Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2009-2010 (archived)


Department: Physics


Type Open Level 2 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2009/10 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • (Fundamental Physics (PHYS1111) OR Foundations of Physics 1 (PHYS1122)) AND Single Mathematics A (MATH1561) and Single Mathematics B (MATH1571) OR Core Mathematics A (MATH1012) OR Maths for Engineers and Scientists (MATH1551).


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It provides an introduction to Astronomy and the foundations for Astrophysics courses in later years.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Observational Techniques: telescope optics, detectors, noise and signal-to-noise ratio, spectroscopy.
  • Stars: hydrostatic equilibrium, main sequence stars and evolution, shell-burning stars, white dwarfs, supernovae, neutron stars and black holes. Variable stars, pulsating stars, the period-luminosity relation, the period-density relation. Pulsars: basic pulsar models, spin-down and characteristic age. Binary star systems, mass and radius determination. Close binary star systems, accretion discs, X-ray binaries. Star formation, the interstellar medium, dust and molecules, Jean's mass, the Hayashi track.
  • Galactic Astronomy: galaxy types, the discovery of the Galaxy, modern view of the Galaxy, the interstellar medium, dynamics of the galaxy disk, dark haloes, elliptical galaxies, groups and clusters of galaxies, galaxy statistics, active galactic nuclei, gravitational lensing..

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module students will be aware of the basic techniques of observational astronomy.
  • They will understand the basic physics of stellar interiors.
  • They will appreciate why we see stars of widely differing colours and brightnesses.
  • They will have had their understanding of stellar properties and physics extended to pulsating and binary stars.
  • They will have an introductory knowledge of galactic and extragalactic astronomy.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the acquisition of subject knowledge, students will be able to apply the principles of physics to the solution of predictable and unpredictable problems.
  • They will know how to produce a well-structured solution, with clearly-explained reasoning and appropriate presentation.
Key Skills:

    Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

    • Teaching will be by lectures and example classes. The lectures provide the means to give a concise, focused presentation of the subject matter of the module. The lecture material will be explicitly linked to the contents of recommended textbooks for the module, thus making clear where students can begin private study. When appropriate, the lectures will also be supported by the distribution of the written material, or by information and relevant links on DUO.
    • Regular problem exercises and example classes will give students the chance to develop their theoretical understanding and problem solving skills.
    • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at other mutually convenient times.
    • Students performance will be summatively assessed through an examination and problem exercises. The examination and problem exercises will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem-solving skills. The problem exercises and example classes provide opportunities for feedback, for students to gauge their progress and for staff to monitor progress throughout the duration of the module.

    Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Lectures 42 2 per week 1 Hour 42
    Example classes 10 Weekly 1 Hour 10
    Preparation and Reading 148
    Total 200

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Examination Component Weighting: 90%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Written Examination 2.5-hour 100%
    Component: Problem Exercises Component Weighting: 10%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Problem Exercises 100% Answering a sheet of problems during the vacation

    Formative Assessment:

    Example classes and problems solved therein.

    Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University