Program of Master SPaCE in Astrophysics

This 2-years course is organized with lectures in general physics during the first year and specialised lectures during the second year. With the tutored projects the students will acquire concepts, tools and methodology to achieve a research work. The projects are defined in close link with lectures.

The lectures of this first year (M1) focus on fundamental physics with an introduction to Astrophysics. The Students are also trained to instrumental physics and computation.

The lectures are distributed in e-learning and students are tutored by their teachers. In parallel to these lectures the students work on 4 astrophysical-related projects. Each project lasts approximately 6 weeks.

The students master of Marseille are hosted in our laboratories LAM and PIIM in Marseille with dedicated rooms. They regularly meet their teachers and supervisors.

Topics of the lectures:

Fundamental astrophysics

Motivation: the goal of this optical lecture is to introduce the main themes of modern astrophysics,insisting in the various physical processes at work.

  1. The birth of modern astrophysics
    1. a brief history of astronomy and cosmology
    2. from astronomy to astrophysics
  2. Sources of information in astronomy
    1. the different part of the electromagnetic spectrum
    2. the main emission processes
    3. measurements :photometry and spectroscopy, ground and space measurements
  3. Scale and measurement of astronomical distances
    1. Stellar distances
    2. the scale of cosmic distances
    3. cosmological distances, redshift
    4. observational biases
  4. Stars,a dense medium
    1. stellar spectra and classification, HR diagram
    2. basics of stellar evolution
  5. The interstellar medium, matter-radiation interaction
    1. basics of radiative transfert :definitions and basic equations
    2. the different phases of the interstellar medium
    3. continuous and nebular emission!
  6. Galaxies and matter distribution in the Universe
    1. Introduction to galaxies
    2. Galaxies spatial distribution
    3. galaxies formation: the present paradigme
  7. Introduction to high-energy phenomena
    1. Introduction to X-rays and gamma rays astronomy
    2. Quasars and galaxy active nuclei
    3. Gamma burst
  8. Star companions, planetary systems
    1. the Solar system
    2. exo---planets


Motivation:the goal of this optional lecture is to introduce general relativity and the subsequent main models of the Universe and tests in observational cosmology.

I. The main observations of the Universe.

  1. Radiation and observations.The observables and their interpretation.
  2. Distribution of the observed matter in the Universe. The baryonic matter: direct and indirect observations
  3. The dark matter and the dark energy
  4. The three pillars of cosmology :galaxies recession, cosmological radiation, elementary particles and primordial nucleosynthesis

II.General relativity

  1. Tensors calculations
  2. Operators,frame transformations, Christoffel symbols, differential
  3. Curve spaces Metric tensors, geodesic tensors, curvature tensors, Einstein tensors
  4. Einstein equations
    1. The principles (equivalence, cosmological, Mach,general relativity,covariance).
    2. Tensor
    3. Energy-momentum
    4. Complete formulation of the Einstein equations

III. The Friedmann --Lemaître models

  1. Expression of the four-dimension metric dimension
  2. Christoffel symbols. Ricci tensor.Scalar curvature.
  3. Energie-momentum tensor and Einstein equations
  4. Expression of the general relativity equations in the Robertson-Walker metric
  5. Unvarying models at null cosmological constant

IV. Properties of the Friedmann--Lemaître models

  1. Observational tests and evolution of the Universe distances, age, Hubble constant, spectral shifts, deceleration parameters, scaling factors, time, energy density, temperature, entropy.
  2. The standard model : successes and difficulties
  3. Inflationary models

V. Introduction to the standard model

  1. The new cosmological tests :anisotropy and cosmological background, baryonic acoustic oscillations, far supernova and gravitational shear
  2. The cosmological parameters and precision cosmology. Acceleration of the Universe.
  3. The Universe contents : baryons, dark matter, dark energy
  4. Structure of the Universe: Amplitude of fluctuations, spectral index, reionization epoch.
  5. Formation of the first stars and galaxies.

Quantum physics

  • I. Reminders of Maxwell-Boltzmann statistics
  • II. Quantum statistics and their classical limits
  • III. Bose-Einstein statistics and its applications (condensation, gas of photons, black body)
  • IV. The Fermi-Dirac statistics and its applications (white dwarf, gas of electrons and conduction)

Statistical physics

I. Mathematical tools:

Method of the Lagrange multiplicators and central limit theorem (notion of independent variables, conditional probability).

