The University of Southampton

PHYS3010 Stellar Evolution

Module Overview

This course is a showcase for how the various branches of physics come together to give rise to real life phenomena. Using the example of stars, we will revisit a wide range of different physics and see how the various ingredients interact and thus how all branches of physics play a role in creating the fundamental building blocks of the universe. The emphasis of the course is on the more theoretical aspects of physics. The course is compulsory for ‘with Astronomy’ students but offers a good opportunity for all Physics students who want to obtain a hands-on experience of ‘the bigger picture’ in physics.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aim of this course is to explore the life-cycles of (isolated) stars: from their birth in dense gas clouds, through their stable life in equilibrium, to their explosive death and afterlife in the form of exotic matter condensates, i.e., white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Along the way, we will study gravity, thermodynamics, hydrodynamics, the interaction between radiation and matter, degenerate forms of matter, and nuclear reactions.

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • demonstrate clear insight into the underlying physical principles associated with all the key stages of stellar evolution from initial star formation within gas clouds in the Galactic plane, through the various stages of “stability,” to the final end products
  • describe how astrophysics brings together all branches of physics and thus allows us to understand the ‘big picture’ of physics
  • be able to solve order-of-magnitude problems on any part of the syllabus


- Overview of gravitational contraction and star formation, nucleosynthesis, virial theorem, stellar timescales. - Properties of matter and radiation: Ideal gas, electron and neutron degeneracy, blackbody radiation, ionization. - Heat transfer: Radiation transport, conduction, convection. - Thermonuclear fusion: Barrier penetration, reaction rates, hydrogen and helium burning, neutrino emission. - Stellar modelling: Equations of stellar structure, polytropes. - Stellar death: Supernovae, white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes.

Learning and Teaching

Completion of assessment task18
Preparation for scheduled sessions18
Wider reading or practice50
Follow-up work18
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

D. Prialnik (2009). An Introduction to the Theory of Stellar Structure and Evolution. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 20%
Exam  (2 hours) 80%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework marks carried forward %
Exam %

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules


To study this module, you will need to have studied the following module(s):

PHYS1005Introduction to Astronomy and Space Science
PHYS2024Quantum Physics of Matter
PHYS2023Wave Physics
PHYS2003Quantum Physics
PHYS2006Classical Mechanics
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