); extragalactic sources (quasars and radio galaxies); structure of extragalactic radio sources; superluminals; spectra of radiation; synchrotron self-absorption.

Olber's paradox; the Cosmological Principle; Hubble and the expanding universe; Einstein-de Sitter model and the 'Big Bang'; steady-state and continuous creation; tests of cosmological models (number counts, microwave background); over-dense and under-dense universes; problems with expanding universe (isotropy; flatness; galaxy formation) inflation theory.

Transferable skills

Use of library to appreciate how new data can change our model of the Universe


This module is at CQFW Level 6