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Relativity & High Energy Astronomy - CED00014M

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  • Department: Centre for Lifelong Learning
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alex Brown
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2020-21

Module aims

This module will discuss special and general relativity and high energy astronomy and the use of such observations in modern astronomy. The module will be divided into two sections: relativity and high energy astronomy. x-rays and gamma-rays, cosmic rays and neutrinos.

The module will begin by discussing special relativity and then progress to general relativity. Topics covered will include inertial and non-inertial frames of reference, Lorentz transformations, light cones, the geometry of spacetime, the equivalence principle, and the Einstein field equation. The concepts covered will then be discussed in the context of astrophysical phenomena, such as black holes and gravitational waves.

The discussion will then move onto high energy astronomy, beginning with the detection methods for x-rays and gamma-rays and emphasising the physics of small wavelength radiation, which many of the students may not have previously encountered. Following the discussion on detection the focus will switch to the physics behind the objects (such as x-ray pulsars and flares, and active galactic nuclei and gamma-ray bursts) which are observed using these wavelengths. The use astronomical observations to produce composite images taken at different wavelengths will be discussed and will help bring previous modules together. The module will conclude with an examination of cosmic ray and neutrino observations and the valuable information contained within these measurements.

Module learning outcomes

At the conclusion of the module students will be able to:

  • Explain inertial reference frames, the synchronisation of clocks and Einstein's derivation of the Lorentz Transformations
  • Discuss the principle of equivalence in general relativity, including a quantitative illustration of the principle of equivalence and non-inertial reference frames
  • Apply spacetime diagrams to the causal connection of events, the light cone, future, past and present; length contraction and time dilation
  • Describe the Schwarzschild metric, using spherical co-ordinates, centered upon a gravitating body and provide spherical solutions of Einstein’s equations of general relativity
  • Explain the curvature of light in a gravitational field and discuss observational effects of this phenomenon
  • Describe the physics of black holes, tilting of light cones in the presence of black holes, and the effects of tidal gravity upon material bodies falling through the event horizon
  • Understand the physics which underpins the construction of x-ray and gamma-ray telescopes and carry out calculations related to these concepts
  • Discuss the difficulties faced by astronomers making observations in these regions and how they may be overcome with particular reference to space borne instruments
  • Interpret observations of x-ray and gamma-ray emitting astronomical objects
  • Understand the physics which underpins the construction of cosmic ray detectors and their use in modern physics
  • Understand the physics which underpins the construction of neutrino detectors and their use in modern physics
  • Explain some of the astronomical sources for x-ray and gamma-ray emissions.


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

The tutor will give regular individual feedback throughout the module on work submitted.

The assessment feedback is as per the university’s guidelines with regard to timings.

Indicative reading

  • Cheng, T-P.: A College Course on Relativity and Cosmology, Oxford University Press, 2015
  • Hester, J., Smith, B., Blumenthal, G., Kay, L., & Voss, H.: 21st Century Astronomy, W. W. Norton & Co., 2013
  • Longair, M. S.: High Energy Astrophysics, Cambridge University Press, 2011
  • Seward, F. D.: Exploring the X-ray Universe, Cambridge University Press, 2010

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.