Astrophysics for Senior Physics

Astronomy is perhaps the oldest of sciences yet continues to be a thriving area of scientific investigation. Scarcely a week passes without some news item regarding a new astronomical discovery or event. The development of techniques such as spectroscopy and photography in the nineteenth century led to the application of Physics to the analysis of astronomical information - Astrophysics became a scientific discipline. The twentieth century saw a dramatic developments in technology that allowed astronomers to finally start investigating all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. Already the new century has seen exciting discoveries and new technologies come into more widespread use. The future of astrophysical research is bound to be just as enthralling and challenging as the past.

About this online unit

The material presented here specifically addresses the syllabus requirements for the PHSC (Year 12) option module 9.7 Astrophysics, for the previous NSW Stage 6 (HSC) Physics syllabus. With the introduction of a new syllabus in 2018 this topic is no longer directly taught in NSW. As such these pages will no longer be updated however they will be kept online as  the material is also suitable for students in other states and others interested in astronomy, cosmology and nuclear physics. The emphasis on the material in this section is on stellar astrophysics and on how we gather and analyse information from space. Working through it will provide you with the background information to enhance your understanding of the concepts. Care has been taken to include up-to-date data, examples of Australian research and facilities and recent developments.

Themes and Other Key Pages

The Astrophysics option can be broken up into six themes, reflecting the bold points within the syllabus. These are:

  1. Making Observations
  2. Astrometry
  3. Spectroscopy
  4. Photometry
  5. Binary and Variable Stars
  6. The Life and Death of Stars

In addition there is a page of key links that includes major astrophysics sites, material related to the HSC and other useful material. An online glossary of important terms is also available.

You can tackle this site by working through the themes but the links between them also allow you to follow a particular strand or concept. The top page for each theme provides the relevant syllabus extracts with links to the appropriate pages. Questions are interspersed through the site, many with solutions. Some sections also include activities related to the required syllabus skill. Some provide the option of downloading a Word or Excel file or a PDF file. Given the vast range of astronomical information available on the internet there are extensive links to useful external sites. These have been checked at the time of inclusion but if you find any dead or missing links, please let us know so that we can keep this site up-to-date.

External links are indicated by a dashed underline in blue. Links to other pages in the site are simply blue text with no underline.

Contextual Outline (from NSW Physics Syllabus)

The wonders of the Universe are revealed through technological advances based on tested principles of physics. Our understanding of the cosmos draws upon models, theories and laws in our endeavour to seek explanations for the myriad of observations made by various instruments at many different wavelengths. Techniques, such as imaging, photometry, astrometry and spectroscopy, allow us to determine many of the properties and characteristics of celestial objects. Continual technical advancement has resulted in a range of devices extending from optical and radio-telescopes on Earth to orbiting telescopes, such as Hipparcos, Chandra and HST.

Explanations for events in our spectacular Universe, based on our understandings of the electromagnetic spectrum, allow for insights into the relationships between star formation and evolution (supernovae), and extreme events, such as high gravity environments of a neutron star or black hole.

This module increases students’ understanding of the nature and practice of physics and the implications of physics for society and the environment.

Physics Stage 6 Syllabus © Copyright 2002 The State of New South Wales (Board of Studies).

The material in this section has been written by Robert Hollow.