II. Random walk (discrete and continuous)

Limitations of the binomial, Poisson and normal laws Notions of statistics, mean and mean deviation Application to diffusion and advection phenomena

III. Statistical sets:

Postulates of statistical physics microcanonical setspartition function-mean value and fluctuations- thermodynamic limit-derivation of classical thermodynamics-equipartition theoremcanonical and grand canonical sets, T-p – sets equivalence

IV. Gas kinetic theory :

Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution – state density of the mono atomic perfect gas – - velocity distributionmean velocity –pressure and state equation – mean free pathmean time of flight

V. Motion:

Fourier laws – Fick – Ohm- balance equations microscopic and macroscopic views diffusion coefficients (relation to the mean free path) 0 relation with the random walk Out-of-equilibrium systems, linear response, fluctuation-dissipation theorem Se

Atomic and molecular physics, spectroscopy

1. Introduction

  1. Electromagnetic spectrum
  2. Structure of the matter
  3. Discrete processes, continuous processes
  4. Few recent development of atomic and molecular physics (lasers, astrophysics, harsh environments, NMR, atomic clocks, GPS, Ultra#cold atoms, )

2. Emission and absorption spectra

  1. Line profiles
  2. Optical spectroscopy, magnetic resonances,…

3. Spectral analysis of atoms

  1. the hydrogen atom and hydrogenoid atoms
  2. Many electrons atoms
  3. Intensities and selection rules. Fine and hyperfine structures.

4. Molecular physics

  1. the Born#Oppenheimer approximation
  2. symmetry point groups theory
  3. rotation, nuclear spin statistics
  4. vibration of polyatomic molecules
  5. electronic structure

5. Spectral analysis of molecules

Relativity, sub-atomic physics, high energy physics

A-Special relativity:

  1. Galileo and Einstein relativity principles, Lorentz transformation, Minkowski space, quadrivectors
  2. Cinematics and relativistic dynamics : Energy and momentum, forces in relativity
  3. Applications of energy and momentum conservation: desintegrations, relativistic collisions, high#energy collisions
  4. Additional mathematics : Metric tensors, Lorentz group
  5. Electromagnetism in the covariant formalism. Fields transformation.

B. Sub-atomic physics:

  1. Summary of particle physics: Fundamental interactions, elementary constituents of matter, The main conservation laws
  2. Atomic nucleus physics (basis): description of the nuclei, energetical aspects
  3. The alpha, beta and gamma radioactivities. Reminders on radioactive decay laws.
  4. Description of few nuclear reactions (fission, fusion), astrophysical and cosmological aspects (nucleosynthesis).

Instrumental and numerical methods


Motivations: This class proposes a physical chemical approach of reaction mechanism and deals with the kinetics of these reactions. Examples from astrochemistry are used throughout the lectures.

I. Thermochemistry

  • First principle
  • Entropy and second principle
  • Entropie and «third principle»
  • Free energy and free enthalpy
  • Chemical equilibrium and phase transitions

II. Chemical kinetics:

  • Chemical kinetics and rate laws
  • Reactional mechanisms
  • Catalysis

III. Reactivity

  • Main chemical functions
  • Main reaction classes (acide-base, nucleophilic addition, nucleophilic substitution,…)
  • Radical reactions and polymérisation
  • Photochemistry
  • Solids and surface chemistry
  • Problems of interstellar chemistry

IV. Quantum calculations in chemistry

  • Reaction structures
  • Molecular dynamics

Full program of the courses

The courses are designed to focus on the core topics of Astrophysics: students choose 6 courses among the list below. Two projects are prepared in parallel. Both courses and projects are carried out from September to March in our laboratories, prior to a full 4-month research internship.

Cosmology: cosmic probes, large scale structure

  • Basic description of the cosmological model
  • General framework
  • Privileged models ans main cosmologicalparametrs
  • Constraining the characteristics of the univers:key methods
    1. Testing the growth of structure:
      • Initial matter density perturbations
      • Dynamical evolution og the large-scale structure and redshift-space distortions
      • Weak lensing tomography
      • Massive structures,cluster physics and evolution
    2. Testing the geometry of the Universe
      • Supernovae 1A as standard candels
      • Cosmic Microwave Background:physical sources,anisotropy,polarisation
      • Baryon acoustic oscillations in the galaxy distribution
      • Matter distribution and gravitational lensing
    3. Large-scale structure and galaxiy distribution:numerical stimulations and analytical prescriptions
      • High performance computing and numerical modeling
      • From intergalactic to circum-galactic medium
      • Modeling physical processes in the ISM: star formation and feedback
      • Matching models and obser vations
  • The planned milestone and key projects
    • Introduction to the milestones
    • Related key projects: present and future

