HST image of Supernova 1994D and its host galaxy

Physics 341
Principles of Astrophysics
Fall 2013

Tuesdays and Thursdays
3:20-4:40 pm
ARC 105, Busch campus
Instructor: Prof. Eric Gawiser


Astrophysics is the application of physical principles to astronomical systems. In Physics 341 and 342 you will learn how to use gravity, electromagnetism, and atomic, nuclear, and gas physics to understand planets, stars, galaxies, dark matter, and the Universe as a whole. Gravity is the dominant force in many astronomical systems, and it will be our focus in Physics 341.

Some astrophysical systems are described by equations that are fairly easy to solve, and we will study them. However, many interesting systems cannot be solved exactly. Nevertheless, we can often use physical insight and carefully chosen approximations to understand the key features of a system without sweating the details. One goal of the course is to develop that skill. As you will see, it will take us very far (through the whole Universe, in fact!). Another goal is to learn about recent advances in astrophysics, a very dynamic field of research.

Prerequisites for this class are two semesters of physics and two semesters of calculus. I will briefly review physical principles as we need them, but it is assumed that you have seen them before. I will also assume familiarity with vector calculus. Some of the assignments may involve a bit of computation that can be done with programs like Excel, Google Spreadsheets, Maple, Matlab, or Mathematica.

The recommended textbook for Physics 341 (and 342) is An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics (2nd edition) by Bradley W. Carroll and Dale A. Ostlie (affectionately known as the Big Orange Book). It provides a broad survey of astrophysics and covers the basics thoroughly. However, we will not follow this textbook in sequence, but rather will primarily reference the excellent series of lecture notes written by Prof. Chuck Keeton and updated by Prof. Saurabh Jha and myself. I will draw from other sources as well, letting you know when I do.

Contact Information

Prof. Eric Gawiser
Room 303, Serin Physics Building (across Allison Road from the classroom), Busch campus
Email: gawiser[at]physics.rutgers.edu
Phone: 732-445-5500 ext. 2733

Office hours: Thursday 10-11AM

Grading Policy

Grading will be based on weekly problem sets (50%), two in-class midterms (10% each), a final take-home essay (10%), and iClicker scores (20%, with a bonus for active class participation).

Weekly problem sets will be handed out on Thursdays, and will be due the following Thursday at the beginning of class. When necessary, problem sets can also be turned in via our Sakai website in PDF format. It is your responsibility to meet the deadline! No late assignments will be accepted.

You are encouraged to work in groups on the weekly problem sets, but your write-up of the solutions must be your own. You must write down the names of your collaborators on your write-up. You must also cite any external sources you use (other than the class notes I post or the textbook). You may not refer to notes, assignments, or solutions from previous years of Physics 341 or 342.

The final essay must be entirely your own work, without any collaboration with your peers or usage of materials beyond those provided with the course. It will be due at 3:20pm on Tuesday, December 10.

Schedule: Topics and Assignments

This syllabus may be modified as the semester progresses.

General concept
Sep 3, 5
gravity; estimation; dimensional analysis
Sep 10, 12
1-body problem
Newton's laws of motion and gravitation;
conservation laws
Sep 17
deriving Kepler's Laws
Sep 19
Galactic center
6.1, 24.4
Sep 24
Doppler effect; supermassive black holes
4.3, 25.2, 28.2
Sep 26
2-body problem
theory; equivalent 1-body problem
Oct 1
binary stars
Oct 3
binary stars; extrasolar planets
7.4, 23.1
Oct 8
transiting planets
7.4, 23.1
Oct 10
tidal forces
Oct 15
3-body problem
Lagrange points; asteroids; close binaries
18, 22.3
Oct 17
N-body problem
and galaxies
in-class midterm
basic properties of galaxies
1st Midterm
Oct 22
spiral galaxy rotation curves; dark matter
24.3, 25.2
Oct 24, 29
galactic structure beyond rotation
24.2, 25.3
PS6 due Oct 24
Oct 31
virial theorem; elliptical galaxies;
galaxy interactions
2.4, 25.4, 26.1
Nov 5, 7
gravitational lensing
basic principles; microlensing;
galaxy and cluster lensing
28.4, 24.2
Nov 12
special relativity
4 (all)
Nov 14
introduction to general relativity
17 (all)
Nov 19
applications of general relativity
Nov 21
black holes
Nov 26
expanding Universe; geometry and dynamics
29 (all)
Nov 28
NO CLASS; Happy Thanksgiving!
Dec 3
dark energy; future of the Universe
Dec 5
in-class midterm
2nd Midterm
Dec 10
final essay due 3:20pm
class discussion
Final Essay


Here are some web resources you may find illuminating or indispensable:

Other Items

Students with disabilities should consult the department policy.

Students will be held to the Rutgers policy on academic integrity.

Astrophysics at RutgersDepartment of Physics and AstronomyRutgers University

Last updated: August 12, 2013 EG