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Information about the course

PAP302, 5 credit points, Open Problems in Modern Astrophysics

Lecturers: Prof. Peter Johansson (Room D311) (Topics 1-4)
                   Dr. Till Sawala (Room D324) (Topics 5-7)
Course assistants: Dr. Shihong Liao (Room D325)
                                 Dr. Dimitrios Irodotou (Room D325)
                                 Mr. Alexander Rawlings (Room D308)                              

Lectures: Tuesdays 10.15-12.00  in Room A129 Chemicum (First lecture on Tuesday 7.9)
Problem sets: Tuesdays 12.15-14.00 in Room D123 Exactum  on the following dates: 21.9, 5.10, 19.10, 9.11, 23.11, 7.12, 14.12  
Due to corona restrictions in the lecture room, the maximum attendance on this course is capped at 25 students.
Moodle can be accessed through the University course homepage:

The course homepage will be updated as the course progresses.

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 21.12.2021 at 10.00-14.00 in room E207, Physicum.  

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 + 4-5 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: 7.9-21.9 The detection and properties of Extrasolar planets


  •  7.9 Lecture 1:
  1. Winn, J.N. & Fabrycky, D.C., 2015, ARA&A, 53, 409: "The Occurrence and Architecture of Exoplanetary Systems"   --  exoplanets_review_edit_1.pdf
  • 14.9 Lecture 2:
  1. Gillon, M., Triaud, A. H. M. J., Demory, B.-O., 2017, Nature, 542, 456: "Seven temperate terrestrial planets around the nearby ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1"
  2. Sing, D. K., Fortney, J.J., Nikolov, N. et al., 2016, 529, 59: "A continuum from clear to cloudy hot-Jupiter exoplanets without primordial water depletion"
  3. 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. Anglada-Escudé, G., Amado, P.J., Barnes, J. et al, 2016, Nature, 536, 437: "A terrestrial planet candidate in a temperate orbit around Proxima Centauri"
  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: 21.9-5.10 The formation and evolution of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs

  • 21.9 Lecture 3:
  1. Luhman, 2012, ARA&A, 50, 65: "The formation and early evolution of low-mass stars and brown dwarfs"  --  brown_dwarfs_review_edit_2.pdf
  • 28.9 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: 5.10-19.10 Gamma-Ray Bursts: Observation and theory

  • 5.10 Lecture 5:
  1.  Gehrels, N., Ramirez-Ruiz, E., Fox, D.B., 2009, ARA&A, 47, 567: "Gamma-Ray Bursts in the Swift Era"   --  GRB_review_edit_3.pdf
  • 12.10 Lecture 6:
  1. Arcavi, I., Hosseinzadeh, G., Howell, D. A. et al., 2017, Nature, 551, 64: "Optical emission from a kilonova following a gravitational-wave-detected neutron-star merger"
  2. Chatterjee, S.; Law, C. J.; Wharton, R. S et al., 2017, Nature, 541, 58: "A direct localization of a fast radio burst and its host"
  3. 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 4: 19.10-9.11 Stellar dynamics near a massive black hole and gravitational waves

  • 19.10 Lecture 7:
  1. Alexander, T., 2017, ARA&A, 55, 17: "Stellar Dynamics and Stellar Phenomena Near a Massive Black Hole"Dyn_BH_review_edit_4.pdf
  • 2.11 Lecture 8:
  1. Abbott, B.P. et al., 2016, PhRvL, 116, 1102: "Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger"
  2. GRAVITY collaboration, corresponding author F. Eisenhauer, 2018, A&A, 615, 15: "Detection of the gravitational redshift in the orbit of the star S2 near the Galactic centre massive black hole"
  1.  Oka, T., Tsujimoto, S., Iwata, Y. et al., 2017, Nature Astronomy, 1, 709: "Millimetre-wave emission from an intermediate-mass black hole candidate in the Milky Way"
  2. Miller, J.M., Kaastra, J.S., Miller, M.V. et al, 2015, Nature, 526, 524: "Flows of X-ray gas reveal the disruption of a star by a massive black hole"

Topic 5: 9.11-23.11 Nearby dwarf galaxies: testing the limits of structure formation.

  • 9.11 Lecture 9:
  1. Local Group: Lecture Notes with additional material
    Based on the review: Bullock & Boylan-Kolchin, 2017, ARA&A, 55, 343-387: "Small-Scale Challenges to the ΛCDM Paradigm"
  • 16.11 Lecture 10:
  1. Review (continued)
  2. Revision Quiz: Questions summarize key points from the review. Answers have been discussed during the lecture.
  3. 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"
    Two new Milky Way satellite galaxies are discovered, first in SDSS and then followed up with deeper photometric observations.
  4. Sawala, Till; Frenk, Carlos S.; Fattahi, Azadeh; Navarro, Julio F. et al., 2016, MNRAS, 456, 85S: "The chosen few: the low mass haloes that host faint galaxies"
    Cosmological hydrodynamic simulations explain how a small number of LG dwarf galaxies come to live in a much larger number of dark matter haloes. 

  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 623.11-7.12 Formation of the first galaxies

  • 23.11 Lecture 11:
  1. First Stars: Lecture Notes (with highlights and comments) - Note that comments may not show in browser
    Based on the review: Bromm&Yoshida, 2011, ARA&A, 49, 373-407: "The First Galaxies"
  • 30.11 Lecture 12:
  1. Review (continued)
  2. Revision Quiz:  Questions summarize key points from the review - questions will appear here, answers will be discussed in the lecture.
  3. 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"
  4. 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: 7.12-14.12 Dark Energy and the Accelerating Universe

  • 7.12 Lecture 13:
  1. Dark Energy: Lecture Notes (with hightlights and comments) - Note that comments may not show in browser
    Based on the review: Frieman, Turner & Huterer, 2008, ARA&A, 46, 385-432: "Dark Energy and the Accelerating Universe"
  • 14.12 Lecture 14:
  1. Review (continued)
  2. Revision Quiz:  Questions summarize key points from the review - questions will appear here, answers will be discussed in the lecture.
  3. Efstathiou, G., 2014, MNRAS, submitted, ArXiv: 1311.3461: "H0 Revisited"
  4. Di Valentino, E., Melchiorri, A. & Silk, J., 2019, Nature Astronomy, 484D, arXiv:1911.02087: "Planck evidence for a closed Universe and a possible crisis for cosmology"
  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:

  • Problem set points: 
  • Exam points and final grades:

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