Astrophysics

Course Descriptions

1000 The Sky and Planets
3 credit hours

This course provides an introduction to the Solar System for non-science students with little background in science and mathematics. Topics include: the celestial sphere and the night sky, locating astronomical objects, motions and phases of the moon, timekeeping and the calendar, history of astronomy, eclipses, telescopes and instruments, planets, asteroids, and comets. Homework consists of assignments and labs, some of which require the use of the Burke-Gaffney Observatory.

Classes 3 hrs. and lab/telescope observing 1 hr. per week 


1001 Stars and Galaxies
3 credit hours

This course is an introduction to astronomy beyond the Solar System for non-science students with little background in science and mathematics. Topics include: the Sun as a star, stars and star clusters, stellar evolution, nebulae, the Milky Way, galaxies and galaxy clusters, quasars, active galaxies, cosmology. Homework consists of assignments and labs, some of which require the use of the Burke-Gaffney Observatory.

Classes 3 hrs. and lab/telescope observing 1 hr. per week.


1010 Life in the Universe
3 credit hours

What are the astronomical, biological, and sociological perspectives on extraterrestrials? Students examine the different types of worlds in our universe; the diversity of life-forms already discovered in extreme environments here on Earth; and the search for biological and intelligent life on other worlds within and outside our own solar system.

Notes: This course is currently offered exclusively as a web-based course.

Please note that this course may not be used by B. Sc. Students to satisfy the requirement of a science elective under regulations 3.e., 6.e., 10.c., and 12.b. for B.Sc. degrees.


1100 Introduction to Astrophysics
3 credit hours
Prerequisites: PHYS 1210 [formerly PHYS 1100] and Nova Scotia grade 12 math pre-calculus, or equivalent.

This course provides a mathematics-based and physics-based introduction to general and solar system astronomy for science students and astrophysics majors. Topics include: the celestial sphere and the night sky, development of astronomy as a science, orbits planets, time measurement, eclipses, telescopes and astronomical instruments, and the solar system.  Homework consists of assignments and labs, some of which require the use of  the Burke-Gaffney Observatory.

Classes 3 hrs. and lab/telescope observing 1 hr. per week.


2100 Foundations of Astrophysics
3 credit hours
Prerequisites: ASTR 1101; PHYS 1211 [formerly PHYS 1101]; MATH 1211.

The emphasis of this first course in astrophysics is on directly observable quantities such as the positions and motions of stars and the light they emit. Topics include a review of the celestial sphere, time in astronomy, astronomical catalogues, the two-body problem, dynamics of star clusters, stellar spectra including emission and absorption lines, and the operation of telescopes.  Students are assigned observing projects and trained to use the Burke-Gaffney Observatory.

Classes 3 hrs. per week and telescope observing session.


2400 Physics of Stars
3 credit hours
Prerequisite: ASTR 2100.

One of the major scientific achievements of the 20th Century was the quantitative understanding of stars. This course reviews these advances including the use of binary stars to determine stellar properties, spectral classification and the Boltzmann and Saha equations, radiative transfer and stellar atmospheres, the equations of stellar structure, and the interiors of hydrogen burning stars such as the Sun.


3400 Interstellar Matter and Stellar Evolution
3 credit hours
Prerequisite: ASTR 2400.

This course examines the nature of neutral and ionised interstellar clouds and the onset of star formation. Concepts introduced in ASTR 2400 are used to show how the initial mass of a “protostar” largely determines its place on the “main sequence” as a star, its internal structure and energy production, and the nature of its death, whether it be as a white dwarf, neutron star, or a black hole.


3500 Galaxies and Cosmology
3 credit hours
Prerequisite: ASTR 2400.

This course deals with an extremely broad area of astrophysics covering seven or eight orders of magnitude in length scale. Topics include the kinematic properties of nearby stars, galactic rotation, spiral structure, and the formation of the Milky Way. Extragalactic topics include the classification of galaxies, galactic evolution and interaction, galaxy clusters, large scale structure of the universe, and modern cosmology including observational tests of various cosmological models.


