This course builds on material from the Part II Relativity course, although with a different emphasis and approach, and detailed tensor calculus manipulations, although referred to, will in general not be needed. It will also be helpful to have taken Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics in Part II, though again this is not essential.


The main constituents of the Universe: solar system, stars, nebulae, star clusters, galaxies, clusters, radio sources, quasars etc. Sizes, velocities, masses, luminosities. The distance scale.

General Relativity:  Review of foundations of general relativity: equivalence principle, strong and weak forms, curved spaces, the geodesic equation, the field equations, Schwarzschild solution.

Stars, white dwarfs, neutron stars: The physics of stars and stellar evolution, stellar structure,  white dwarfs and the Chandrasekhar mass. General relativistic treatment of stellar structure, the Oppenheimer-Volkoff equations. Neutron star structure, mass-radius relation for cold matter, pair production and annihilation.

The end-points of stellar evolution: Supernovae, pulsars, supernova remnants, shock waves, accretion, accretion discs, the Eddington limit. X-ray binaries, binary and millisecond pulsars, tests of general relativity.

Black holes: Formation, observational evidence, accretion discs, effects of spin, black hole thermodynamics

Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN):  Radiation processes, energy budget, Eddington limit and growth. Special relativistic effects in jetted sources. Gamma-ray bursts.

Gravitational waves: wave solutions to Einstein’s equations in vacuum. Detection of gravitational waves. Astrophysical sources of radiation.

Galaxies and clusters of galaxies: Observational properties and structure. Black hole feedback. Evidence for dark matter. Gravitational lenses, rotation curves.

The Robertson-Walker metric:  Basic observations. Hubble’s law, isotropy and homogeneity of the Universe, comoving coordinates and spatial curvature, redshift. Distance measures, deceleration parameter, luminosity-redshift and angular diameter-redshift relations. Observed flux versus redshift relations. Number counts.

The standard Friedmann models:  General solutions, cosmological constant, the redshift-cosmic time relation, horizons, the flatness and isotropy problems. Ages of stars and galaxies. Methods for determining the Hubble constant.

The Microwave Background Radiation:  Evolution of blackbody spectrum. Energy densities, recombination and timescales. Imprints on the CMB and relation to the growth of structure.

The Early Universe:  Nucleosynthesis, baryon asymmetry. Inflation and the problems it addresses. Origin of perturbations. Cosmological parameters and observations. Clues to the earliest times, links with fundamental theory.


At roughly the level of the course:

Essential Relativity, Rindler W (2nd edn Springer 1990).  Good introduction to GR and cosmology.

Principles of Cosmology and Gravitation, Berry M V (2nd edn IoP 1989). Elementary but clear introduction to GR and cosmology, taking similar line to that used in course.

Black holes, White Dwarfs and Neutron Stars (The Physics of Compact Objects), Shapiro S L & Teukolsky S A (Wiley 1983). Good textbook for parts of course. Aimed at advanced physics students.

Accretion Power in Astrophysics, Frank J, King A & Raine D (2nd edn CUP 1992). Useful for high energy astrophysics aspects.

High Energy Astrophysics, Vols 1 and 2, Longair M S (2nd edn CUP 1992 1994). Useful chapters.

Exploring Black Holes: Introduction to General Relativity, Taylor E F & Wheeler J A (Addison- Wesley 2001).

Supplementary reading at an elementary level:

The Physical Universe, Shu F (University Science Books 1982). Excellent introduction to the whole field of astrophysics and cosmology.

The Big Bang, Silk J (2nd edn Freeman 1989).

Our Evolving Universe, Longair M S (CUP 1996)

Black Holes, Luminet J (CUP 1992).  Excellent paperback account of black holes

Gravity’s Fatal Attraction: Black Holes and the Universe, Begelman M C and Rees M (Freeman: Scientific American 1996)

More advanced books covering General Relativity in more detail:

Introducing Einstein’s Relativity, d’Inverno R (OUP 1995)

Introduction to Cosmology, Narlikar J V (2nd edn CUP 1993)

General Relativity: An Introduction for Physicists, Hobson M P, Efstathiou G P & Lasenby A N (CUP 2006)


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Dr Sandro TacchellaLecturer