Cluster 4 -- Introduction to Astrophysics 


This cluster consists of four interrelated core courses that will be taught throughout the duration of the cluster.  The courses are: “Foundations of Astronomy”, “Star and Planet Formation”, “Stellar Evolution”, and “Intro to Cosmology”.  These courses are intended to provide students with a good background in some of the most important aspects of astrophysics, and then to apply this knowledge to some of the most interesting recent discoveries in the field.  There will be special topic lectures from the instructors and guest lecturers.  In addition, the students will work on research projects in astrophysics.  The research projects will involve basic Python programming; while some familiarity with Python or another programming language would be helpful, all needed programming skills will be taught as part of the curriculum.

Core Courses

Foundations of Astronomy

There are some key ideas that every astronomer needs to know, and this course will cover these core concepts.  We will discuss the basics of how telescopes work and why different kinds of telescopes and instruments are used for specific observations.  We’ll also talk about the various detectors used to measure light from radio waves to gamma rays.  Students will learn important terminology and basic measurement concepts.  We will talk about how the sky moves, how astronomers find particular objects in the sky, and the basic methods used to determine the distance to astronomical objects, a fundamental measurement in astronomy and cosmology.  This course will give students a solid grasp of the practical steps necessary to turn light from the sky into a meaningful measurement that tells us about the Universe. 

Star and Planet Formation

We will look at the formation and early evolution of stars and planetary systems from the initial collapse of interstellar gas to the onset of stable hydrogen fusion in the core of the star.  We will discuss methods for detecting and studying pre-stellar material, disks around stars, and planetary systems outside our Solar System.  We will investigate the chemical makeup of interstellar gas, stars, and planets.

Introduction to Cosmology

How did the Universe begin?  Will it ever end?  Are there other universes out there?  In this class, we will discuss the evidence for the expansion of the Universe, the Big Bang, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy, and explore what our current understanding of those implies for the ultimate fate of the Universe.

Stellar Evolution

The Sun is a star, of course.  Why is the Sun the size, temperature, and color it is?  There are physical laws governing the structure and evolution of all stars, including the Sun.  We will explore these laws as we learn about stars and their ultimate fates.  From this, we will understand why the Sun will end its life as a white dwarf instead of exploding as a supernova.