PHY2030 Observing the Universe 2022-23
Prof. S. Hinkley
Delivery Weeks: T2:01-11
Level: 5 (NQF)
Credits: 15 NICATS / 7.5 ECTS
Enrolment: 84 students (approx)


In this module students will gain a basic knowledge of the universe and its contents, and good understanding of astrophysical measurement. As such it is crucial for the astrophysics project work, and when combined with the detailed understanding of stars, galaxies and cosmology obtained from the subsequent modules, PHY3070, PHY3066 and PHYM006, will provide a well-balanced grounding in astrophysics.

Module Aims

The specific aims of the module are to impart: a basic knowledge of the hierarchy of objects in the universe, including their structural and evolutionary relationship to each other; an understanding the underlying principles of key instrumentation used for observational astrophysics; an understanding of how we can obtain structural information and physical parameters from distant, often unresolved, objects.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

A student who has passed this module should be able to:

Syllabus Plan

  1. Broad Overview and Background
    1. The contents of the Universe.
    2. Celestial co-ordinate systems.
    3. Ages in the Universe (our Sun, clusters, galaxies).
    4. Broad outline of Stellar evolution.
  2. Measuring the following properties.
    1. Parallax and distance to the Sun.
    2. Luminosity of stars — main-sequence distances.
    3. The temperatures of stars.
    4. The masses of stars and planets (Kepler's Laws the importance of binaries).
    5. The radii of stars and planets
  3. Telescopes, Instruments and Interferometers.
    1. Statistics of photon counting instruments. Energy integrating instruments.
    2. Ideal and non-deal telescopes (angular resolution, platescales and aberrations).
    3. Classical imaging systems.
    4. Spectrographs, polarimeters and heterodyne techniques.
    5. Charge coupled devices.
    6. Interferometry & sparse apertures.
    7. Radio Astronomy, X-ray, gamma-ray astronomy.
    8. Turbulence, adaptive optics, coronographs and higher resolution.
  4. Additional topics
    1. Spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres.
    2. Diffuse gas.
    3. Modern instruments: SKA, JWST, SPHERE.
    4. Cosmology, the expanding universe and its evolution.

Learning and Teaching

Learning Activities and Teaching Methods

Description Study time KIS type
20×1-hour lectures 20 hours SLT
2×1-hour problems/revision classes 2 hours SLT
5×6-hour self-study packages 30 hours GIS
4×4-hour problems sets 16 hours GIS
Reading, private study and revision 82 hours GIS


Weight Form Size When ILOS assessed Feedback
0% Guided self-study 5×6-hour packages Fortnightly 1-11 Discussion in class
0% 4 × Problems sets 4 hours per set Fortnightly 1-11 Solutions discussed in problems classes.
100% Final Examination 120 minutes May/June assessment period 1-9 Mark via MyExeter, collective feedback via ELE and solutions.


The following list is offered as an indication of the type & level of information that students are expected to consult. Further guidance will be provided by the Module Instructor(s).

Core text:

Supplementary texts:


Further Information

Prior Knowledge Requirements

Pre-requisite Modules Vector Mechanics (PHY1021) and Introduction to Astrophysics (PHY1022)
Co-requisite Modules none


Re-assessment is not available except when required by referral or deferral.

Original form of assessment Form of re-assessment ILOs re-assessed Time scale for re-assessment
Whole module Written examination (100%) 1-9 August/September assessment period

Notes: See Physics Assessment Conventions.

KIS Data Summary

Learning activities and teaching methods
SLT - scheduled learning & teaching activities 22 hrs
GIS - guided independent study 128 hrs
PLS - placement/study abroad 0 hrs
Total 150 hrs
Summative assessment
Coursework 0%
Written exams 100%
Practical exams 0%
Total 100%


IoP Accreditation Checklist
  • Not applicable, this is an optional module.
Availability unrestricted
Distance learning NO
Keywords Physics; Universes; Distances; Galaxy; Measurement; Redshifts; Evolution; Objective; Stars; Methods; Masses.
Created 01-Oct-10
Revised 01-Oct-11