Course Identification

Fundamentals of astrophysics

Lecturers and Teaching Assistants

Prof. Boaz Katz
Gilad Sade, Daniella van der Boom

Course Schedule and Location

First Semester
Monday, 14:15 - 16:00, Weissman, Seminar Rm B
Wednesday, 14:15 - 16:00, Weissman, Seminar Rm B

Field of Study, Course Type and Credit Points

Physical Sciences: Lecture; 4.00 points
Chemical Sciences: 4.00 points


Hybrid Format





Language of Instruction


Attendance and participation

Expected and Recommended

Grade Type

Numerical (out of 100)

Grade Breakdown (in %)


Evaluation Type

Final assignment

Scheduled date 1


Estimated Weekly Independent Workload (in hours)



[0] Introduction: What do we see out there? What we know, what we think and what we are clueless about.

[1] First solved problem: Gravitational few body dynamics and the motion of the planets and the moon. In particular, deriving the 1/r^2 law from observations and resolving the challenges posed by the large precession of the moon (surprisingly large 3-body effect) and mercury (general relativity). 

[2] Second solved problem: Structure of Stars and White Dwarfs: How do they work? How do we know? Calculating the main properties roughly (analytically) and accurately (numerically) and comparing to observations.

[3] A little about stellar evolution.

[4] Some things we know about stellar explosions (supernovae). In particular, demonstrating that supernovae contribute significantly to the abundances of elements heavier than helium and therefore are important for our existence.

[5] Some things we know about extremely compact objects- neutron stars and black holes. 

[6] The distance ladder and a little about galaxies.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course students should be able to:

  1. Have a grasp of some of what (we know) is out there and understand the basic physics behind it.
  2. Calculate observable properties of key astronomical phenomena, both exactly by preforming numerical calculations and approximately using analytic estimates. In particular, the student will accurately calculate the mass-radius relation of white dwarfs,  the mass-radius+luminosity relation of main-sequence stars, and the  motion of the planets and the moon and compare the results to observations.
  3. Appreciate some of the main open questions that are currently pursued by astrophysicists.

Reading List

There is no clear reading list. Students will often be encouraged to look at the original papers.

I recommend listening to the (story-level) overview podcasts by Pogge:

A nice intro book which is a bit more serious is:

F. Shu / The Physical Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy.

While both of these are at a technical level which is significantly lower than the class they may be useful.