• Module Information

  • General Introduction

    'The Galaxy' module considers in detail the basic physical processes that operate in galaxies, using our own Galaxy as an example. 

    We consider the gravitational dynamics and interactions of star systems, and how their motions can be described mathematically. The contents of the interstellar medium are described, and models are used to represent how the abundances of chemical elements have changed during the lifetime of the Galaxy. We investigate how dark matter can be studied using rotation curves of galaxies, and through the way that gravitational lensing by dark matter affects light. The various topics are then put together to provide an overview of the structure and characteristics of the Milky Way.

    The course will start in 2018/19 Semester B and will run for 11 consecutive weeks from January to March 2019. Lectures will be held at the Queen Mary Mile End Campus on Tuesday evenings in Graduate Centre room 2.22, between 1800 and 2000. Each lecture will be followed immediately by a 1 hour tutorial, finishing at 2100. 
    • Syllabus and reading list

      The syllabus is broadly as follows:

      Introduction: galaxy types, descriptive formation and dynamics.

      Stellar Dynamics in galaxies: virial theorem, dynamical and relaxation times, collisionless Boltzmann equation,  orbits, simple distribution functions, Jeans equations.

      The Interstellar Medium: emission processes from gas and dust

      Galactic Chemical Evolution: The Simple Model for chemical enrichment. The G-dwarf Problem and possible solutions.

      Rotation Curves: circular velocities, bulge, disk, and halo contributions to rotation curves.

      Gravitational Lensing and Dark Matter in the Galactic Halo: basic lensing theory, microlensing optical depth.

      The Galaxy - Its Structure and Content:  mass via the timing argument, solar neighbourhood kinematics, the bulge, the Sagittarius Dwarf.

      Suggested textbooks:

      All the required material will be covered in the lectures, and a very comprehensive set of Course Notes is provided on this website (see below), containing all the information you should need. However you may find the following textbooks useful for additional reading and reference:

      • Galactic Astronomy by J.Binney & M.Merrifield, 1998, Princeton Univ Press. 
      • Galactic Dynamics by J.Binney & S.Tremaine, 1987 (2nd edition 2008), Princeton Univ Press. This covers a lot of material in more detail than we cover in this module, but also contains the basic results. A classic text. 
      • Galaxy Formation and Evolution by H.Mo, F. van den Bosch & S. White, 2010, Cambridge University Press. Although the emphasis of this book is different in that it covers formation and evolution of galaxies, in a cosmological context, it also covers the basic material that we need for this module in a very clear and readable style. A great all-round textbook on galactic astronomy and cosmology for those with a broader interest.
      • Some general background is given by F. Shu, The Physical Universe, University Science Books.

      Other textbooks:

      Other textbooks which may be useful and are particularly approachable are:

      • L.Sparke & J.Gallagher, Galaxies in the Universe: an Introduction. 2007, Cambridge Univ Press. 
      • S.Phillipps, The Structure and Evolution of Galaxies, 2005, Wiley.
      • G.Gilmore, I.King and P. van den Kruit, The Milky Way as a Galaxy, 1990, University Science Books. 
      • B.Pagel, Nucleosynthesis and Chemical Evolution of Galaxies, 1997, Cambridge Univ Press.
      • Course Notes

        This section will contain a comprehensive set of course notes in pdf format. There are seven chapters. The notes are written in textbook style, organised by chapter, and represent the main course text for The Galaxy module. 

        Currently, only chapters 1 and 2 are shown, in order to give an idea of the level and content of the material. The remaining notes will be posted well in advance of the start of the course. Please be aware that these notes are currently being updated and so may change.

        The background material in Appendices A, B and C of these notes will be reviewed during the first lecture. However, you are recommended to read this material in more detail to check that you are reasonably familiar with it, or at least know where to look things up when needed.

      • Lecture Slides

        The presentation material actually used in the lectures and based on the Course Notes, will be posted here in advance of each lecture. Currently only Chapter 1 and the first part of Chapter 2 are show, just to give an idea of the format and content. Please be aware that the notes are currently being updated and may change.


        This section will contain the Coursework question sheets for download. The Coursework will be assessed and will contribute a maximum of 10% to the overall mark for the course. 

        Three Coursework question sheets will be set over the duration of the lecture course. Each Coursework sheet will contain three questions, only one of which will be assessed. The assessed question will be clearly identified on the question sheet.  

        Please hand in your solution for the assessed question for each Coursework to the lecturer no later than the date indicated. Unfortunately late solutions cannot be accepted unless an Extenuating Circumstances form has been approved.

        • Example problems

          This section will contain example problems covered during the tutorials. These problems are for practice only and will not be marked or assessed.

          • Exam and past papers

            This section contains information on the 2019 exam, together with past papers.

            The format of the 2019 exam will follow the 2013 - 2018 papers, i.e. Section A and Section B, each worth 50% of the total marks. Section A will contain 10 shorter questions, all compulsory. Section B will contain four longer questions of which any two should be attempted. 

            (Note, exams from 2012 and earlier years had a different format, e.g. any 5 from 8 questions).

          • Lecture recordings

            Video recordings of the lectures will be accessible here.