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PH30110: Computational astrophysics

[Page last updated: 15 October 2020]

Follow this link for further information on academic years Academic Year: 2020/1
Further information on owning departmentsOwning Department/School: Department of Physics
Further information on credits Credits: 6      [equivalent to 12 CATS credits]
Further information on notional study hours Notional Study Hours: 120
Further information on unit levels Level: Honours (FHEQ level 6)
Further information on teaching periods Period:
Semester 2
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Summary: CW 100%
Further information on unit assessment Assessment Detail:
  • Coursework (CW 100%)
Further information on supplementary assessment Supplementary Assessment:
Like-for-like reassessment (where allowed by programme regulations)
Further information on requisites Requisites: Before taking this module you must ( take PH20105 OR take PH20018 ) AND take PH30108
Description: Aims:
The aims of this unit are to introduce students to the practical use of computer modelling as a complement to theoretical and experimental solution of physical and astrophysical problems.

Learning Outcomes:
After taking this unit the student should be able to:
* identify the strengths and weaknesses of a computational approach to modelling;
* demonstrate a practical knowledge of Python and C programming languages;
* construct Python/C programs to analyse astrophysical problems;
* use computational modelling to perform in-depth investigations into selected topics;
* explain the methodology, issues and output of the investigations performed.

Written Communication T/F A, Numeracy T/F A, Data Acquisition, Handling, and Analysis T/F A, Information Technology T/F A, Problem Solving T/F A.

Introduction to computational modelling as a means of gaining insight into physical problems (1 hour).
Review of Programming in Python/C (4 hours): constants, variables, expressions, functions, arrays, iterative loops. Differentiation and integration. Standard functions. Input and output of data. Graphical output.
Three projects based on Modelling methods and topics listed below (6, 9, 15 hours respectively)
Modelling methods: Ordinary differential equations: boundary-value problems, Euler's method, Runge-Kutta algorithms, shooting method, finite-difference method. Partial differential equations. Monte Carlo methods. N-body simulations of diffuse and centrally-condensed systems.
Exercises and projects based upon development of Python/C programs: Projects based upon topics taken from: planetary dynamics, prediction of orbits, multiple-star systems; radiation transport, Boltzmann and Saha equations, opacity; hydrodynamics, Euler equations, formation of shock waves; nuclear reaction networks, stellar nucleosynthesis; equations of stellar structure, modelling the Sun's interior; gas degeneracy, modelling of white dwarfs and neutron stars; astrophysical plasmas; spiral density waves; extragalactic bending of light, gravitational lensing, dark matter; simple cosmological models, large scale structure of the Universe. The Zel'dovich approximation.
Further information on programme availabilityProgramme availability:

PH30110 is Optional on the following programmes:

Department of Physics
  • USXX-AFB03 : BSc(Hons) Mathematics and Physics (Year 3)
  • USXX-AAB04 : BSc(Hons) Mathematics and Physics with Study year abroad (Year 4)
  • USXX-AKB04 : BSc(Hons) Mathematics and Physics with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • USPH-AFB01 : BSc(Hons) Physics (Year 3)
  • USPH-AAB02 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 4)
  • USPH-AKB02 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • USPH-AFB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics (Year 3)
  • USPH-AAB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Study year abroad (Year 4)
  • USPH-AKB10 : BSc(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Year long work placement (Year 4)
  • USPH-AFM02 : MPhys(Hons) Physics (Year 3)
  • USPH-AFM04 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Research placement (Year 3)
  • USPH-AAM12 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Study year abroad (Year 4)
  • USPH-AKM03 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Professional Placement (Year 4)
  • USPH-AKM04 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Professional and Research Placements (Year 4)
  • USPH-AFM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics (Year 3)
  • USPH-AFM11 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Research placement (Year 3)
  • USPH-AKM10 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Professional Placement (Year 4)
  • USPH-AKM11 : MPhys(Hons) Physics with Astrophysics with Professional and Research Placements (Year 4)


  • This unit catalogue is applicable for the 2020/21 academic year only. Students continuing their studies into 2021/22 and beyond should not assume that this unit will be available in future years in the format displayed here for 2020/21.
  • Programmes and units are subject to change in accordance with normal University procedures.
  • Availability of units will be subject to constraints such as staff availability, minimum and maximum group sizes, and timetabling factors as well as a student's ability to meet any pre-requisite rules.
  • Find out more about these and other important University terms and conditions here.