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School of Physics and Astronomy

Syllabus for PHYS 20491: Galaxies (15/16)

PHYS20491 Physics with Astrophysics Core Unit
Prof. B. Stappers & Dr. M. Keith Physics Option Unit
Credit Rating: 10


Prerequisites: PHYS10191

Follow-up units: PHYS20692, PHYS40992

Classes: 22 lectures in S3

Assessment: 1 hour 30 minutes examination in January

Recommended texts

Binney, J. & Merrifield, M. Galactic Astronomy (Princeton University Press)

Sparke, L.S. & Gallagher, J.S. Galaxies in the Universe (CUP)

Combes, F. et.al. Galaxies and Cosmology (Springer)


Feedback will be available on students' individual written solutions to examples sheets, which will be marked, and model answers will be issued.


To understand the observed properties of galaxies in the context of the current hierarchical structure formation theory.

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of the course, students will be able to:

1. classify galaxies using the Hubble scheme.

2. discuss critically methods of distance measurement to galaxies.

3. describe the properties of the Milky Way and compare its properties to external galaxies.

4. explain how to determine the mass of a galaxy and discuss the implication of this for the existence of dark matter.

5. describe the winding dilemma and give simple explanations for spiral arms.

6. demonstrate an understanding of the basic properties of galaxy clusters.


1. Introduction - Our view of galaxies

Hubble and de Vaucouleurs classification schemes - the distance ladder and methods of measuring distances to Galaxies - luminosity function of galaxies - surface brightness magnitude - galaxy surveys.

2. Our Galaxy - The Milky Way

principal components and their kinematics - stellar mass function - rotation curve - Oort constants - mass budget and evidence for dark matter - satellite streams - Galactic Centre.

3. Disk galaxies

surface brightness distribution - Tully-Fisher relation: application as a distance measurement - dynamics of disk galaxies - origin of spiral arms- properties of Galactic bars.

4. Elliptical galaxies

composition and structure - surface brightness distribution - King models and comparisons with globular clusters - the fundamental plane - black hole mass versus velocity dispersion relation - dynamics of elliptical galaxies.

5. Groups, clusters and Galaxy formation

membership of galaxy groups and clusters - the Local Group - methods for estimating the mass of groups and clusters - morphology versus density relation for galaxies and for clusters of galaxies - classic and modern views of galaxy formation - open questions.