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Observational Astrophysics

Module PH2114

This module handbook serves to describe contents, learning outcome, methods and examination type as well as linking to current dates for courses and module examination in the respective sections.

Module version of SS 2018

There are historic module descriptions of this module. A module description is valid until replaced by a newer one.

Whether the module’s courses are offered during a specific semester is listed in the section Courses, Learning and Teaching Methods and Literature below.

available module versions
SS 2022SS 2021SS 2020SS 2019SS 2018WS 2016/7SS 2011

Basic Information

PH2114 is a semester module in German or English language at Master’s level which is offered in summer semester.

This Module is included in the following catalogues within the study programs in physics.

  • Specific catalogue of special courses for nuclear, particle, and astrophysics
  • Complementary catalogue of special courses for condensed matter physics
  • Complementary catalogue of special courses for Biophysics
  • Complementary catalogue of special courses for Applied and Engineering Physics

If not stated otherwise for export to a non-physics program the student workload is given in the following table.

Total workloadContact hoursCredits (ECTS)
150 h 30 h 5 CP

Responsible coordinator of the module PH2114 in the version of SS 2018 was Roland Diehl.

Content, Learning Outcome and Preconditions


This course provides an introduction into observational methods towards the universe and its objects. Telescopes, experiments, and their methods are discussed per messenger type, and application towards their characteristic astrophysical studies is discussed. In particular, we address:

  • Which are the relevant astrophysics quests, and which cosmic messengers do we know?
  • What are components of cosmic matter, and its observables?
  • Which radiation processes occur in sources and objects, how does radiation transport work up to the observer?
  • Which instruments, telescopes, experiments are available or can be made? From radio to gamma rays, neutrinos, cosmic rays, meteorites, gravitational waves.
  • How do stars form, evolve, and explode, which are the compact remnants?
  • Which compact objects do we know; how do processes/phenomena such as accretion, magnetars, bursts, mergers relate to these?
  • Which components characterise the interstellar medium? What are the roles of cold gas and dust, hot and relativistic plasma, cosmic rays?
  • Which galaxies of different types do we distingiush, what are their characteristic objects and sources?
  • What are the key literature and databases on the astronomical window/discipline and projects?

Learning Outcome

After successful completion of the module, students are able to

  • associate physical processes in cosmic objects to their specific observational method(s).
  • understand the design and the critical components of telescopes, from radio through IR and optical to x- and gamma radiation, as well as the instruments for cosmic dust, cosmic rays, gravitational waves, and neutrinos.
  • describe the evolution of normal and exotic stars, from formation through different phases until their remnants.
  • explain the physics of different, sometimes violent, energy release processes in cosmic objects.
  • assess the observability gaps in view of standard theories describing the universe.


No preconditions in addition to the requirements for the Master’s program in Physics.

Courses, Learning and Teaching Methods and Literature

Courses and Schedule

Learning and Teaching Methods

In classroom lectures the teaching and learning content is presented and explained in a didactical, structured, and comprehensive form. This includes basic knowledge on the various astronomical messengers as well as selected current topics in astrophysics as discussed from these astronomical data, i.e. from a very broad research field. Universal methodic and physics concepts are highlighted by cross referencing between different topics. Crucial facts are conveyed by involving the students in scientific discussions to develop their intellectual power and to stimulate their analytic thinking on astrophysics problems. Regular attendance of the lectures is therefore expected and highly recommended.

The interpretational astrophysics examples as well as regular self-study of personal notes from the lectures and of textbooks and recent review articles referenced in the course are an important part of the learning process by the students. Such post-processing and practicing of the teaching content is indispensable to achieve the intended learning results that the students develop the ability of explaining and applying the learned knowledge independently.


Presentation (slides from Powerpoint/Keynote), with post-lecture PDFs provided online, supplemented by selected board teaching, and short contributions from students


Lená et al.: Observational Astrophysics. Springer AASL 2012

Maoz: Astrophysics in a Nutshell. Princeton Univ. Press 2016

Longair: High-Energy Astrophysics. Cambridge Univ. Press 1992

Rosswog & Brüggen: Introduction to High-energy Astrophysics. Cambridge Univ. Press 2007

Module Exam

Description of exams and course work

The achievement of the competencies given in section learning outcome is tested exemplarily at least to the given cognition level using presentations independently prepared by the students. The exam of 25 minutes consists of the presentation and a subsequent discussion.

For example an assignment in the exam might be:

  • How does a supernova work?
  • What characterises a gamma-ray burst, and which physical processes can one infer?

Exam Repetition

The exam may be repeated at the end of the semester.

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