WVU Center for Astrophysics

ASTR 367 – Astrophysics I – Fall 2013

Instructor: Dr. Maura McLaughlin

Contact details: Maura dot McLaughlin at mail dot wvu dot edu, 304-293-4812

Office hours: M/W 1100-1200 in G59 White Hall

Class times: T/R 1130-1245 in G04 White Hall

Aim: The goal of this course is to give you a good working understanding of stellar properties, how stars generate energy, and how stars are born and die. We will become familiar with the properties (e.g. temperatures, ages, chemical compositions) of stars and the different states of matter that make up stars. We will understand hydrostatic equilibrium, nuclear fusion and energy transport. We will follow the lifecycles of different types of stars and understand the properties of the different end-points.

We will concentrate on understanding the physics of stars using simple calculations covering a very large range of physical principles. Many of our calculations will be order-of-magnitude and back-of-the-envelope. Secondary goals of the course are to understand what the current important problems in the field are, and to be able to interpret and communicate scientific results that are related to the topics we will cover in the course.

While this course is designed to prepare students for careers as astrophysicists, the physics we will cover has a very broad range of applications, and the approach to problems should help in tackling difficult problems in many areas of physics.

Prerequisites: No astronomy knowledge is required. Introductory physics and calculus are mandatory. Modern physics is desirable but not required.

Text: The (mostly) required textbook for this course is

An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics by Carroll and Ostlie

This is available in the campus bookstore. Other textbooks that I will use are

An Introduction to the Theory of Stellar Structure and Evolution by Prialnik
Radiative Processes in Astrophysics by Rybicki and Lightman
Principles and Stellar Evolution and Nucleosynthesis by Clayton
Black Holes, White Dwarfs and Neutron Stars by Shapiro and Teukolsky
Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics by Zeilik and Gregory

These texts are on reserve at the library.

I have have MANY introductory astronomy texts in my office (free samples from publishers) that you are MORE than welcome to borrow if you would like to brush up on the basics.

Website: http://astro.wvu.edu/courses/ASTR367 will be updated regularly with the syllabus, homework assignments and solutions. I reserve the right (and will almost certainly use it) to change the syllabus over the course of the semester!

Homeworks and Exams: Homework will be assigned roughly weekly, to be due IN CLASS one week later. I encourage you to talk with each other about the homework, but the actual solutions must be your own. Late homeworks will not be accepted, but I will drop the lowest one. There will be two in-class exams and a final exam, which will not be cumulative. These obviously must be done completely on your own! If you cannot make an exam, please let me know in advance so you can take a makeup exam in advance. If you miss the exam without letting me know in advance you will receive a zero grade.

Attendance: There is no specific attendance requirement for this course. However, since we will have lots of class discussions and since I will pull material from several different sources for the lectures, you will do much better in the course if you attend.

Grading: Your grade will be comprised of the following parts:

  • 40% Homework
  • 10% Class participation
  • 15% Exam 1
  • 15% Exam 2
  • 20% Exam 3

You will get at least the following letter grades for the following percentage grades in this course.

  • 85-100% A
  • 75-85% B
  • 65-75% C
  • 50-65% D
  • < 50% F


Aug. 20, 22: Introduction and Overview. The scale of the universe, astrophysical units, distances, measuring brightnesses and luminosities, colors, the EM spectrum, photons and waves, blackbody radiation, the Bohr atom, interaction of radiation and matter, stellar spectroscopy. (Carroll & Ostlie, Ch. 3 & 5)

Astrophysical Calculator The Scale of the Universe Interactive Scale of the Universe

Bolometric Corrections Spectral Classifications

Telescopes at All Wavelengths

Aug. 27, Sept. 3: Stellar Properties. Measuring masses, the HR diagram, the main sequence. (Carroll & Ostlie, Ch. 7 & 8)

Stellar Spectra

The Solar Spectrum

Sept. 5, Sept 10: Stellar structure on the back of an envelope. The Virial Theoreum, mass-radius and mass-luminosity relations.

Sept. 12, 17, 19, 24: Stellar Atmospheres. Optical depth, opacity, spectral lines, abundances. (Carroll & Ostlie, Ch. 9)

Sept. 26: In-class Exam

Oct. 1, 3, 8, 10, 17: Stellar Interiors. Hydrostatic equilibrium, energy generation, energy transport, stellar models. (Carroll & Ostlie, Ch. 10)

Graduate Text on Opacity Calculations

OPAL opacity code EZ Stellar Evolution Code

Opacity Solutions
Fortran Program for Opacity Calculations

EZ Web Evolution Summary
EZ Web Structure File

HR diagram

Oct. 22, 24: Stellar Evolution and Structure Projects.

Oct. 29, 31, Nov. 5: Stellar Evolution.* Star formation, life on the main sequence, post-main sequence evolution. (Carroll & Ostlie, Ch. 12, 13)

Multi-wavelength Milky Way HR diagram simulator Another nice simulator
Matthew Bate’s Star Formation Animation

Nov. 7: In-class Exam

Nov 12.: Stellar Pulsations. Cepheids, e, k, g mechanisms, non-radial pulsations, astroseismology. (Carroll & Ostlie, Ch. 14)

Nov. 14, 19, 21: Supernovae and Compact Objects. Supernova explosions, white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes. (Carroll & Ostlie, Ch. 15, 16, 17)

Dec. 3, 5: Binary star systems. Accretion, Roche lobes, CVs, novae. (Carroll & Ostlie, Ch. 18)

Dec. 10: Review

Dec. 16: Final Exam (11 AM!)*

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