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Information about the course

53942, Open Problems in Modern Astrophysics

Lecturer: Associate Prof. Peter Johansson (Room D332)
Course assistant: Dr. Pauli Pihajoki (Room D325)

Lectures: Wednesdays 10.15-12.00  Room D115 (Period 1 2.9-14.10) and Room D106 (Period 2 28.10-9.12)
Problem sets: Wednesdays 12.00-14.00, in Room D106 on the following dates: 16.9, 30.9, 14.10 and in Room D104 on the following dates 4.11, 18.11, 2.12, 9.12               
Changes to lecturing schedule: The first lecture of the course will be on Friday 4.9 at 12.15-14.00 in Room D114

Course grading:

The course grading is divided into two parts as follows:

  • 50% of the final grade will come from the written problem sets.
  • 50% of the final grade will come from the final written exam.

Final exam:  The final exam will be held on Wednesday 16.12.2015 at 10-14 in Room D114

Astrophysical search engines

The following astrophysical search engines can be used for searching the astrophysical literature:

Course contents

  • The aim of the course is to survey the current state of modern astrophysics, concentrating on a few interesting topics that are
    likely to remain at the forefront of astrophysical research in the coming decade. During the course the students will learn how to
    search the astrophysical literature, how to present and discuss research papers and finally also learn the necessary skills for
    writing their own research papers.
  • During the course seven different topics will be discussed for two weeks with each followed by a problem set on the topic. In the
    first lecture the Lecturer presents the topic in question based on a recent review paper typically published in the Annual Review of
    Astronomy and Astrophysics. In the second lecture the topic will be discussed in more depth using additional 1-2 papers on the topic.
    Finally, the discussion on the topic will be finished by a problem set for which the students are expected to read two papers and answer
    5 written questions on a problem sheet. In this way each topic will be covered by 1 review paper + 3-4 research papers.
  • This course will be of a strongly interacting nature and the students are encouraged to actively contribute to the lectures by reading
    in advance the papers and participate in the discussion.
  • The topics to be discussed during the course have been chosen to cover a broad range of astrophysics, including exoplanets, stars,
    galaxies and cosmology. The aim is to learn about interesting research topics that are likely to remain at the core of modern astrophysics
    in the coming decades.

Topic 1: 2.9-16.9 The detection and properties of Extrasolar planets


  •  4.9 Lecture 1: (Note Lecture is on Friday 4.9 at 12.15-14.00 in Room D105)
  1. Winn, J.N. & Fabrycky, D.C., 2015, ARA&A, 53, 409: "The Occurrence and Architecture of Exoplanetary Systems"
  • 9.9 Lecture 2:
  1. Kreidberg, L.; Bean, J.L.; Désert, J.-M. et al., 2014, Nature, 505, 69: "Clouds in the atmosphere of the super-Earth exoplanet GJ1214b"
  2. Buchhave, L. A.; Latham, D.W.; Johansen, A., 2012, Nature, 486, 375: "An abundance of small exoplanets around stars with a wide range of metallicities"
  1. Dumusque, X.; Pepe, F.; Lovis, C. et al. 2012, Nature, 491, 207: "An Earth-mass planet orbiting α Centauri B"
  2. Carson, J.; Thalmann, C.; Janson, M, et al., 2013, ApJL, 763, 32: "Direct Imaging Discovery of a "Super-Jupiter" around the Late B-type Star κ And"
  • Useful websites for additional information:
  1. The Extrasolar Planets Encyclopedia 
  2. California & Carnegie planet-search team
  3. The Anglo-Australian Planet Search

Topic 2: 16.9-30.9 The formation and evolution of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs

  • 16.9 Lecture 3:
  1. Luhman, 2012, ARA&A, 50, 65: "The formation and early evolution of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs"
  • 23.9 Lecture 4:
  1. Mainzer, A., Cushing, M.C., Skrutskie, M. et al., 2011, ApJ, 726, 30: "The First Ultra-cool Brown Dwarf Discovered by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer"
  2. Spiegel, D.S., Burrows, A., Milsom, J.A., 2011, ApJ, 727, 57: "The Deuterium-burning Mass Limit for Brown Dwarfs and Giant Planets"
  1. Luhman, K.L., 2013, ApJL, 767, 1: "Discovery of a Binary Brown Dwarf at 2 pc from the Sun"
  2. Carter, J.A., Fabrycky, D.C., Ragozzine, D. et al., 2011, Science, 331, 562: "KOI-126: A Triply Eclipsing Hierarchical Triple with Two Low-Mass Stars"

