2016 Physics of the Universe

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Academic unit or major
Undergraduate major in Physics
Kawai Nobuyuki 
Class Format
Media-enhanced courses
Day/Period(Room No.)
Mon7-8(H116)  Thr7-8(H116)  
Course number
Academic year
Offered quarter
Syllabus updated
Lecture notes updated
Language used
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Course description and aims

This course introduces basic knowledges about astronomy and astrophysics, and gives introductory reviews on physical bases required to understand phenomena in the Universe. Interesting objects and astrophysical phenomena such as neutron stars, supernovae, gamma-ray bursts, and the big bang are presented as examples to explain the physical processes never realized in laboratory experiments on the earth.
With this course, students get to know that even the cosmic events of extraordinary scales can be understood qualitatively from fundamental physics laws. Furthermore, this course aims to nourish practical capabilities to solve real-world physics problems through exercises to obtain order-of-magnitude estimations of physical quantities in astrophysical phenomena by applying physics laws.

Student learning outcomes

【Goals】 To learn the basic concepts and knowledges required to understand the current views on the Universe and unresolved problems. To understand astrophysical phenomena based on physical principles.
【Thema】 The Universe is the most intellectually fascinating object to the human kind. Researches on the Universe started from the sun and the moon, then extended to the planets and stars, and then beyond the Milky Way out to its horizon. Get familiar with the Universe from the view point of physics.


Radiation processes, electromagnetic waves, stellar structure, stellar evolution, supernovae, neutron stars, black holes, relativistic phenomena, astrophysical jets, galaxies, gamma-ray bursts, Hubble's law, Big Bang, cosmic background radiation, gravitational wave, telescopes

Competencies that will be developed

Specialist skills Intercultural skills Communication skills Critical thinking skills Practical and/or problem-solving skills

Class flow

Students are expected to read the course materials uploaded on the OCW-i, and solve the problems prior to each lecture, in which the solutions are reviewed.

Course schedule/Required learning

  Course schedule Required learning
Class 1 Problems in modern astrophysics Understand the how physical laws are related to astrophysical phenomena
Class 2 How to measure distances in the Universe Present methods and principles for measurements of distances to celestial bodies
Class 3 Radiation and blackbody Give the spectrum and radiation energy of a star assuming it is a blackbody.
Class 4 Internal Structure of Stars Present the fundamental equations that determine the structure of a star.
Class 5 The life and death of stars Describe evolution of stars from their main sequence periods to their endpoints.
Class 6 Supernova remnants and cosmic rays Derive approximately the Sedov solution of supernova remnants.
Class 7 Neutron stars Derive the formulae that give estimation of the age and the surface magnetic field of a pulsar from its rotation period and its time derivative.
Class 8 X-ray binaries Give the Eddington luminosity and the corresponding accretion rate of a standard neutron star in an X-ray binary.
Class 9 Black holes Explain the methods to observationally confirm the existence of a black hole.
Class 10 Astrophysical jets and superluminal fire ball Show that the compactness problem of gamma-ray bursts can be explained by relativistic motions.
Class 11 The beginning of the Universe and the cosmic background radiation Give the relation between the Hubble constant and the age of the model of expanding Universe with zero cosmological constant and zero curvature.
Class 12 Stars and galaxies in the early Universe Explain the cosmic re-ionization and why its observations are made in infrared rather than optical band.
Class 13 Short gamma-ray bursts and gravitational wave Explain why the origin of short gamma-ray bursts are attributed to merger of binary neutron stars, with reference to that of long gamma-ray bursts.
Class 14 Various means of observations Explain the physical principles of electromagnetic wave detections used for various wavelengths.
Class 15 Unresolved problems Describe important unresolved problems related to the Universe.


No textbook is specified. The course materials are uploaded at OCW.

Reference books, course materials, etc.

Roger Freedman, William J. Kaufmann "Universe" Freeman
Hale Bradt "Astronomy Methods: A Physical Approach to Astronomical Observations" Cambridge University Press
Hale Bradt "Astrophysics Processes: The Physics of Astronomical Phenomena" Cambridge University Press

Assessment criteria and methods

Scores are based on the quizzes at the lectures (20%) and the final exam (80%).

Related courses

  • LAS.P101 : Fundamentals of Mechanics 1
  • LAS.P102 : Fundamentals of Mechanics 2
  • PHY.E205 : Electromagnetism
  • PHY.Q207 : Introduction to Quantum Mechanics
  • PHY.S301 : Statistical Mechanics

Prerequisites (i.e., required knowledge, skills, courses, etc.)

No prerequisites are specified, but basic knowledge of mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics are desirable.

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