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Unit information: Stars and Planets 106 in 2020/21

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Unit name Stars and Planets 106
Unit code PHYS10600
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Leinhardt
Open unit status Not open

A-level Mathematics or equivalent.



School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

Stars and Planets gives a broad introduction to the structure and characteristics of the Sun and other stars, and the planets in our solar system and around other stars, applying physical laws, particularly Newtonian gravity.

The coordinate and time systems required for observing astronomical objects are described.

Familiarity with basic calculus is assumed.


The Solar System

  • To introduce the solar system including its scale
  • To describe the coordinate and time systems which are required to allow observations of specific astronomical objects
  • To demonstrate the application of physical laws to planetary motions.


  • To describe the various characteristics of stars which can be measured from Earth, and the ways in which the physical nature and internal structures of different types of stars may be inferred from a study of their characteristics.


  • To familiarise students with the characteristics, formation, and evolution of known planets, including those outside our own solar system.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Solar System:

  • Understand the scale size of the solar system and how distances are defined.
  • Be able to calculate fluxes and luminosities of generic solar-system bodies.
  • Able to draw an observer's view of the sky at a particular time, and use astronomical coordinate systems.
  • Able to apply Kepler's laws and demonstrate how they are understood in terms of conservation laws.


  • Become familiar with the measurements which can be made on stars.
  • Understand how correlation plots of stellar properties have allowed us to classify stars into different types, and to place these types in an evolutionary sequence.
  • Able to apply the laws governing the behaviour of gases to derive the conditions inside stars and to show that these conditions imply that thermonuclear reactions must be the energy sources of most stars.
  • Be able to explain, in a general way, how the transient phenomena observed on the surfaces of stars can be understood in terms of local concentrations of magnetic field.


  • Able to explain the characteristics and underlying physical processes of a planet, dwarf planet, and brown dwarf.
  • Understand the limitations of these definitions and why they are used.
  • Understand the competing theories for planet formation and how observational data including data gathered on Earth has been used to constrain these theories.
  • Be able to use radiometric dating to determine the age of meteorites , and use the radial velocity technique to determine the mass of an extrasolar planet.

Practical work:

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

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials, including narrated presentations and worked examples
  • synchronous group problems classes, workshops, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative exercises and other exercises
  • guided, structured reading

Assessment Information

Coursework submissions and tutorial work (100%)

Reading and References

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