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Theoretical Astrophysics

AY 421 Section 001

Fall 2014, Lecture

Dr. Dean Townsley


UA Course Catalog Prerequisites

Prerequisite(s): PH 253.

Course Description

UA Course Catalog Information


This course forms a broad introduction to astrophysical phenomena, with an emphasis on the underlying physical principles, outlining how fundamental phenomenology arises from physical laws.  Several broad domains of astrophysics are covered, including spacetime structure, interstellar medium and star and planetary system formation, star structure and evolution, basic galaxy structure, and the nature and history of the universe.

Student Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course students will:

  • Know the physical processes underlying a wide variety of astrophysical phenomena.
  • Be able to predict the nature of astrophysical phenomena based on physical reasoning.

In this way the students will understand:

  • the motion of gravitating bodies
  • light and its interaction with matter in astrophysical contexts
  • the fundamental structure of spacetime as described by relativity
  • the fundamental aspects leading to stellar structure and evolution
  • the formation of stars and planetary systems from interstellar material
  • the fundamental nature of galaxies, and their active nuclei
  • the history of the universe to early times

Required Texts

UA Supply Store Textbook Information


An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics 2nd Edition by Carroll and Ostlie

Outline of Topics

Topics (Chapter in Carroll & Ostlie) [probable dates]

Part 1

  • Celestial Mechanics (2) [Aug 20, 22]
  • Continuous Spectrum of Light (3) [Aug 25, 27, 29]
  • Special Relativity (4) [Sep 3, 5, 8]
  • Interaction of Light and Matter (5) [Sep 10, 12, 17]
  • Test 1, Sep 19

Part 2

  • Binary Systems and Stellar Parameters (7) [Sep 22, 24]
  • Classification of Stellar Spectra (8) [Sep 26, 29]
  • Interstellar Medium and Star Formation (12) [Oct 1, 3]
  • Main Sequence and post-MS Stellar Evolution (13) [Oct 6, 8, 10]
  • General Relativity and Black Holes (17) [Oct  13, 15, 17]
  • Test 2 Oct 20

Part 3

  • Close Binary Star Systems (18) [Oct 24, 27]
  • Formation of Planetary Systems (23) [Oct 29, Nov 3]
  • Nature of Galaxies (25) [Nov 5, 7]
  • Structure of the Universe (27) [Nov 10, 12, 14]
  • Active Galaxies (28) [Nov 17, 19]
  • Cosmology (29) [Nov 21, 24, Dec 1]
  • The Early Universe (30) [Dec 3, 5]

Final Exam Dec 8

Exams and Assignments

Assignments:  Homework will be assigned at the end of each topic and will be collected twice for each of the 3 parts of the course.  Assignments will count about 50% of the final grade.  Discussion with other students is encouraged to improve understanding, but each student must write up their work individially.

Exams:  There will be 3 exams, two during the semester and one during the final exam period.  Exams will consist of an in-class part and a 24-hour take-home part.  The exams will count about 50% of the final grade.

Emergency Contact Information

UA's primary communication tool for sending out information is through its web site at  In the event of an emergency, students should consult this site for further directions. Additional course information will be posted using Blackboard Learn.

Severe Weather Guidelines

The guiding principle at The University of Alabama is to promote the personal safety of our students, faculty and staff during severe weather events. It is impossible to develop policies which anticipate every weather-related emergency. These guidelines are intended to provide additional assistance for responding to severe weather on campus.

UA is a residential campus with many students living on or near campus. In general classes will remain in session until the National Weather Service issues safety warnings for the city of Tuscaloosa. Clearly, some students and faculty commute from adjacent counties. These counties may experience weather related problems not encountered in Tuscaloosa. Individuals should follow the advice of the National Weather Service for that area taking the necessary precautions to ensure personal safety. Whenever the National Weather Service and the Emergency Management Agency issue a warning, people in the path of the storm (tornado or severe thunderstorm) should take immediate life saving actions.

When West Alabama is under a severe weather advisory, conditions can change rapidly. It is imperative to get to where you can receive information from the National Weather Service and to follow the instructions provided. Personal safety should dictate the actions that faculty, staff and students take.

The Office of University Relations will disseminate the latest information regarding conditions on campus in the following ways:

  • Weather advisory posted on the UA homepage
  • Weather advisory sent out through UA Alerts to faculty, staff and students
  • Weather advisory broadcast over WVUA at 90.7 FM
  • Weather advisory broadcast over Alabama Public Radio (WUAL) at 91.5 FM
  • Weather advisory broadcast over WVUA-TV/WUOA-TV, and on the website at WVUA-TV Home Team Weather provides a free service you can subscribe to which allows you to receive weather warnings for Tuscaloosa via e-mail or cell phone. Check for more details and to sign up for weather alerts.

In the case of a tornado warning (tornado has been sighted or detected by radar; sirens activated), all university activities are automatically suspended, including all classes and laboratories. If you are in a building, please move immediately to the lowest level and toward the center of the building away from windows (interior classrooms, offices, or corridors) and remain there until the tornado warning has expired. Classes in session when the tornado warning is issued can resume immediately after the warning has expired at the discretion of the instructor. Classes that have not yet begun will resume 30 minutes after the tornado warning has expired provided at least half of the class period remains.

Disability Statement

If you are registered with the Office of Disability Services, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss any course accommodations that may be necessary.

If you have a disability, but have not contacted the Office of Disability Services, please call (205) 348-4285 (Voice) or (205) 348-3081 (TTY) or visit 133-B Martha Parham Hall East to register for services. Students who may need course adaptations because of a disability are welcome to make an appointment to see me during office hours. Students with disabilities must be registered with the Office of Disability Services, 133-B Martha Parham Hall East, before receiving academic adjustments.

Policy on Academic Misconduct

All students in attendance at The University of Alabama are expected to be honorable and to observe standards of conduct appropriate to a community of scholars. The University of Alabama expects from its students a higher standard of conduct than the minimum required to avoid discipline. At the beginning of each semester and on examinations and projects, the professor, department, or division may require that each student sign the following Academic Honor Pledge: “I promise or affirm that I will not at any time be involved with cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or misrepresentation while enrolled as a student at The University of Alabama. I have read the Academic Honor Code, which explains disciplinary procedure resulting from the aforementioned. I understand that violation of this code will result in penalties as severe as indefinite suspension from the University.”

See the Code of Student Conduct for more information.

UAct: Ethical Community Statement

The University of Alabama is committed to an ethical, inclusive community defined by respect and civility. The UAct website ( provides extensive information on how to report or obtain assistance with a variety of issues, including issues related to dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault, sexual violence or other Title IX violations, illegal discrimination, harassment, child abuse or neglect, hazing, threat assessment, retaliation, and ethical violations or fraud.