3876-99 Directed Study in Astrophysics
3 credit hours
Prerequisite: Permission of the Chairperson.


4200 Observational Astronomy
3 credit hours
Prerequisite: ASTR 2400.

The principles of modern ground-based and space-based observational astronomy is discussed. Emphasis is on data acquisition (from observations and archives) and analysis, and on the statistical treatment of data. As much as practical, the Burke-Gaffney Observatory is used for student projects.

Classes 3 hrs. per week and telescope observing session.


4600 High-Energy Astrophysics
3 credit hours
Prerequisite: ASTR 2400, PHYS 2400, PHYS 3300.

This course discusses the astrophysical processes that create high-energy photons (x-rays and gamma-rays) as well as the emission created from very energetic electrons (synchrotron and inverse Compton). Topics include gas and radiative processes, high-energy detectors and telescopes, and astrophysical processes from the solar system to black holes and gamma-ray bursts responsible for high-energy emission.


Degree Programs in Astrophysics

Because all modern-day astronomers are also physicists, no undergraduate degree in astronomy alone is offered.
Instead, the Department offers three programs in astrophysic; a major, an honours and a minor. The astrophysics major program is designed for those who want a solid foundation in modern physics and astronomy, but who are not necessarily planning to continue their education beyond the B.Sc. The astrophysics honours program is designed for those who intend to continue on to graduate school, and involves the preparation of an honours thesis (PHYS 4790) under the supervision of a faculty advisor in their fourth year. As listed below, these two programs are identical through the second year meaning students need not commit to the honours program until the third year of study. Note also, as listed, these programs conform to the requirements of the Science faculty as outlined in Section 3.


Honours in Astrophysics – Requirements:

The requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science with Honours apply as listed in this Academic Calendar under the heading of Faculty of Science, Bachelor of Science – Honours, Section Three. Students must secure a supervisor for the honour thesis (PHYS 4790) before applying to the honours program. The specific courses that make up the total seventy-eight (78) credit hours required in the honours subject (specifically twenty-four (24) credit hours in Astronomy and fifty-four (54) credit hours in Physics are included in the following list of required Science courses for the program:

*Note: Students should consult the Faculty of Science Program Requirement Tables available online for recommended Science Electives, and a suggested sequence of courses for years 1 and 2. Students should consult with the Undergraduate Coordinator or a Science Advisor to determine the best sequence of courses for years 3 and 4.

Major in Astrophysics - Requirements

The requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Science with Major apply as listed in this Academic Calendar under the heading Faculty of Science, Bachelor of Science - Major in Section Three. The specific courses that make up the fifty-seven (57) credit hours (specifically eighteen (18) credit hours in Astronomy, and thirty-nine (39) credit hours in Physics) required to satisfy 6 (d) are contained in the following list of required Science courses for the program:

*Note: Students should consult the Faculty of Science Program Requirement Tables available online for recommended Science Electives, and a suggested sequence of courses for years 1 and 2. Students should consult with the Undergraduate Coordinator or Science Advisor to determine the best sequence of courses for years 3 and 4.


Minor in Astrophysics - Requirements

The requirements for a Minor in Astrophysics are the same as those listed for Bachelor of Science – Major and Minor in Section Three of this Academic Calendar. The following Science courses are required for the Astrophysics Minor. A total of thirty (30) credit hours in the minor subject are required, specifically twelve (12) credit hours in Astronomy and eighteen (18) in Physics as follows:

  • ASTR 1100 Introduction to Astrophysics
  • PHYS 1210 University Physics I
  • PHYS 1211 University Physics II
  • PHYS 1500 Introduction to Modern Physics
  • ASTR 2100 Foundations of Astrophysics
  • ASTR 2400 Physics of Stars
  • PHYS 2300 Vibrations, Waves and Optics
  • Three (3) credit hours in ASTR at the 3000 level
  • Six (6) credit hours in PHYS at the 2000 or 3000 level.