ASTRON 331: Astrophysics, Spring 2016


– There is a second edition of Maoz’s book out. If you haven’t gotten the first edition already, get the second edition as it has some good additional sections and chapters.

– 04/07/2016. Update regarding office hours. There is no regular time that works for everyone so I propose the following solution. Problem sets will be due every other week on Tuesday, as per the schedule below. For each problem set, I will hold an office hour shortly before the problem set is due at the date and time announced in advance next to the problem set (usually on the Friday or Monday immediately before the problem set is due).

In weeks when there is no problem set due, the Tuesday class is reserved for a paper discussion. If there is a need, we can use some of this interactive time to clarify topics discussed in class, so I will not hold a regular office hour during those weeks. I am usually available for up to half an hour after each lecture to answer questions.

– 04/07/2016. See below for the ‘Paper Review Form’ to complete before each paper discussion.

– 04/07/2016. Update regarding your final paper. The goal of our in-class paper discussions is to give you experience extracting the most important information from research papers and to assess them critically. These discussions will also prepare you for your final written report, whose format will be modeled after our in-class discussions. Specifically, you will select one main paper (other than the ones we will discuss in class) from the research literature and your written report will summarize and assess it along the lines of the ‘Paper Review Form’ questions. For your final report, you will go into more depth into the paper you have chosen, and may need to dig into references in that paper to fully put it into context.

To focus your literature search for papers to focus on for your final report, select an astronomy or astrophysics research paper published in Nature or Science in the last five years. In Nature, astronomy & astrophysics can be found here, and in Science they can be found here. As usual, you may need to be on the Northwestern campus (or access the sites through a VPN) to download the articles. Note: These magazines publish editorials, “perspective articles,” and occasionally review articles, in addition to research articles but your final paper should focus on a paper reporting original research.

You should select the paper that you will focus on for your final report by May 5 and email me with your choice, along with one paragraph summarizing why you chose this topic. The topic will be yours after you have emailed me and I have confirmed with you. In case more than one student selects the same paper, the first student to email me will have priority.

Make sure to read a paper before you choose to make it the focus of your final paper to ensure that you will be able to understand it (with some effort) and that it is substantive enough to write a final report about.

Clarification added on 05/17/2016: Your final report should be self-contained and written at a level understandable by one of your classmates. If not covered in class, you should include background material necessary to understand your report. If the paper you have selected contains more information that can be properly discussed in your final report, it is better to focus on the most important aspects and do a good job at explaining them clearly than to attempt to cover everything.

– 05/17/2016: Class canceled on May 31st, so our last class will be on May 26. We will have our final paper discussion (LIGO discovery of gravitational waves from a binary black hole) on May 26 (moved from May 24).

Slides shown in class:
Introduction slides shown during the first lecture.

MESA stellar structure and evolution animations from Rich Townsend

Neutrinos, convection

Post main sequence evolution, core collapse, supernovae

Black holes and gravitational waves

Paper discussions:
For each paper that we will discuss, print and complete the Astrophysics Paper Review Form. This form is intended to help you extract the most important information while reviewing the papers. Keep your answers concise (do not exceed the space allocated) — these forms are notes to help focus our discussions rather than complete reviews of the papers.

I will collect the forms as a record of your participation in the class discussions, but I will not grade your answers. Some questions ask for your views on aspects of the papers, so there are no right or wrong answers. You should view this form as a tool to help you prepare for our in-class discussions. You will be able to refer to your complete forms to answer questions that I may ask you during the class discussions.

Problem sets:
Problem set 1, due April 7. Office hour: Wed April 6, 11 AM.

Problem set 2, due April 19. Office hour: Fri April 15, 2 PM.

Problem set 3, due May 3. Office hour: Mon May 2, 2 PM.

Problem set 4, due May 17. Amended on 05/13/2016. Office hour: Fri May 13, 2 PM.

Problem set 5 will be due May 31st. Turn in directly to grader Zach Hafen (Tech F224) since there will be no class on May 31st. Office hour will be at a special time since there is a conflict on Mon and Fri. Tentatively, on Thu May 26.