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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHYS2150 Stellar Structure and Evolution

10 creditsClass Size: 100

Module manager: Prof. René Oudmaijer

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

Pre-requisite qualifications

A Level Maths and Physics plus a minimum of 20 credits of Level 1 Maths.

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Stellar Structure and Evolution, PHYS2150, concerns the long journey of the evolution of a star from the initial stages where the star is getting its energy from the fusion of hydrogen in its core to its final state which can be as diverse as white dwarfs, neutron stars or black holes. By bringing together many areas of physics, ranging from nuclear and quantum physics to thermodynamics and gravity, it will be shown that the evolution of a star can be worked out based on static stellar structure models and that the ultimate fate of a star depends solely on the mass with which it was born. In the process, students will be made familiar with concepts from nuclear fusion processes, radiative transfer, convective energy transport, degenerate matter, and stellar mass loss mechanisms.


By the end of this module students will be able to:
- explain the physical principles and derive the equations governing the structure of stars;
- describe the solutions and compare them with the observed properties of stars;
- explain the physical changes that take place as stars evolve;
- discuss and explain the end points in the lives of stars of different initial masses;
- present observational tests of stellar evolution theory.

Learning outcomes
Make effective use of physics skills and knowledge to applications in Astrophysics.

Skills outcomes
The ability to solve physical problems using mathematics and preparation and optional giving of a presentation.


Observational context:
Colour magnitude diagrams, HR diagrams, stellar properties.

Physics of stellar structure:
Hydrostatic equilibrium, equation of state. Radiative energy transport and radiative transfer. Convective energy transport and the criteria for convective instability. Opacity sources: bound-bound, bound-free, free-free and electron scattering. Energy generation, nuclear reactions including the proton-proton chain, CNO cycle and triple-alpha process.

The structure of stars:
Solving the equations of stellar structure, structure of low and high mass main sequence stars.

The evolution of low mass stars:
Structure of red giants, physics of the degenerate core, helium flash. Horizontal branch and asymptotic giant branch. Thermal pulsing and planetary nebulae ejection. White dwarfs.

The evolution of massive stars:
Supergiant and Wolf-Rayet stars and the role of mass loss. Type II supernovae, neutron stars and black holes.

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 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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