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2023/24 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHYS3281 Star and Planet Formation

15 creditsClass Size: 90

Module manager: Dr Catherine Walsh

Taught: 1 Sep to 31 Jan (adv yr), Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2023/24

Module replaces

PHYS 3280 Star and Planet Formation

This module is not approved as a discovery module

Module summary

Stars and their surrounding planetary systems form from material within large, cold, and dense molecular clouds found throughout the interstellar medium. The study of the physical processes underpinning the formation of stars and planets is fundamental for understanding the origin of the mass distribution of stars in galaxies, the formation of our Solar System, and potential sources of the vast diversity of extra-solar planetary systems now known to be orbiting nearby stars in the Milky Way. This module will instruct on the physics governing i) the formation of stars, ii) the impact of young stars on their immediate environment, and iii) the birth and evolution of (exo)planetary systems. Also covered will be current knowledge based on observations across multiple wavelengths from state-of-the-art telescopes.


Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge, understanding and application of:

- The physical conditions under which stars form in interstellar clouds;
- The physical processes that occur during the collapse of a gas cloud to form a star;
- The observational tools used, and evidence for, discs, jet, and outflows from young stars;
- The physical mechanisms of planet formation within circumstellar discs;
- Current knowledge in this field, and its limitations

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

Skills outcomes
The ability to solve physical problems using mathematics.


I. Sites of Star Formation: the interstellar medium, molecular clouds, interstellar dust.
II. Gravitational Collapse: cloud equilibrium and stability, the collapse of dense cloud cores, fragmentation, protostars, accretion discs.
III. Feedback: jets, molecular outflows, HII regions, triggered star formation.
IV. Planet Formation: protoplanetary discs, disc evolution, the formation of the Solar System, models of planet formation, exoplanets.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours117.00
Total Contact hours33.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)150.00

Private study

- Reading
- Practice problems
- Practice derivations
- Workshop preparation
- Discussion class preparation

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

Unseen exam

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
AssignmentRegular Coursework30.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)30.00

Resits will be in standard exam format.

Exam typeExam duration% of formal assessment
Standard exam (closed essays, MCQs etc)2 hr 30 mins70.00
Total percentage (Assessment Exams)70.00

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.

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 28/04/2023 14:55:13


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