Introduction to astrophysics

A.Y. 2020/2021
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The goal of the Course is to present an overview of several developments in modern astrophysics, with special emphasis on the role played by measurements and observations in the progress made. The course is taught by four scientists in a coordinated manner. After a general part, focused on the problem of dark matter, one part of the course is devoted to observations and concepts related to compact objects and black holes, a short part to the cosmological framework, and a final part devoted to measurements close to particle physics.
The main points of interest are raised by the following very general questions. What is the nature of research in astrophysics? What are the most important results of modern astrophysics? What is the connection between progress in astrophysics and progress in technology and instrumentation? The course "Introduction to Astrophysics" tries to give a first answer to these questions. The goal is to offer to the students the opportunity to get to know the approach and the mind framework of astrophysicists and, by means of key examples, an overview of several interesting lines of research in modern astrophysics.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the course, the student will master the following skills:

Will know the basic language, the main results obtained so far, and the most important technological and observational initiatives in relation to the key areas of astronomical research (optical, radio, x-rays, etc).
Will be able to formulate a dynamical model suited to identify and quantify the possible presence of dark matter in different contexts (in particular, spiral galaxies and clusters of galaxies).
Will be able to interpret and to model, broadly speaking, phenomena related to the presence of massive and supermassive black holes.
Will be able to evaluate, broadly speaking, the importance of the main areas of research in astroparticle physics (solar and extrasolar neutrinos, cosmic rays, gamma rays, the search of dark matter candidates).
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Second semester
Teaching methods
Lectures will be largely given in synchronous form (Zoom); we will also resort to the asynchronous form (video-recorded lectures; for one part of the course, detailed lecture notes for each lecture will be distributed one week before the planned lecture, accompanied with some questions and problems on the part of the program presented earlier). During the week, in the period of time between classes, students will be encouraged to contact the teacher with queries (in relation to the lectures, the lecture notes, questions, and problems distributed by the teacher), which will be addressed in the synchronous phase of the course.

Program and reading material
Program and reading material are unchanged with respect to the previous academic year. The reading material will be available as slides, detailed lecture notes, video-recordings. A course website and the Ariel platform will allow the students to access the relevant reading material.

The exam will be an oral exam with the use of Zoom or, if the regulations and general situation will allow it, may be an oral exam in traditional form (in person).

The exam, of approximately 45 minutes, will test that the student has reached the relevant objectives in terms of knowledge and understanding, following the structure of traditional oral exams (in person).
Course syllabus
PART 1 (G. Bertin 22 hours)

1.1 Sources of astronomical information and general picture of the physical processes responsible for the various kinds of observed emission. Electromagnetic radiation, particles, gravitational waves.
1.2 Highlights on the modern astrophysical framework. Progress as confrontation between models and measurements; role of "decisive measurements". Observations from the ground and from space. Optical astronomy. Radioastronomy. X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy. Neutrinos. Space physics. The discovery of galaxies, as a landmark example in astrophysics of the 20th century and as a bridge between "small scale" astronomical systems and cosmology. General properties of galaxies: scales and some basic physical characteristics.
1.3 The problem of dark matter. Tools to weigh light sources observed by telescopes. The supermassive black hole at the center of our Galaxy. The problem of the thickness of our Galaxy.
1.4 Virial theorem and early applications to clusters of galaxies. Application of the model of hydrostatic equilibrium to the X-ray emission from galaxy clusters.
1.5 The problem of dark matter in spiral galaxies. Rotation curves and their decomposition into disk and halo contributions.
1.6 Cosmological impact, gravitational lenses, very short introduction to MOND (Modified Newtonian Dynamics).

PART 2 (G. Lodato 10 hours)

2.1 Black holes in astrophysics: mathematical description and physical properties: mass and spin. Characteristic length scales. Black holes as energy sources: efficiency and Eddington luminosity.
2.2 Supermassive black holes in galactic nuclei. Scale relations. Active Galactic Nuclei and their phenomenology.
2.3 Stellar-mass black holes. X-ray binaries: observed properties. State transitions and QPO (Quasi-Periodic Oscillation).
2.4 Transient phenomena: gravitational and their sources. Tidal disruption of stars.

Part 3 (L. Guzzo 4 hours)

3.1 The cosmological scenario: general introduction to the relevant observations and measurements.
3.2 The cosmological scenario: hot Big Bang and structure formation.

PART 4 (B. Caccianiga 12 hours)

4.1 Strategies for the detection of particles of astrophysical origin. Neutrinos, gamma rays, cosmic rays. Cherenkov effect and fluorescence. Highlights on the main types of detectors. Photomultipliers, bolometers, solid-state detectors.
4.2 Measurements of solar neutrinos and supernova neutrinos. Comments on the astrophysical problems that motivate these measurements. Objectives and results of neutrino experiments (Gallex, Homestake, Superkamiokande, Borexino, SNO,....)
4.3 In search of dark matter particles. Cryogenic and non-cryogenic techniques. Objectives and results some dark-matter experiments (DAMA, XENON, DarkSide, ...)
4.4. Measurements of very high energy cosmic rays by experiments from the ground. Nature of cosmic rays; origin of the "GZK cutoff". Objectives and results of the AUGER experiment. Measurements of very high energy neutrinos. Objectives and results of the IceCube experiment. The birth of multi-messenger astronomy.
Prerequisites for admission
No special prerequisites. It is sufficient for the attending student to have mastered the concepts learned in the first years of the Corso di Laurea and to have the ability of applying them in a flexible way even outside the framework of the courses in which those concepts are taught.
Teaching methods
Attendance: strongly recommended.
Format of the classes: traditional, with the help of blackboard, handouts, slides. During the pandemic emergency period, remote teaching will make use of various tools for online classes.
Teaching Resources
The course has an original approach and does not follow any specific textbook. Please refer to….

To further address the topics presented in the course and to go deeper into specific aspects if so desired, the student may wish to look up:
J.M. Pasachoff, A. Filippenko "The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium", 5th ed., Cambridge University Press (2019)
H. Bradt "Astronomy Methods: A Physical Approach to Astronomical Observations", Cambridge University Press (2004)
C.R. Kitchin "Astrophysical Techniques", Institute of Physics Publishing, 4th ed. (2003)
G. Lodato "Appunti del corso di Introduzione all'Astrofisica: Buchi neri",…
A. Goobar, L. Bergstrom "Cosmology and Particle Astrophysics", Springer-Praxis Books, 2nd ed. (2004)
D. Perkins "Particle Astrophysics", Oxford University Press (2003)
During the period of pandemic emergency, complete and detailed lecture notes for Part 1 (G. Bertin) will be distributed to the students.
Assessment methods and Criteria
The exam is an oral exam focusing on the topics taught in the course. Typically, the exam takes 45 minutes and is based on three questions covering the three main parts of the course.
FIS/05 - ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS - University credits: 6
Lessons: 48 hours
Educational website(s)
Upon email appointment
Via Zoom teleconference
Monday 14.00-15.00 (upon appointment)
Teacher's office