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Mapping the Universe & Laboratories - PHY00027C

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  • Department: Physics
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Emily Brunsden
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25
    • See module specification for other years: 2023-24

Module summary

Mapping the Universe is an introduction to fundamental knowledge and practical skills in astrophysics. You will gain foundational knowledge about planets, stars, galaxies and cosmology and how this underpins new research in areas such as exoplanets, black holes and the Big Bang. In the laboratory elements work you will continue to develop your experimental skills with practicals tailored to your degree programme.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The aim of this module is to develop the core competencies and knowledge required of any astrophysicist, including a general introduction to the subject, experimental techniques, problem solving and astronomical observing. This is achieved through a mix of activities, including laboratories, workshops, lectures and group work. The knowledge and skills learnt in the lectures and the laboratory will be further developed in later years.

Module learning outcomes

  • Understand the role of the Cosmic Distance Ladder to establish the scale and structure of the Universe including how we observe planets, stars and galaxies and determine their properties.

  • Describe and compare the operation and location of telescopes and explain the techniques of imaging, photometry and spectroscopy. Be able to acquire data from a telescope and analyse it.

  • Describe and evaluate the evidence for some of the more exotic constituents of the Universe including dark matter and dark energy. Outline the principles of cosmology, the Big Bang, origin and fate of the Universe.

  • Identify the physics underpinning key astrophysical phenomena and perform laboratory experiments that demonstrate this.

  • Demonstrate good experimental practice, including accurate record keeping, and the identification, assessment and analysis of errors.

  • Write a scientific report using the accepted structure and style.

Module content

Mapping the Universe Syllabus

The Cosmic Distance Ladder

  • Radar, Parallax, H-R fitting, Cepheids, Cluster fitting, Type 1A SN, Tully-Fisher and Faber-Jackson relationships, Hubble’s Law.

  • The concept of a standard candle and the application of the magnitude scale to determine distances.

Motions of the Sky and Local Effects

  • Coordinates, stellar and planetary motion in the sky

  • Seasons, eclipses and tides

  • Kepler’s laws describing orbits

  • The application of the above to extra-solar planets

Telescopes and Instruments

  • Spectroscopic, photometric and imaging techniques and their applications

  • Principles of reflecting, refracting and radio telescopes and their locations


  • Basic observed and intrinsic properties and relationships on the H-R diagram

  • Basic sequence of birth, evolution and death of high- and low-mass stars

  • Clusters and their properties


  • Basic structure of the Milky Way- matter and dark matter

  • Galaxy classification and general properties


  • Olbers paradox and the cosmological principle

  • The Big Bang, evidence and implications

  • Dark energy and the fate of the Universe


  • Experimental activities based around provided laboratory scripts

  • Identification, analysis and minimisation of experimental uncertainties

  • Maintenance of a laboratory notebook

  • Scientific report writing


Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
Mapping the Universe Exam
1.5 hours 30
Essay: Mapping the Universe Assignment
N/A 20
Laboratory Notebooks (30%) and Formal Report (20%)
N/A 50

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
Mapping the Universe Exam
1.5 hours 30
Laboratory Notebooks (30%) and Formal Report (20%)
N/A 50

Module feedback

'Feedback’ at a university level can be understood as any part of the learning process which is designed to guide your progress through your degree programme. We aim to help you reflect on your own learning and help you feel more clear about your progress through clarifying what is expected of you in both formative and summative assessments.

A comprehensive guide to feedback and to forms of feedback is available in the Guide to Assessment Standards, Marking and Feedback. This can be found at:

The School of Physics, Engineering & Technology aims to provide some form of feedback on all formative and summative assessments that are carried out during the degree programme. In general, feedback on any written work/assignments undertaken will be sufficient so as to indicate the nature of the changes needed in order to improve the work. Students are provided with their examination results within 25 working days of the end of any given examination period. The School will also endeavour to return all coursework feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The School would normally expect to adhere to the times given, however, it is possible that exceptional circumstances may delay feedback. The School will endeavour to keep such delays to a minimum. Please note that any marks released are subject to ratification by the Board of Examiners and Senate. Meetings at the start/end of each semester provide you with an opportunity to discuss and reflect with your supervisor on your overall performance to date.

Our policy on how you receive feedback for formative and summative purposes is contained in our Physics at York Taught Student Handbook

Indicative reading

Kay, Palen, Smith, Blumenthal: 21 st Century Astronomy

Zeilik M and Gregory SA: Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics **

Freedman R and Kaufmann WJ: Universe **

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.