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The University of Southampton

PHYS3011 Photons in Astrophysics

Module Overview

The main radiation mechanisms are discussed and examples are given of the situations in which they are most important. We show how the physical conditions, e.g. the temperature, density and magnetic field strength, can be determined from the emitted radiation in astrophysical situations, such as the nuclei of active galaxies or the surfaces of neutron stars. The course is fundamental to our interpretation of astrophysical data and so is vital for all astronomers. However it is very much a physics course and so is also of use to students who are not taking astrophysics degrees.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • Understand the key radiative processes occurring in astronomy.
  • Knowledge of the instrumentation required to detect photons in different wavebands
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Be able to draw some simple conclusions regarding the physical parameters in the emitting sources based on the radiation received.


Radiative Processes - Radiation from an accelerated charge. - Inverse Compton radiation. - Cyclotron and Synchrotron radiation. - Bremsstrahlung radiation. - Black body radiation. - Optical and radio line emission. - Nuclear reactions and annihilation processes. - Scattering processes, e.g. Compton and Rayleigh scattering. - Cherenkov radiation. - Gravitational waves. Detection Techniques - Radio telescopes: interferometers, aperture synthesis. - Infrared and optical telescopes: CCD detectors. - X-ray detectors: proportional counters, multichannel plates, grazing incidence imaging. - Gamma-ray detectors: crystal scintillators, semiconductors, spark chambers, codedmask imaging. - Air Cherenkov techniques. - Gravitational wave detectors Astrophysical Examples - Bremsstrahlung emission from accreting white dwarfs and clusters of galaxies. - Cyclotron emission from magnetised neutron stars. - Synchrotron emission from radio galaxies. - Synchrotron Self-Compton scattering emission from blazars. - Maps of our Galaxy in Gamma-ray line emission. - TeV emission from BL Lac objects.

Learning and Teaching

Follow-up work18
Wider reading or practice68
Preparation for scheduled sessions18
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

F H Shu. The Physics of Astrophysics: Radiations. 

G B Rybicki & A P Lightman. Radiative Processes in Astrophysics. 

M S Longair. High Energy Astrophysics. 

R L Bowers & T Deeming. Astrophysics II, Interstellar Matter & Galaxies. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Continuous Assessment 10%
Final Assessment  90%


MethodPercentage contribution
Set Task 100%


MethodPercentage contribution
Set Task 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Pre-requisites: PHYS2001 AND PHYS2003 AND PHYS2006 AND PHYS2023 AND PHYS2024

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