Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Undergraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2009-2010 (archived)


Department: Physics


Type Open Level 4 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2009/10 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Stars and Galaxies (PHYS2541).


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • Astrophysics (PHYS3541).


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics and Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It builds on the Level 2 module Stars and Galaxies (PHYS2541) and provides a knowledge appropriate to Level 4 Physics students not specialising in astronomy of the astrophysical origin of planetary systems and the cosmological origin of the Universe.
  • It will develop transferable skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation on the findings.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Planetary Systems: Constituents of the Solar System, planets, asteroids, comets, orbital mechanics, 2-body motion, transfer orbits, restricted 3-body problem, tidal and other dynamical effects, planetary interiors, Lane-Emden equation, models of planetary interiors, atmospheres of Earth, Venus and mars, origin of the Solar System, extra-solar planets.
  • Cosmology: Large-scale properties of the Universe, the Friedman models, the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation, the cosmological constant, the geometry of the Universe, luminosity, angular distances, galaxy number counts, the Hubble diagram, the thermal history of the Universe, the origin of the light elements, dark matter and dark energy.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module students will understand the physical reasoning behind the currently accepted model of the origin of the Solar System.
  • They will be able to make approximate calculations of orbits and tidal forces.
  • They will understand how seismic probes can be used to probe planetary interiors.
  • They will be able to explain why Venus, Earth and Mars have very different atmospheric compositions.
  • They will be able to describe the methods and limitations of current searches for extrasolar planetary systems.
  • They will understand the evidence for the standard Big Bang model.
  • They will understand how general relativity leads to equations which govern the origin, expansion and ultimate fate of the Universe.
  • They will appreciate why modifications such as inflation are needed.
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 complex problems.
  • They will know how to produce a well-structured solution, with clearly-explained reasoning and appropriate presentation.
Key Skills:
  • Students will have developed skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation.

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 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.
  • Lecturers will provide a list of advanced topics related to the module content. Students will be required to research one of these topics in depth and write an extended essay on it. Some guidance on the research and feedback on the essay will be provided by the lecturer.
  • Student performance will be summatively assessed though an examination, problem exercises and the extended essay. 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 extended essay will provide the means for students to demonstrate skills in researching a topic at an advanced level and making a written presentation.
  • 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 38 2 per week 1 hour 38
Examples Classes 8 1 per fortnight 1 hour 8
Preparation and Reading 154
Total 200

Summative Assessment

Component: Examination Component Weighting: 70%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
one three-hour written examination 100%
Component: Problem exercises Component Weighting: 10%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
problem exercises 100%
Component: Extended essay Component Weighting: 20%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
extended essay 100%

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