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Astrophysical Technologies & Space Science - PHY00046I

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  • Department: Physics
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Phil Lightfoot
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24
    • See module specification for other years: 2024-25

Module summary

This module investigates space and the technologies used to probe it.

The astrophysical technologies used to study emissions from celestial objects across the spectrum spanning from high energy gammas to radio waves will be considered. The module will introduce radiation physics, and instruments and techniques used in radio astronomy. It will explore some of the most energetic objects and astrophysical sites in the Universe. It will investigate how space weather can influence the design of satellites by examining phenomena such as geomagnetic storms and the solar wind. It will conclude with a review of commercial technologies in the space industry, orbital mechanics, rocketry and spacecraft design.

Related modules

Pre-requisites: Mapping the Universe and Laboratories

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The astrophysical technologies used to study emissions from celestial objects across the spectrum spanning from high energy gammas to radio waves will be considered. The module will introduce radiation physics, and instruments and techniques used in radio astronomy. It will explore some of the most energetic objects and astrophysical sites in the Universe. A wide range of detection and imaging systems will be considered, as will the space-based satellite platforms on which most are based. However, the module will also demonstrate how astronomical features can be probed using observatories located on Earth, either using large arrays of radio receivers, or the weak interaction in the case of neutrino observatories. The techniques and instruments used to make these observations are described.

Space science will cover topics such as space environment, orbital mechanics, rocketry and spacecraft design factors. These aspects are important for commercial technologies in the space industry and the development of satellites for future space exploration.

Module learning outcomes

  • Compare the emission processes which give rise to high energy electromagnetic radiation and neutrinos from astrophysical sites and the effect of those processes on the detected flux.

  • Evaluate the performance of radio, X-ray, gamma ray and neutrino detectors and consider how their operations vary in the context of their underlying physical principles

  • Apply equations to determine the attenuation of high energy radiation through a shield and the likelihood of its interaction with a target

  • Understand how space weather such as solar flares can affect satellite design

  • Apply orbital mechanics principles to determine rocket trajectories and satellite paths.

Module content

  • Origin of EM emission: black body emission, thermal Bremsstralung, synchrotron radiation, Rayleigh-Jeans Law

  • Sources of emission: supernova types, pulsar, X-ray burster, long and short gamma ray burster, quasar, AGN, IR backgrounds, dust

  • Problems associated with Earth based observation: solar and atmospheric windows

  • Interactions of photons with matter: Photoelectric effect, Compton effect, pair production, the mass absorption and mass attenuation coefficients, inelastic and elastic scattering, Rayleigh scattering

  • Detector types used to detect X-rays and gamma rays: scintillation detectors, influence of detector size and target material on energy spectrum produced, semiconductor detectors (MPPCs and CCDs), microchannel plate

  • Detector types used to detect radio waves: radio fundamentals, the radio dish, antenna temperature, the Jansky, dipoles, heterodyne detectors

  • Interferometry: basics, Fourier transforms and the u,v – plane, very long baseline interferometry and aperture synthesis

  • Microwave astronomy: bolometers

  • Imaging systems: spark chamber, Compton telescope grazing incidence telescope coded mask aperture collimator

  • Observatories: Chandra X-ray Observatory, Spitzer Space Telescope, Fermi Gamma ray Space Telescope, INTEGRAL, Square Kilometre Array, Planck Observatory, Herschel Observatory, James Webb Space Telescope

  • Neutrino sources and detection methods: stellar neutrinos, supernova neutrinos, neutrino scattering, solar neutrino problem, Super-Kamiokande, SNO and how it solved the solar neutrino problem, charged current interaction, neutral current interaction, electron elastic scattering

  • Earth observations including upper atmosphere effects

  • Space weather: solar wind, geomagnetic storms

  • Rocketry: control, stability, vectored thrust, aerodynamics

  • Orbital mechanics associated with space travel including gravity assist manoeuvres


Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam (Centrally scheduled)
Astrophysical Technologies & Space Science
3 hours 80
Essay : Physics Practice Questions
N/A 20

Special assessment rules




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

Kitchin C R: “Astrophysical Techniques” 5th edition, Taylor & Francis, 2008
Longair M S: “High energy astrophysics (Volumes I and II)” 2nd edition, CUP, 1992 and 1994
Charles P A & Seward F D: “Exploring the X-ray Universe” 1st edition 1995, 2nd 2010, CUP
Murthy P V R & Wolfendale A W: “Gamma ray astronomy” 2nd edition, Cambridge
Astrophysical Series 22, 1993

Burke B. & Graham-Smith F.: An introduction to radio astronomy, CUP, 2009
Carroll & Ostlie: An introduction to Modern Astrophysics, Pearson, 2013
Zeilik M & Gregory S.A.: Astronomy and astrophysics, Brooks-Cole, 1997

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.