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Unit information: Galaxies and the Universe in 2017/18

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Unit name Galaxies and the Universe
Unit code PHYS11500
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Phillipps
Open unit status Open

A-level Mathematics or Physics, or equivalent.



School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

Galaxies and the Universe gives a broad introduction to the structure of our own Milky Way Galaxy, of external galaxies, and the larger-scale Universe, including the application of physical laws to the interpretation of what is observed.

Instrumental techniques related to the observations are discussed.

Familiarity with basic calculus is assumed.


The Milky Way

  • To introduce the structure of the Milky Way, including the observational signatures of its stellar, gaseous, and dust components
  • To describe kinematics of stars and gas, and demonstrate how they relate to the distribution of mass and provide evidence for the existence of dark matter
  • To discuss the birth and death of stars and their relationship to the interstellar medium.

Galaxies and Observations

  • To describe the range of galaxy types, their distributions, and how this relates to their evolution. To describe the different instrumental techniques that are needed in modern astronomy to make relevant observations over a wide range of wavelengths
  • To illustrate how we deduce characteristics such as the mass, luminosity, kinematics, and clustering properties of galaxies, describing the application of physical laws and scaling relationships. To introduce active galaxies.


  • To provide a brief introduction to how contemporary measurements have influenced our understanding of how the universe has evolved.

Intended Learning Outcomes

The Milky Way

  • Be able to outline how the size, structure, contents and kinematics of our Milky Way Galaxy may be deduced from observations made at various wavelengths, allowing for the effects of factors such as extinction due to dust.
  • Understand observational and gravitational arguments for the existence of dark matter.

Galaxies and Observations

  • Know the classifications given to external galaxies, and understand relationships to evolution and mergers.
  • Be able to describe the problems and advantages associated with making observations in different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum and the way in which telescope and detector design have responded to these.
  • Be able to apply methods based on kinematics and gravity to estimate the masses and luminosities of galaxies and clusters of galaxies.
  • Appreciate the information that can be derived from the clustering properties of galaxies.
  • Understand why some galaxies are classed as active.


  • Able to give a basic description of the effects of expansion and evolution of the universe in the context of gravity and other observational indicators.

Practical work

  • Ability to manipulate data, make simple measurements and calculations, and draw logical conclusions for areas covered in lectures.

Teaching Information

Lectures, laboratory and revision classes.

Assessment Information

Formative Assessment:

  • Practical work and the problems sheets provide formative feedback.

Summative Assessment:

  • A final 2 hour examination (85%), continuously assessed practical work (10%)and problem sheets (5%).

Reading and References

  • Zeilik and Gregory, Introductory Astronomy and Astrophysics (Brooks/Cole)