Module code: PHY1037

Module Overview

This module introduces many of the fundamental concepts in astronomy, cosmology and relativity theory. It begins with classical (Newtonian) celestial mechanics, properties of stars and galaxies and some of the tools required in observation in Astronomy.

Then it moves on to outline the concepts which underpin Einstein’s Special and General theories of relativity discussing events and physical phenomena from different frames of reference and in different co-ordinate systems, and the way in which mathematics relates these descriptions. Concepts of inertial frames of reference, Lorentz transformations, invariants, and elementary relativity principles and covariance, will be introduced, as well as a discussion of the ideas underpinning the general theory of relativity: principle of equivalence and curvature of space-time.

Big Bang cosmology will be introduced and cover current views of the origins of the universe and its constituent parts (cosmic microwave background, inflation, black holes, dark matter and dark energy). A study of the history of astronomy and the various philosophical and scientific cosmological models throughout history will take place in a series of lectures, entitled The History of Ideas, throughout the semester as part of this module.


Module provider

Mathematics & Physics

Module Leader

AL-KHALILI Jim (Maths & Phys)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 4

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 90

Lecture Hours: 33

Tutorial Hours: 11

Guided Learning: 16

Module Availability

Semester 2

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content

Indicative content includes:

  • Celestial Mechanics:  Newtonian mechanics; binary stars, stellar masses

  • Electromagnetic spectrum:  blackbody radiation; Wien’s law; spectral lines,

  • Stars and galaxies:  measurements of distance; temperature and luminosity’ Hertzsprung-Russell diagram; star formation and evolution,

  • Special Relativity: Introductory discussion of events, reference frames, transformations between reference frames and invariant quantities on transformation; Principles of Relativity; constancy of speed of light, the Michelson-Morley experiment, the relativity of simultaneity, time dilation and length contraction; the Lorentz transformation equations; space-time diagrams and light cones, invariance of the space-time interval; relativistic mass and momentum, deriving E=mc2; the relativistic Doppler effect, the twin paradox.

  • General relativity: the principle of equivalence; curvature of space-time, experimental tests of GR: Mercury’s perihelion, the gravitational red-shift, the bending of light due to gravity. 

  • Big Bang Cosmology: Hubble’s Law; age and size of the Universe.; cosmic microwave background; inflationary models; primeval nucleosynthesis.

  • Current ideas in cosmology: Black holes, singularities and the event horizon; gravity waves, gravitational lensing; dark matter, dark energy; fate of the universe.

  • History of ideas in cosmology:  Ptolemaic geocentric model; pre-Copernican astronomy; Copernicus, Galileo and the birth of modern astronomy.


Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Online Scheduled Summative Class Test ONLINE (OPEN BOOK) BI-WEEKLY TESTS WITHIN 4HR WINDOW 10
Coursework ESSAY 20

Alternative Assessment


Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate

  • recall of subject knowledge

  • ability to apply individual components of subject knowledge to basic situations

  • ability to synthesise and apply combined areas of knowledge to physics problems

  • express scientific ideas in written form


Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

  • a final examination of 2h duration, with a section of short questions in which 4/4 are to be answered, and a section of longer questions of which 2/3 questions are to be answered

  • an essay on the history of ideas

  • a set of online, weekly tutorial-type questions


Formative assessment and feedback

Verbal feedback will be given in tutorial classes (both whole-class and small group).  The essay assignment will be marked and returned to give feedback before the final assessment. Solutions to online tutorial questions will be provided.


Module aims

  • give an overview of our present understanding of the nature of the Universe, its origins and the theories and methods we have used to address some of its deepest mysteries
  • discuss how physicists make measurement in space and time in the context of frames of reference, how they are established and chosen, and how measurement made by different observers in different frames can be related to each other.
  • provide a familiarity with the Lorentz Transformation equations and their applications in Special relativity
  • introduce the concepts that lead to Einstein's General theory of Relativity.
  • provide an outline of the changing views of the Universe since the dawn of science, and to introduce some of the leading figures in the history of astronomy and cosmology

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Understand the dynamics of astronomical and satellite systems.  KC
002 Appreciate how coordinates, lengths and intervals are transformed in special relativity and how this differs from the Newtonian/Galilean view.  KC
003 Appreciate why and how Einstein was led to the conclusion that nothing can travel faster than light and how the constancy of the speed of light led to a revolution in our concepts of space and time KC
004 Be able to transform velocities from one inertial frame to another and calculate relativistic masses, energies and momenta. KC
005 Have a basic feel for how gravity affects space and time in Einstein's general theory of relativity, but without any rigorous mathematics. KC
006 Be able to apply this knowledge to an understanding of cosmological models and models of the solar system. KC

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to:

  • equip students with subject knowledge

  • develop skills in applying subject knowledge to physical situations

  • enable students to tackle unseen problems in astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology

  • develop communication skills


The learning and teaching methods include:

  • 44h of lecture and large group tutorial classes as 4h/week x 11 weeks

  • small group tutorials

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: PHY1037

Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Physics with Nuclear Astrophysics MPhys 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Physics with Astronomy MPhys 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Physics with Quantum Technologies MPhys 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Physics MPhys 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Physics BSc (Hons) 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Physics with Astronomy BSc (Hons) 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Physics with Quantum Technologies BSc (Hons) 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Physics with Nuclear Astrophysics BSc (Hons) 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2023/4 academic year.