Omega Centauri from the Hubble Space Telescope

Physics 441/541
Stars and Star Formation
Spring 2020

Mondays and Thursdays
12:00 to 1:20 pm
ARC 207 , Busch campus
Instructor: Saurabh W Jha


We will study the observed properties and physics of stars, including their internal structure, energy generation and transport, and their atmospheres. We will examine star formation, stellar evolution, and stellar remnants, including white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes.

Contact Information

Prof. Saurabh W Jha
Room 315, Serin Physics Building, Busch campus
Email: saurabh[at]
Phone: 848-445-8962 (email preferred)

Office hours: Tuesdays 3-4pm, or by appointment


The required textbooks we will use are The Physics of Stars (2nd edition, 1999, Wiley) by A.C. Phillips and Understanding Stellar Evolution (2017, IOP) by H. Lamers and E. Levesque, which you can download as a PDF free from on campus.

Supplementary textbooks (not required) include Principles of Stellar Evolution and Nucleosynthesis by D. Clayton, and Stars and Stellar Processes by M. Guidry.


We will have roughly biweekly problem sets due on Thursdays. In working on the problem sets, you are encouraged to work in groups, though your submitted write-up should be your own. You must list your collaborators on the write-up. You are allowed to consult any outside sources (which must be cited), except that you may not examine problem set solutions from previous years of Physics 441 or other similar courses online. Late problem sets will be accepted with a 25% penalty until Friday evening. All problem sets are due on Canvas in PDF format.

Students enrolled in Physics 541 (the graduate level version of the class) will be required to do extra problems on the problem sets. These problems may be completed for extra credit for students in 441.

There will be one in-class midterm exam and a final exam scheduled by the university. There will also be a group project, where, in a group of two or three people, you will present a 20 or 30 minute lecture on a topic of your choice.

The final grade will be calculated from the problem sets (50%), midterm exam (15%), group project (10%), and final exam (25%). The lowest problem set grade will be dropped in calculating the final grade.

Update due to Spring 2020 coronavirus disruption: exams and the group project are cancelled. The course grade will be determined entirely from the problem sets.

Schedule: Topics and Assignments

This schedule will be updated as the semester progresses. Book chapters are labeled P for Phillips (1999) and LL for Lamers & Levesque (2017).

Jan 23 (Thu)
physical and observational intro
P1, LL1
Jan 27 (Mon)
Jan 30 (Thu)
simple stellar models: polytropes
LL3, 4.8, 11
Feb 03 (Mon)
equations of state
P2, LL4
Feb 06 (Thu)
stellar atmospheres; ionization
PS 1 due
Feb 10 (Mon)
energy transport: convection
P3, LL7
Feb 13 (Thu)
energy transport: radiation
LL6, 5
Feb 17 (Mon)
nuclear energy generation
P4, LL8
Feb 20 (Thu)
PS 2 due
Feb 24 (Mon)
solar neutrinos
Feb 27 (Thu)
stellar interiors; solar model
P5, LL10, 13
Mar 02 (Mon)
stellar evolution
LL14, 16–19
Mar 05 (Thu)
PS 3 due
Mar 09 (Mon)
Mar 12 (Thu)
midterm cancelled
Mar 16, 19
spring break
Mar 23 (Mon)

lectures start to be posted online
white dwarfs

P6, LL20
Mar 26 (Thu)
deaths of massive stars
LL20, 26, 27
Mar 30 (Mon)
Apr 02 (Thu)
binary star evolution LL28, 29
Apr 06 (Mon)
novae and supernovae
LL27, 29
Apr 09 (Thu)
nucleosynthesis; star/gas/star cycle
PS 4 due
Apr 13 (Mon)
star formation
Apr 16 (Thu)
Apr 20 (Mon)
before the main sequence LL12
Apr 23 (Thu)
brown dwarfs
Apr 27 (Mon)
pulsars and magnetars
Apr 30 (Thu)
LIGO and black holes
PS 5 due
May 04 (Mon)
final exam cancelled


Topic List (to be modifed as the semester progresses)

Lectures 1–2. Physical and observational introduction to stars. Order of magnitude stellar structure.
Lecture 3. Simplified stellar interior models: polytropes.
Lectures 4–5. Equations of state. Stellar atmospheres; Boltzmann equation. Ionization; Saha Equation.
Lecture 6–7. Energy transport in stars.
Lectures 8–10. Nuclear energy generation in stars. Solar neutrinos.
Lectures 11–13. Stellar interiors; models of the Sun. Main-sequence and post-main-sequence stellar evolution.
Lecture 14. Stellar pulsation.
Lecture 15. Endpoints of stellar evolution: white dwarfs. Electron degeneracy. Chandrasekhar limit.
Lectures 16–17. Late stages of massive stars; core-collapse supernovae. Stellar remnants: neutrons stars and black holes.
Lectures 18–19. Binary star evolution; close binaries; mass transfer. Accretion; X-ray binaries; novae; white dwarf supernovae.
Lecture 20. Stellar nucleosynthesis; star/gas/star cycle.
Lectures 21–22. Star formation; stellar feedback; initial mass function.
Lecture 23. Pre-main-sequence stellar evolution. Hayashi track.
Lecture 24. (based on group project topics) Brown dwarfs.
Lecture 25. (based on group project topics) Pulsars and magnetars.
Lecture 26. (based on group project topics) LIGO and black holes.

Potential topics for group presentations: Helio/asteroseismology. LIGO black holes and their progenitors. Population III stars. Metal-poor stars. Brown dwarfs. Stellar rotation/activity/age. Exoplanet host stars. Pulsars. Magnetars. Gamma-ray bursts. Stellar initial mass function. Stellar multiplicity. Stellar winds/mass-loss. Planetary nebulae. Numerical modeling (MESA). Stellar pulsation/variables. Standard candles (Cepheids, RR Lyrae, Mira). History of stellar classification.


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Last updated: April 9, 2020 swj