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Durham University

Faculty Handbook Archive

Archive Module Description

This page is for the academic year 2012-13. The current handbook year is 2020-21

Department: Physics


Type Open Level 3 Credits 20 Availability Available in 2012/13 Module Cap None. Location Durham


  • Stars and Galaxies (PHYS3621).


  • None.

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None.


  • This module is designed primarily for students studying Department of Physics or Natural Sciences degree programmes.
  • It builds on the Level 2 module Stars and Galaxies (PHYS2621) and provides a knowledge appropriate to Level 3 students of the astrophysical origin of planetary systems and the cosmological origin of the Universe.


  • The syllabus contains:
  • Planetary Systems: Overview of the Solar System, orbital dynamics, planetary interiors, planetary atmospheres, formation of the Solar System, extrasolar planets.
  • Cosmology: Observational overview and the expansion of the Universe, the cosmological principle (homogeneity and isotropy), Newtonian gravity and the Friedmann equation, the geometry of the Universe, solutions of Friedmannʼs equations, the age of the Universe, weighing the Universe, the cosmological constant, general relativistic cosmology (the metric and Einstein equations), classic cosmology (distances and luminosities), type Ia SNe and galaxy number counts, the cosmic microwave background, the thermal history of the Universe, primordial nucleosynthesis, dark matter, problems with the hot big bang, inflation, current constraints on cosmological parameters.

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Having studied this module, students will understand the formation and workings of our Solar System, its orbital dynamics, and the basic physics of planetary interiors and atmospheres.
  • They will be familiar with mathematical models for the expansion, thermal history, material and energy content of a homogeneous isotropic universe, and will understand the physical basis of the model and the observational evidence that constrains it.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • In addition to the acquisition of subject knowledge, students will be able to apply the principles of physics to the solution of complex problems.
  • They will know how to produce a well-structured solution, with clearly-explained reasoning and appropriate presentation.
Key Skills:

    Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

    • Teaching will be by lectures and example classes.
    • The lectures provide the means to give a concise, focused presentation of the subject matter of the module. The lecture material will be defined by, and explicitly linked to, the contents of the recommended textbooks for the module, thus making clear where students can begin private study. When appropriate, the lectures will also be supported by the distribution of written material, or by information and relevant links on DUO.
    • Regular problem exercises and example classes will give students the chance to develop their theoretical understanding and problem solving skills.
    • Students will be able to obtain further help in their studies by approaching their lecturers, either after lectures or at other mutually convenient times.
    • Student performance will be summatively assessed through an examination and problem exercises. These will provide the means for students to demonstrate the acquisition of subject knowledge and the development of their problem-solving skills.
    • The problem exercises and example classes provide opportunities for feedback, for students to gauge their progress and for staff to monitor progress throughout the duration of the module.

    Teaching Methods and Contact Hours

    Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
    Lectures 38 2 per week 1 Hour 38
    Examples classes 6 Every 3 weeks 1 Hour 6
    Preparation and Reading 156
    Total 200

    Summative Assessment

    Component: Examinations Component Weighting: 90%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Written examination 3 hours 100%
    Component: Problem exercises Component Weighting: 10%
    Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
    Problem exercises 100%

    Formative Assessment:

    Examples classes and problems solved therein.

    Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University