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(NS) Stellar Physics - PHY00058H

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  • Department: Physics
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Charles Barton
  • Credit value: 10 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20

Related modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2019-20

Module aims

The module then develops the physics of the formation, evolution and death of stars. It commences by discussing the origin of the gas and dust in a galaxy, its condensation under gravity to form a protostar and its evolution onto the main sequence. The energy production mechanisms are dealt with in some detail as are the heat transport mechanisms within the stellar interior. The various classes of star are then examined including variables such as Cepheids, Wolf-Rayets and nova. The description of stellar spectra as a function of surface temperature and composition is then discussed in order to relate spectra and composition. The gradual evolution of stars off the main sequence is described as a function of the original mass of gas from which they were composed. This then leads to consideration of the evolutionary histories of stars as a function of mass. The Red Giant phase of a star’s evolution is then described together with the way in which it evolves to become a white dwarf or supernova. Element synthesis during all stages of stellar evolution is covered as well as during the violent endpoints of stellar evolution.


Module learning outcomes

  • Describe and apply the physical principles underlying gravitational collapse of a dust cloud to form a protostar.
  • Describe and derive aspects of energy production and heat transport mechanisms within the stellar interior.
  • Describe stellar evolution to and from the main sequence and the conditions of hydrostatic equilibrium.
  • Calculate fusion rates and describe element synthesis within stellar environments as well as explain the abundance of elements within the universe.
  • Describe the endpoints of stellar evolution as a function of stellar mass.
  • Calculate and apply the appropriate classical or relativistic kinematics as well as the ideal or quantum mechanical gas description to the electron and ion components of the stellar interior.

Module content

Please note, students taking this module should have completed the modules listed a prerequisites (Electromagnetism and Optics - PHY00002I and Mathematics II PHY00030I) or the appropriate equivalent modules.

Stellar Physics Syllabus

  • Big Bang nucleosynthesis and gravitational contraction – The synthesis of light elements and hydrostatic equilibrium of non-relativistic and ultra-relativistic particles.
  • Star Formation and the Sun– The Jean’s Criteria, contraction of a protostar, conditions for stardom, pressure, density, temperature, and solar radiation.
  • Links to radiation transport laser plasma measurements of opacities relevant to stellar physics
  • Stellar Nucleosynthesis and Stellar Life Cycles – Stellar mass and the extent of thermonuclear fusion, burning cycles, neutron capture, the rate and endpoint of stellar evolution, abundances of chemical elements.
  • Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram – Luminosity, surface temperature, star clusters, tracks and variable stars.
  • Properties of Matter within stars – Ideal gas law, density of states, internal energy, pressure, ideal classical gas, electrons in stars, degenerate electron gases, density-temperature diagram.
  • Properties of Radiation within stars – Photon gas, radiation pressure, the Saha Equation, ionization in stars and stellar atmospheres, pair production and photodisintegration.
  • Heat transfer in stars – heat transfer via random motion of particles and photons, convection, temperature gradients in stars.
  • Thermonuclear fusion in stars – barrier penetration, cross sections, reaction rates, H burning, the p-p chain, CNO cycle, He burning, C production and consumption, advanced burning to Fe-Ni region.
  • Stellar structure– pressure, temperature and density inside stars, Modelling the Sun, minimum and maximum masses of stars.
  • Endpoints of stellar evolution– white dwarfs, collapse of stellar cores, neutron stars, black holes.
  • Helioseismology– pressure and gravity waves, normal modes of oscillation, observations of our Sun from Earth and satellite missions.

Lecture notes

Students are expected to take their own notes during lectures. A set of skeleton notes will be made available online at the end of the course.


Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam
Stellar Physics
1.5 hours 86
Essay Practice Questions
N/A 14

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Closed/in-person Exam
Stellar Physics
1.5 hours 86

Module feedback

Physics Practice Questions (PPQs) - You will receive the marked scripts via your pigeon holes. Feedback solutions will be provided on the VLE or by other equivalent means from your lecturer. As feedback solutions are provided, normally detailed comments will not be written on your returned work, although markers will indicate where you have lost marks or made mistakes. You should use your returned scripts in conjunction with the feedback solutions.

Exams - You will receive the marks for the individual exams from eVision. Detailed model answers will be provided on the intranet. You should discuss your performance with your supervisor.

Advice on academic progress - Individual meetings with supervisor will take place where you can discuss your academic progress in detail.


Indicative reading

Stellar Physics

Phillips A C: The Physics of Stars (Wiley, 2nd Ed 1999)***

Kippenhahn R and Weigert A: Stellar Structure and Evolution (Springer-Verlag)*

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.