Physics 2151 Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics


2151 Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics
introduces concepts in modern astronomy including: the celestial sphere, eclipses, parallax, and Kepler's laws; radiation; the Sun; spectroscopy; telescopes, resolution, and detectors; magnitudes, spectral classifications, and the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram; the interstellar medium, star formation, stellar evolution, nucleosynthesis, white dwarfs, neutron stars, pulsars, nebulae, supernovae, black holes, and gamma-ray bursts; galaxies, dark matter, and active galactic nuclei; cosmology, the cosmic microwave background, inflation and dark energy; and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

PR: 6 credit hours in Mathematics courses at the first year level

Physics 2151: Stellar Astronomy and Astrophysics is intended as a survey-level introduction to most topics in modern astronomy, other than those directly relating to the Solar System (which are covered in EASC2150). The course proceeds as such entry-level college astronomy courses usually do: after introducing the inception of astronomy as integral to all ancient attempts to explain patterns in Nature, reviews of relevant physical principles at the 1st-year level are employed along with methodologies of measuring distances and performing spectroscopy, and ultimately to determine luminosities and the physical nature of stars (their structure, what powers them, etc) with the Sun as the example. The tools of astronomy are introduced - telescopes, detectors, spectroscopy, photometry – and in compiling the measurements for thousands of stars, the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram as a central tool in studying stellar evolution is introduced. On this are traced stellar birth in molecular clouds (often fluoresced by a short-lived supermassive newborns), life on the “Main Sequence”, and the myriad variations of post main-sequence evolution through various giant star phases (all dependent largely on a star's mass) ending in planetary nebulae and white dwarfs, or core collapse-supernovae and their remnants such as neutron stars and black holes. Stars often evolve in close groups, affecting each others' evolution and giving rise to phenomena such as novae and millisecond pulsars. The structure of our own Milky Way is uncovered and the realization that most matter in the universe is “dark” and not composed of baryons, comes out when galaxy rotation curves are discussed. After reviewing relevant ideas in Special and General Relativity, the near-environments of black holes are discussed, as is large-scale structure of the universe and basic ideas in cosmology. The course ends with a discussion of the possibilities that life might exist elsewhere in the Universe.

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