AST232 -- Astrophyiscs of Galaxies (The Milky Way and Others)

Fall 2009

This course will focus on the constituents, properties, and physical processes inside galaxies. While the Milky Way will often be used to expemplify the principles, I will aim for the course to apply to galaxies more generally.

Class Hours: 15:25 - 16:40 Morey 402

Professor:     Eric Blackman, B&L 417, 5-0537,

     Office Hours: Wed 14:15 - 15:45pm

TA:     Dhara Trivedi, B&L 304 , 5-8543,



The required course textbook is: "Galaxies in the Universe" by Linda Sparke and John Gallagher (Second Edition) Note the following link to typos in the textbook!

     Other books of interest include:

"The Physical Universe" (Shu; In my opinon, the best semi-qualitative overview of modern astronomy for physics and astronomy majors--there are few equations but the physical reasoning is very effective and at times sophisticated.)

"Modern Astrophysics" (Carroll and Ostlie; good quantitative overview of astrophysics accessible to undergraduates. A recommended purchase if you would like a comprehensive book on your shelf.)

     More advanced (A232 will prepare you for these books):

"Galactic Dynamics" (Binney and Tremaine; classic graduate level textbook for theory of gravitational dynamics within galaxies.)

"Galactic Astronomy" (Merrifield and Binney; graduate level textbook for observational properties of galaxies and a companion to Binney and Tremaine)


The approximate syllabus and order of topics to be covered is below, and is organized to follow the textbook (Sparke and Gallagher).

1. Introduction: Stars, the Milky Way, Galaxies in the Unverse

2. Observing and Mapping the Milky Way

3. Stellar Orbits in Galaxies

4. Nearby Galaxies and the Local Group

5. Spiral and S0 Galaxies

6. Elliptical Galaxies


7. Large Scale Structure and Distribution of Galaxies in the Universe

8. Active Galaxies


(1) Homework problems ( ~25%, each homework set counts equally)

(2) Two in-class exams (based on book problems) (~25% each for A232) Oct 20, Dec 8

(3) Term paper, topics to be decided as term goes on. Paper is to be no more than 3500 words of text (not inlcuding references, abstract, title, or figures) (~25%) Topics due Nov 10; Paper due Finals week (Dec 20)


EXAMPLE PAPER TOPICS FOR ITEM (3) ABOVE (more to be added in class):

*NGC-4258 Masers, Dynamics, and Warped Disks

*Measuring the black hole mass at the Galactic Center

* The "M-sigma" relation (an observed correlation between black hole mass and velocity dispersion of stars in galaxy centers): what does it mean, how does it arise?

* The upper mass limit on stars

* Cold Dark Matter in Galaxies or Modified Newtonian Gravity?: Advantages and disadvantages of these two approaches to understanding galactic rotation curves. Recent developments 2006

* Galactic structure and stellar populations

* Type Ia Supernovae in Galaxies and the Expansion of the Universe



Viewgraphs of interestd: Intro to Milky Way ,

Howell et al. 2006; Type IA SN not standard Candles?

Most distant Galaxy observed yet: redshift z=6.96 ,

Other Links

Astronomy picture of the day archive

Stellar Classification and Stellar Subtypes

Planetary Nebulae,

Astronomy and Physics Online Journal Publication Database (ADS)