PHYS 731/ASTR 731 Extragalactic Astrophysics

Syllabus, Summer 2013


Prerequisites: Consent of the Professor. The course assumes a background in classical mechanics (PHYS 701) and electromagnetism (PHYS 703), and knowledge of basic astronomy (ASTR 211 or equivalent).


Professor: Varsha P. Kulkarni ; Office: Jones PSC 505; Phone : 777-6293, E-mail:



Lecture Hours: MTWThF 1:15-2:10 pm, Room TBA


Course Description: Astrophysics of normal and active galaxies, galaxy structures, observational cosmology.


Learning Outcomes: Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

1.       Discuss and interpret observations of the Milky Way, nearby and distant galaxies, such as luminosity functions, stellar populations, kinematics, and magnetic field distributions.

2.      Describe observations of active galaxies, super-massive black holes, galaxy clusters, and large-scale structure.

3.      Describe basic cosmological models, cosmic radiation backgrounds, and observational constraints on the models.

4.      Discuss models of galaxy evolution, and observational evidence for them.

5.      Identify and quantify galaxy morphologies using software programs for examining surface brightness distributions.

6.      Analyze galaxy spectral energy distributions to constrain photometric redshifts and ages, using software for stellar population synthesis and photometric redshift determination.

7.      Describe and interpret observations of the high-redshift universe using tools such as quasar/gamma-ray-burst spectroscopy and the Lyman break technique.



“Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology: An Introduction” by Peter Schneider, 2010 (Springer)

“Observational Cosmology” by Stephen Serjeant, 2010 (Cambridge University Press)


Other suggested references:

“Introduction to Modern Astrophysics” by B. W. Carroll & D. A. Ostlie 2006 (Benjamin Cummings)

“Nucleo-synthesis and Chemical Evolution of Galaxies” by B. E. J. Pagel 2009 (Cambridge University Press)

Selected relevant articles from journals such as the Astrophysical Journal and the Annual Reviews of Astronomy & Astrophysics will also be discussed.


Instructional Delivery Strategy: The students will learn the material through a combination of lecture/discussion sessions and seminars. The order of all classes, assignments, and student seminars will be chosen so as to maintain a logical and sequential development of the material.


Homework Assignments: Most homework assignments will be based on problems from the textbooks. Additional problem sets may be handed out in class. Three homework assignments will be based on learning to use computer programs for quantifying galaxy morphological classification, photometric redshifts, and stellar population synthesis models.


Student seminars: Students will present two seminars on topics of their choice. Seminars will be approximately 30 min. long, with additional 20 min. for discussion.

Some references potentially useful for student seminars: Ade, P. et al. 2013, “Planck 2013 results. XVI. Cosmological parameters”, A&A, submitted (astroph/1303.5076)

Antonucci, S. 1993, “Unified models of active galactic nuclei and quasars”, ARAA, 31, 473-521 Elvis, M. 2006, “Quasar structure and cosmological feedback”, astro/ph 0606100, 1-8 Freeman, W. L. et al. 2001, “Final results from the Hubble Space Telescope key project to measure the

Hubble Constant”, ApJ, 553, 47-72 Hu, W. and Dodelson, S. 2002, “Cosmic microwave background anisotropies”, ARAA, 40, 171-216 Kennicutt, R. C. 1998, “Star formation along the Hubble Sequence”, ARAA, 36, 189-232 Loeb, A., & Barkana, R. 2001, “The re-ionization of the Universe by the first stars and quasars”, ARAA,

39, 19-66 Petitjean, P. 1998, “QSO absorption line systems”, in the proceedings of the Les Houches school

"Formation and Evolution of galaxies"; O. Le Fevre and S. Charlot (eds.), Springer-Verlag [astroph/9810418], 1-24 Pettini, M. 2003, “Element abundances through the cosmic ages”, in Cosmochemistry. The melting pot of

the elements. XIII Canary Islands Winter School of Astrophysics, Eds. C. Esteban et al. (astro-ph/ 0303272), 1-42


Grading Basis: The grades will be determined as follows: Homework assignments and related discussions: 40% Student seminars: 30%

2 Tests: 30% Grading Scheme: The following will serve as a rough guide to grade boundaries. I may adjust these in the favorable direction for border-line cases. >= 90: A, 84-89: B+, 77-83: B, 71-76:C+, 64-70: C, 57-63: D+, 50-56: D, < 50: F


Tentative Outline:

The following topics are expected to be covered in roughly the order given below:


* Review of relevant basics: stellar properties and evolution, magnitudes, distance modulus, etc.

*Review of relevant basics cont’d.: black-body radiation, virial theorem, etc.

*Milky Way galaxy—structure, kinematics, Galactic center

*Other normal galaxies: spirals, ellipticals, irregulars, scaling relations, extragalactic distance scale

*Active galaxies—AGN classification, AGN components, super-massive black holes, unified models

*Galaxy groups and clusters, voids, large-scale structure

*Basics of cosmology: discovery of expansion, homogeneous isotropic cosmological models, the big bang,  redshift,

  different  distance measures

*Basics of cosmology cont’d.: thermal history, primordial nucleo-synthesis, successes and problems of standard model

*High-redshift universe: Lyman-break galaxies, starbursts, cosmic star formation history, intergalactic

  matter, quasar absorption systems


Observational constraints on cosmological parameters: measurements of H0, dark matter, evidence of acceleration--dark energy, cosmic microwave background Galaxy formation and evolution


Attendance Policy: Attendance is mandatory and active participation in class is expected.

Students with Disabilities: If you have a disability, it is essential that you speak to me early in the semester to make the necessary arrangements to support a successful learning experience. Also, you must arrange to have a Letter of Accommodation sent to me from the USC Office of Disability Services.