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Relativistic Astrophysics - CED00014M

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  • Department: Centre for Lifelong Learning
  • Module co-ordinator: Mr. Ben Johnstone-Bray
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

This module will discuss the theory of special and general relativity, and then use this to explore various relativistic astrophysical phenomena. The module will begin by discussing special relativity before progressing 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, the tests of general relativity, 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 the high-energy astronomical phenomena of active galactic nuclei and X-ray binaries. The module will conclude with an examination of charged-particle cosmic rays, cosmic gamma-rays, and gamma-ray bursts. Students will develop their skills in mathematics, research, and scientific writing.

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 of gravitational waves and the significance of their detection in 2015
  • Discuss observations of AGN and X-ray binaries and their underlying astrophysics
  • Describe the composition of cosmic rays and discuss the sources and detection of charged-particle cosmic rays and gamma-rays
  • Produce a video presentation on a relativistic astrophysical phenomenon
  • Conduct a literature review on a topic in relativistic astrophysics


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
  • Carroll, B. & Ostlie, A.: An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics, Cambridge University Press, 2017

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.