Course syllabus


RRY125 / ASM510 Modern astrophysics lp2 HT19 (7.5 hp)

The course is offered by the Department of Space, Earth and Environment.

Contact details

Examiner and lecturers:

  • Magnus Thomasson,, 031  – 772 5534 or 031  – 772 8587 (examiner)
  • Susanne Aalto,, 031 – 772 5506 or 031 – 772 6693

Teaching assistant:

  • Mamiko Sato,, 031  – 772 5540

The teachers have offices both at Onsala Space Observatory and at Campus Johanneberg (Space, Earth and Environment, 3rd and 4th floor in the EDIT building, Magnus room 4320, Susanne room 3414, Mamiko room 4417).

Study administrator at the department:

  • Paulina Sjögren,, 031 – 772 1579

Student representatives:

  • Markus Bredberg
  • Johanna Brinkmalm
  • Simon Sundelin
  • Silas Ulander
  • Stan Zaalberg

Course purpose

The aim of the course is to introduce the students to the most important concepts of astrophysics and to give an overview of the modern view of the Universe. In particular, the course will focus on how basic properties of cosmic objects are measured, how physics is used in models of cosmic objects, and how astrophysical models are tested with observations. The course will provide a basis for continued studies in astronomy and astrophysics, but will also show students who choose to specialize in other branches of science how physics is used to understand the complex systems that make up our universe.

Content: The emphasis is on physical understanding and on principles for how important properties of cosmic objects are measured. Several branches of physics are utilized (mechanics, quantum physics, statistical physics, nuclear physics, electromagnetism). Order of magnitude estimates will be used frequently.
- The Solar system (overview, geology and atmospheres, formation),
- Exoplanets: discovery and properties
- Stars (observational results, stellar structure and evolution, binary stars, compact stars)
- The Milky Way (basic structure, interstellar medium, star clusters, kinematics and structural components)
- Galaxies and galaxy clusters (galaxy classification and observational results, basic galactic kinematics and dynamics, active galactic nuclei, galaxy interactions and galaxy evolution),
- Cosmology (expansion of the universe, abundances of elements, the cosmic microwave background, the big bang, cosmological models)


Schedule with lectures and exercises (incl. chapters in the textbook), visit to Onsala Space Observatory, deadline for report submission, etc.: Schedule.pdf.

The official schedule with time and place for lectures and exercises: TimeEdit.

Course literature

“Astrophysics for Physicists”, Arnab Rai Choudhuri, Cambridge University Press (2010). Can be bought at Cremona. Also available on-line as an e-book at Chalmers Library

Course design

The learning activities in the course concists of lectures and exercises. In addition, we will visit Onsala Space Observatory (not compulsory), and there is a compulsory observational project (observing hydrogen in the Milky Way) and related written report.

The lectures essentially follow the structure of the textbook, with emphasis on the most important concepts. All chapters, except 7, 8, 12 and 13, are included in the course. In additions, there are a few lectures about topics not covered by the book: exoplanets and the solar system.

During the exercise classes, the teaching assistant will demonstrate solutions to selected problems in the textbook and in an additional compendium of problems.

We will visit Onsala Space Observatory, to see the radio telescopes and other research equipment. In particular, the small radio telescope SALSA, which will be used remotely for the compulsory project, will be introduced.

This course is somewhat different from many physics courses at Chalmers in that you not only have to learn how to solve typical (mathematical) problems, but you also need to understand and be able to explain many important concepts in astrophysics. This is important when you study the course: spend time both on reading the book and solving problems. A good help is given by the document ImportantConcepts.pdf

Changes made since the last occasion

No major changes in the course structure since last year. New teaching assistant. New learning management system: Canvas.

Learning objectives and syllabus

After completion of the course the student should be able to:

- give an overview of the origin, structure and evolution of the Universe and its contents (planets, stars, galaxies),
- explain how basic properties of cosmic objects are measured (e.g. distances, sizes, masses and temperatures),
- explain methods to discover exoplanets,
- perform calculations (based on observational data) of temperatures and ages of solar system bodies, masses and radii of exoplanets and binary stars, magnitudes and luminosities, cosmic distances, masses of galaxies, and the expansion of the Universe,
- explain and use the radiative transfer equation in simple cases,
- explain the basic physics and equations of stellar structure,
- review stellar evolution, and relate it to observations (including the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram),
- analyze radioastronomical observations to study the structure and kinematics of the Milky Way
- use kinematics to explain the basic structure of galaxies (spirals, ellipticals),
- review the present cosmological model and the evidence for it (including evidence for dark matter and dark energy),
- derive the Friedmann equation using Newton's mechanics and results from relativity, and solve it in mathematically simple cases

The syllabus on Chalmers study portal, and similar information at University of Gothenburg

Examination form

The course has two compulsory components.

  • Written examination, 6 hp (grading: U, 3, 4, 5 at Chalmers; U, G, VG at GU)
  • Observational project and related report, 1.5 hp (grading: U, G)

Both components must be fulfilled to pass the course. The final grade is the grade on the written exam.

The written exam takes place on Tuesday 14 January 2020, 08.30–12.30 (retake in April and August 2020).
The exam will contain both essay questions and calculations. You may use a Chalmers approved calculator or any calculator with cleared memory, Physics Handbook and Mathematics Handbook. A sheet with useful formulae will be provided (Astro_Formulae.pdf). Grades at Chalmers: 3: 40 %, 4: 60 %, 5: 80 %; at GU: G: 40 %, VG: 70 %. You must sign up for the exam in advance! 

The observational project is to use a small radio telescope (SALSA) to observed atomic hydrogen in the Milky Way. Students may work in pairs with the observations etc. Each student must write a report about the project (in the format of a typical research report). The report shall be handed in in Canvas; deadline Friday 13 December at 16:00. More information: se separate module.


Course summary:

Date Details Due