Module code: PHY2071

Module Overview

This module presents a complete introduction to modern astronomy and astrophysics. We start by introducing astronomy as a unique science; measurement in astronomy (position on the sky, velocity and distance); and multi-messenger probes. We then discuss acceleration due to gravity (the dominant force in the Universe) and we show that timescales are typically so long that we must use models to calculate what happened in the past and what will happen in the future. Armed with an understanding of how to make measurements in astronomy and how to model gravity, we then move from the smallest scales to the largest, studying first the interstellar medium from which stars form; stellar structure and evolution; and stellar remnants (white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes). We compare and contrast the latest models for how planets form and we discuss the prospects for detecting life and intelligent life beyond Earth. Finally, we discuss the formation and evolution of galaxies in the Universe and the Universe as a whole. We show that the Universe appears to be mostly dark: dark matter (~22%) and dark energy (~74%). Understanding what these mysterious components are is one of the key challenges for physics in the next decade.

The module includes either a computer or telescope project. Students enrolled in physics with astronomy with undertake the telescope project where (weather willing) students will gain hands on experience of taking real observational data. They will develop software tools to analyse and interpret these data and write up a final report. Students not enrolled in physics with astronomy will undertake a computational project of similar scope and length, also culminating in a final report.

Module provider

Mathematics & Physics

Module Leader

NOEL Noelia (Maths & Phys)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 5

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

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 63

Lecture Hours: 22

Tutorial Hours: 11

Laboratory Hours: 22

Guided Learning: 10

Captured Content: 22

Module Availability

Semester 2

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content

Indicative content includes:

- Astronomy as a unique science -

Astronomy as a “third” discipline distinct from experimental and theoretical physics. How to cope with the Universe as a single data point. Measurement in astronomy: photons, cosmic rays, neutrinos, gravitational waves, and multi-messenger probes. A sense of scale; the celestial sphere;  a brief tour of the cosmos.

- Observables -

Absolute magnitude and luminosity; apparent magnitude and flux. Basic properties of stars and the HR diagram. Resolved versus unresolved light. Gas and dust in the Universe. The parsec, parallax distance and the distance ladder. Measuring velocity and acceleration.

- Gravity -

Timescales in astronomy and the need for theoretical models. Gravity as the dominant force in the cosmos. How to determine the gravitational field and force. Motion under gravity: from the 'one-body' to the 'N-body' problem.

- The interstellar medium (ISM) and star formation -

The composition of the ISM. Mie theory and dust reddening; optical depth and column density. The Virial theorem. The Jeans mass and length. Gravitational collapse, fragmentation and star formation.

- Stellar structure -

Hydrostatic equilibrium; equation of mass conservation; pressure equation of state; relation to the Virial theorem; towards a stellar model.

- Stellar evolution -

Stellar structure revisited; the mass-luminosity relation of stars; the Eddington luminosity limit; energy sources and timescales; the final structure equations; stellar lifetimes; the main sequence; stellar energy sources

- Post main sequence and stellar remnants -

Giant stars; the degenerate equation of state; post main sequence evolution; mass loss (from giant stars to white dwarfs); the critical Chandrasekhar mass; the eventual fate of massive stars.

- Planets -

Protoplanetary discs; planet formation (two competing models); the Solar System; Exoplanets; the hunt for life.

- Galaxies -

A brief history of galaxies; the Local Group of galaxies and Galactic Archaeology; galaxy classification and galaxy populations; galaxy clusters; galaxy rotation curves and other evidences for “dark matter”; galaxy formation models. - The Universe -

The homogeneous isotropic Universe (Hubble, Lemaitre and Friedmann; Olbers' paradox). The dynamics of the expansion; the “Big Bang” and the age of the Universe; cosmological probes (Type Ia supernovae and the cosmic microwave background radiation); “dark energy”; the future of the Universe.

- Telescope/Computer Project -

An extended problem aligned to topics in this module. For physics with astronomy students, the students observe real astronomical data (weather willing), or in the event of poor weather use pre-existing data. They write a program to calibrate and analyse these data to obtain physical insight and to show that they understand the physical system. Results are obtained over 10 weeks, and then a report is written on the results. In the report the student presents their data, any software written to analyse these data, and they discusses the physical significance of the results. Students not enrolled in physics with astronomy can opt to undertake the telescope project subject to availability, or undertake a computational project instead.



Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework Laboratory/Telescope lab 30
Examination End of Semester examination - 2 hours 70

Alternative Assessment


Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of astronomy gained over the course. The exam and computer/telescope project will give students the opportunity to show that they have memorised, understood, and are able to creatively use the knowledge and skills that they have learned.


Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

  • An interim assessment of progress on the computational/telescope project, at around the mid-point of the project

           A write-up of the results achieved, algorithm used, and physics explored and understood, at the end of the computational/telescope project 

  • 2 hour examination at the end of the semester, with 2 questions chosen from 3.

Formative assessment and feedback

For the lecture component:

Problem sets are provided on topics of astronomy each week which allow the students to test their understanding of course material and help to prepare them for the written exam. The solutions are discussed and expanded on in weekly tutorials to allow the students to assess their progress. Verbal feedback is provided at these hour-long tutorial sessions throughout the semester.


For the computational/telescope project component:

Each student is assigned an academic responsible for their project who will provide one-to-one feedback during the weekly sessions.


Module aims

  • Familiarise students with measurement in astronomy, our place in the cosmos, and our current understanding of the formation of our Sun, the Solar System, our Galaxy, and the Universe as a whole.
  • Teach students about the mysterious composition of our Universe that appears to be mostly “dark matter” and “dark energy”.
  • Explore ideas on the fate of the Universe from the death of our Sun, to the collision of our Galaxy with its nearby neighbour Andromeda, and the gradual fading away of the Universe as a whole as its expansion accelerates under the influence of dark energy.
  • Develop, via the telescope/computer project, the students' ability to make observations and collect astronomical data (telescope project only); to write a computer program; to understand and implement numerical algorithms; and to interpret data to obtain physical understanding.

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
1 Understand and be able to describe our place in the cosmos and explain current theories on the formation of the Sun, the Solar System, our Galaxy, and the Universe as a whole KC
2 Explain how measurements are made in astronomy and the limitations inherent in having only one Universe at one moment in time to look at KC
3 Understand the key evidences for “dark matter” and “dark energy” in the Universe and be able to describe how these shape the past and future evolution of the cosmos KC
4 Demonstrate skills in designing and creating computer programs to perform calculations of physics problems KPT
5 Formulate computational solutions of physics problems KPT
6 Collect astronomical data (telescope project only; KPT
7 Communicate scientific results, and write scientific reports PT

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 increase students’ critical understanding of physics and astrophysics, and through this module to provide students with the opportunity to gain an introductory understanding of key concepts in astrophysics.

The learning and teaching methods include:

  • Lectures/tutorials 

  • Computational modelling/telescope laboratory. The telescope laboratory will include nighttime observing trips.


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: PHY2071

Other information

The School of Mathematics and Physics is committed to developing graduates with strengths in Employability, Digital Capabilities, Global and Cultural Capabilities, Sustainability, and Resourcefulness and Resilience. This module is designed to allow students to develop knowledge, skills, and capabilities in the following areas:

Digital Capabilities: Throughout the module students will engage with large and complex astronomical datasets (‘big data’) and will develop their computational skills in analysing this data using
both Python and further computational languages.

Employability: The module introduces learners to experimental equipment and techniques used by professional scientists. Students are given
more responsibility for planning the project work (both observational and theoretical), and learn teamwork as they work together in small groups to attend stargazing evenings. They also learn writing skills as they have to produce two reports (a mid-term 2-page report and a final 4-page report) which include an abstract, introduction, analysis, and conclusions as well as references.

Resourcefulness and Resilience: They need to learn problem-solving when tackling real astrophysical conundrums. Students learn how to read analyse and summarise peer review papers that are part of the module. 

Global and Cultural Capabilities: The students are exposed to a wider curriculum where we acknowledge not only Western views of Astronomy but also aboriginal and Arabic astronomy heritage. Unsung heroes are also taught such as the 'Harvard Computers' work (a group of women who led the current era of automation).  

Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Physics BSc (Hons) 2 Optional 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 Nuclear Astrophysics BSc (Hons) 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Physics with Nuclear Astrophysics MPhys 2 Optional 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 MPhys 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Physics with Quantum Computing MPhys 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Mathematics and Physics BSc (Hons) 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Mathematics and Physics MPhys 2 Optional A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module
Mathematics and Physics MMath 2 Optional 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 2025/6 academic year.