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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHYS2015 High Energy Astrophysics

10 creditsClass Size: 100

Module manager: Prof. René Oudmaijer

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

Pre-requisite qualifications

Students are expected to have completed PHYS 2150 Stellar Structure and Evolution or PHYS2300 Physics 3 before starting this module

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Stars that are more than eight times as massive as the Sun explode, driving shocks into their environments and leaving behind neutron stars and black holes. The shocks accelerate protons to energies a million times larger than the rest mass energy. The observed radiation emitted by and scattered by the energetic protons and energetic electrons, which are also accelerated, has a wavelength range extending over a factor of nineteen orders of magnitude. Some of the neutron stars left behind by such explosions rotate with periods of only a few milliseconds and slow down as their magnetic fields drain them of energy at rates of about a hundred thousand times the luminosity of the Sun. The jets formed around black holes having masses that are each 100 million times that of the Sun sometimes extend to scales of roughly ten times the size of a galaxy, and some jets associated with these exotic objects appear to move at speeds exceeding that of light. J. B. S. Haldane stated that the universe is not only stranger than we suppose - it is stranger than we can suppose. However, what we have managed to suppose and to understand is rather remarkable.This module will give you an insight into the astrophysics of sources with emission regions having temperatures in excess of one million degrees and of sources of non-thermal emission. Previous study of astrophysics modules is not assumed but you will find some concepts from first and second year Physics such as Doppler shift, shock waves, forces on moving charges and elementary particles useful.


To introduce the radiative processes relevant to emission regions with temperatures in excess of one million degrees and/or containing non-thermal particles, and to investigate the astronomical environments in which such radiative processes operate.

Learning outcomes
By the end of the module students should be able to:
- interpret the spectra associated with different high energy emission mechanisms;
- summarise the primary process by which non-thermal particles are accelerated and the role of accretion in high-energy sources;
- explain the emission of X-rays from binary systems;
- describe popular models of extragalactic objects with reference to the influence of relativistic motion on our observations;
- make effective use of physics skills and knowledge to applications in Astrophysics.

Skills outcomes
Ability to apply diverse, basic physics and mathematical reasoning to novel problems.
Ability to synthesise a coherent physical scenario from multiple sources and types of information


Introduction to High Energy Astrophysics.
Radiation Processes: bremsstrahlung, synchrotron, Compton scattering, loss through self-absorption and pair production.
Supernova remnants: observational properties, particle acceleration at a shock.
Pulsars: discovery, magnetic dipole model, characteristic age, multiwavelength observations.
Compact binaries: X-ray discovery, accretion geometry, luminosity, plasma temperature and the Eddington limit, mass function, black hole candidates and microquasars.
Gamma ray bursts: discovery, afterglow observations, fireball model, relativistic beaming.
Active Galactic Nuclei (i) radio galaxies: discovery, synchrotron lobes, superluminal motion (ii) unified model, accretion power (iii) VHE blazers: discovery, variability timescales, jet photon emission mechanisms.
UHE cosmic rays: discovery via extensive airshowers, observational properties and the significance of magnetic fields, GZK effect, the Pierre Auger Observatory.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours67.00
Total Contact hours33.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)100.00

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
Problem SheetRegular Homeworks20.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)20.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)2 hr 30 mins80.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)80.00

Students will have to complete an in-person exam at the end of the module. This will take place during the examinations period at the end of the semester and will be time bound. Students must submit a serious attempt at all assessments for this module, in order to pass the module overall.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:31:38


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