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AST80016 Stellar Astrophysics

Course/s with Unit:
A unit of study in the Graduate Certificate of Science (Astronomy), Graduate Diploma of Science (Astronomy) and Master of Science (Astronomy).

Credit Points:
12.5 Credit Points

One semester

Contact Hours:
Equivalent to 60 hours


AST80004 Exploring Stars and the Milky Way and introductory tertiary-level mathematics & physics, or equivalent.


Learning and Teaching Structure:
Online delivery mode, contact via newsgroups & email.

Assessable newsgroup contributions (30%), online tests (20%) and project (50%).

Following on from AST80004, this Unit aims to cover the physical processes underlying stellar properties and the principles behind models of stellar evolution.

After successfully completing this Unit, students should be able to:

  • understand the classification schemes of stars, their physical parameters and the importance of the HR diagram;
  • understand the properties and processes of stellar interiors and stellar atmospheres;
  • understand the mechanism of star formation and the evolution of stars from the main sequence through to the RGB and AGB phase;
  • have a working knowledge of the processes and properties of high mass stellar remnants, including supernovae, planetary nebulae, white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes;
  • solve mathematical problems related to the physical processes that underlie stellar properties and evolution;
  • discuss these stellar astrophysical concepts in a non-technical manner understandable to the general public; and
  • research an astronomy topic in depth, using dependable sources of astronomical information on the internet and refereed journal articles.

Key Generic Skills:
Participation in AST80016 Stellar Astrophysics will help students develop the attributes that are considered desirable in a Swinburne graduate including the following generic skills:

  • analysis skills
  • problem solving skills
  • communications skills


  • Classifying stars: magnitudes, colours, spectral types; physical properties: flux, luminosity, temperature, radius, mass; distances; stellar spectra; the HR diagram
  • Stellar energy: gravitational contraction versus fusion, stellar nucleosynthesis, reaction rates, PP chain, CNO cycle, triple alpha process
  • Hydrostatic equilibrium and radiation pressure; equation of state; energy transport: opacity, convection; equations of stellar structure; stellar atmospheres
  • Protostars: cloud collapse, Jeans criterion and fragmentation, initial mass function, evolutionary tracks and ZAMS, T Tauri stars, protostellar jets, accretions disks, proplyds
  • Main sequence stars: low mass and high mass stars, energy generation, PP chain versus CNO cycle; end of hydrogen core burning and lifetime on the MS
  • Evolution off the main sequence: low mass versus high mass stars; red giant branch, degenerate gas pressure, AGB, helium flash, horizontal branch, dredge-ups and thermal pulsing; planetary nebula, white dwarfs, electron degeneracy, Chandrasekhar limit
  • Supernovae: type Ia and type II supernovae, light curves, explosive nucleosynthesis, supernovae remnants
  • Neutron stars: neutron degeneracy, rotation, magnetic fields, pulsar lighthouse model, synchrotron radiation, spin-down and pulsar lifetimes, dispersion and distance measures, millisecond pulsars
  • Stellar mass black holes: formation mechanisms, escape velocity, Schwarzschild radius, event horizon, spaghettification; spacetime curvature; Hawking radiation, black hole evaporation
  • Pulsating stars: the instability strip, partial ionisation zones, thermodynamic heat engines; modelling pulsations, radial and non-radial modes, helioseismology
  • Binary stars: formation theories; evolution of close binaries: Roche limit and accretion disks, novae, cataclysmic variables, low mass and high mass X-ray binaries
  • Stellar clusters: types of clusters, open clusters and stellar evolution models, globular clusters and distances; colour-magnitude diagrams, metallicity, turn-off points

Prescribed Textbook & Reading Materials:
For information about the textbook, follow this link.

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