Topic 3: 30.9-14.10 Presupernova evolution of massive stars

  • 30.9 Lecture 5:
  1. Langer, 2012, ARA&A, 50, 107: "Presupernova evolution of massive single and binary stars"
  • 7.10 Lecture 6:
  1. Smith, N., Li, W., Filippenko, A.V., Chornock, R., 2011, MNRAS, 412, 1522: "Observed fractions of core-collapse supernova types and initial masses of their single and binary progenitor stars"
  2. Rest, A.; Prieto, J. L.; Walborn, N. R et al., 2012, Nature, 482, 375: "Light echoes reveal an unexpectedly cool ηCarinae during its nineteenth-century Great Eruption"
  1. Ofek, E. O.; Sullivan, M.; Cenko, S. B et al., 2013, Nature, 494, 65: "An outburst from a massive star 40days before a supernova explosion"
  2. Maund, J. R., Fraser, M., Ergon, M. et al., 2011, ApJL, 739, 37: "The Yellow Supergiant Progenitor of the Type II Supernova 2011dh in M51"

Topic 4: 14.10-4.11 Gamma-Ray Bursts: Observation and theory

  • 14.10 Lecture 7:
  1.  Gehrels, N., Ramirez-Ruiz, E., Fox, D.B., 2009, ARA&A, 47, 567: "Gamma-Ray Bursts in the Swift Era"
  • 28.10 Lecture 8:
  1. Tanvir, N.R., Levan, A.J., Fruchter, A.S., et al., 2013, Nature, 500, 547: "A `kilonova' associated with the short-duration γ-ray burst GRB 130603B"
  2. Mösta, P., Richers, S., Ott, C.D. et al., 2014, ApJL, 785, 29: "Magnetorotational Core-collapse Supernovae in Three Dimensions"
  1. Piro, L., Troja, E., Gendre, B. et al., 2014, ApJL, 790, 15: "A Hot Cocoon in the Ultralong GRB 130925A: Hints of a POPIII-like Progenitor in a Low-Density Wind Environment"
  2. Greiner, J., Mazzali, P.A., Kann, D.A. et al., 2015, Nature, 523, 189: "A very luminous magnetar-powered supernova associated with an ultra-long γ-ray burst"

Topic 5: 4.11-18.11 Dwarf galaxies in the Local group of galaxies

  • 4.11 Lecture 9:
  1.  Tolstoy, E., Hill, V., Tosi, M., 2009, ARA&A, 47, 371: "Star-Formation Histories, Abundances, and Kinematics of Dwarf Galaxies in the Local Group"
  • 11.11 Lecture 10:
  1. Belokurov, V., Walker, M.G., Evans, N.W., 2010, ApJL, 712, 103: "Big Fish, Little Fish: Two New Ultra-faint Satellites of the Milky Way"
  2. Sawala, T., Frenk, C.S., Fattahi, A. et al., 2015, MNRAS, 448, 2941: "Bent by baryons: the low-mass galaxy-halo relation"
  1. Laevens, B.P.M., Martin, N.F., Ibata, R.A. et al., 2015, ApJL, 802, 18: "A New Faint Milky Way Satellite Discovered in the Pan-STARRS1 3π Survey"
  2. Spekkens, K., Urbancic, N., Mason, B.S. et al., 2015, ApJL, 795, 5: "The Dearth of Neutral Hydrogen in Galactic Dwarf Spheroidal Galaxies"

Topic 6: 18.11-2.12 Formation of the first galaxies

  • 18.11 Lecture 11:
  1. Bromm&Yoshida, 2011, ARA&A, 49, 373-407: "The First Galaxies"
  • 25.11 Lecture 12:
  1. Greif, T.H., Springel, V., White, S.D.M. et al., 2011, ApJ, 737, 75: "Simulations on a Moving Mesh: The Clustered Formation of Population III Protostars"
  2. Mortlock, D.J., Warren, S.J., Venemans, B.P. et al., 2011, Nature, 474, 616: "A luminous quasar at a redshift of z = 7.085"
  1. Ellis, R.S., McLure, R.J., Dunlop, J.S. et al., 2013, ApJL, 763, 7: "The Abundance of Star-forming Galaxies in the Redshift Range 8.5-12: New Results from the 2012 Hubble Ultra Deep Field Campaign"
  2. Sobral, D., Matthee, J., Darvish, B. et al., 2015, ApJ, 808, 139: "Evidence for PopIII-like Stellar Populations in the Most Luminous Lyman-α Emitters at the Epoch of Reionization: Spectroscopic Confirmation"

Topic 7: 2.12-9.12 Dark Energy and the Accelerating Universe

  • 2.12 Lecture 13:
  1. Frieman, Turner & Huterer, 2008, ARA&A, 46, 385-432: "Dark Energy and the Accelerating Universe"
  • 9.12 Lecture 14:
  1. Riess, A.G., Macri, L., Casertano, S. et al., 2011, ApJ, 730, 119: "A 3% Solution: Determination of the Hubble Constant with the Hubble Space Telescope and Wide Field Camera 3"
  2. Efstathiou, G., 2014, MNRAS, submitted, ArXiv: 1311.3461: "H0 Revisited"
  1. Farooq, O. & Ratra, B., 2013, ApJL, 766, 7: "Hubble Parameter Measurement Constraints on the Cosmological Deceleration-Acceleration Transition Redshift"
  2. Darling, J., 2012, ApJL, 761, 26: "Toward a Direct Measurement of the Cosmic Acceleration"


Final results and course grading:

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