Galaxies: formation and evolution

  1. Galaxies in the universe: a general introduction
    • The Milky Way: recongnizing it as galaxy
    • Elliptical and spiral galaxies,rotation acurves and darm matter halo
    • The general framework of galaxy formation and evolution
  2. Radiation from galaxies: from the observations to the physical content of galaxies
    • Galaxies at all wavelengths: brief presentation of the whole spectrum
    • Star formation rates and stellar mass measurements
    • Gaseous and dust components
    • The process of star formation
  3. Detailed view of spiral galaxies and their secular evolution
    • Galaxy formation :the primordial disk
    • Formation and stability of the disk,orbits in the disk
    • Formation of the arms,the bar and the bulge
    • Importance of instabilities at nigh redshift
  4. Galaxy evolution within the dark matter structures
    • The star formation history and the dark matter structure growth
    • the dark matter halos and stellar mass functions:AGN and SN feddback
    • Impact ogf the environment,mergers and formation of the elliptival galaxies
  5. Galaxy evolution from the local to the distant universe
    • The local inverse and the distant universe
    • The stellar mass assembly
    • Statistics:spacial distribution, counts,luminosity functions and biases
  6. Active Galaxy Nucleii
    • What is an active galaxy? a central black hole as engine,the accretion disk
    • The unification model
    • AGN-galaxy co-evolution: quenching of the star formation
  7. The Intergalactic medium
    • Cosmological reionization, Gunn-Peterson effect
    • Clumpy IGM:absorbing systems
    • The cosmi web: IGM-galaxy connection

Stars: formation and evolution

  1. Observational properties of stars
    • Detemination of stellar radii,surface temperatures,mass,composition,etc
    • Hertzsprung-Russell diagram and Main Sequence
    • Star clusters; distances,ages and stellar populations
  2. Star formation
    • The viral theorem
    • The jean's mass
    • The interstellar medium and molecular clouds
    • Observational evidence for star formation
    • Initial Mass Function
  3. Formation of first stars
    • Stellar formation with no metals
    • Stellar evolution with no metals
  4. Stellar interiors
    • Concepts of pressure and equation of state
    • Hydrostatic equilibrium
    • Energy transfer ans conversation
    • Equations of stellar structure
    • Polytropic models
    • The sun, a typical star
    • Degeneracy pressure and the minimum mass of a star
    • Nuclear physics
    • Hydrogen burning and the main sequence of the HR diagram
  5. Stellar evolution and stellar remnants
    • Stellar evolution
    • White dwarfs
    • Supernovae and neutrons stars
    • Pulsars and supernovae remants
    • Black holes

Physics and chemistry of the interstellar medium

  1. Introduction: phase and processes in the interstellar medium
  2. Ionization,dissociation and radiative processes
    • Ionization equilibrium
    • Hydrogen recombination and Forbidden emission lines
    • Continuum emission
    • Interstellar absorption lines
    • Radiative transfer and lines and continuum formation
    • High energy radiations
  3. Overall equilibrium
    • Heating and cooling processes
    • Thermal equilibruim
  4. Interstellar dust
    • Extinction
    • Polarization
    • Physical properties of grains
  5. Molecules in the Universe
    • A brief history of melecules detection,the birth of astrochemistry
    • Review of molecular compounds(organic, inorganic,polymer,..)
    • Astrophysical environments and molecules(diffuse,dense,planetary,....)
  6. Chemical processes in the interstellar medium
    • Gas phase cheical reactions
    • Grain chemistry
    • Ice chemistry
    • Chemistry of diffuse clouds,photodissociation regions chemistry
    • Molecular clouds ans star formation chemistry
    • Shocks chemistry
    • PAH chemistry
    • Solar bodies and exoplanet chemistry
  7. Open questions of astrochemistry(2h)
    • The evolution of molecular complexity
    • The search for prebiotic molecules (amino-acids,homochirality,..)
    • The seearch for habitability and biosignatures


  1. Basic parameters
    1. Debye length
    2. Coulomb collisions
    3. Collective effects
    4. Plasma sheath
    5. Plasma oscillations
    6. Transport processes
    7. Statistical properties of the electric microfield
  2. Charged particle motion
    1. Hamiltonian dynamics
    2. Particle motion in uniform electric and magnetic fields
    3. Guiding center motion: drifts and invariants
  3. Plasma fluid theory
    1. Distribution functions and related moments
    2. Derivation of the macroscopic equations
    3. One- and multi-fluid models
    4. MHD equations
    5. Dimensional analysis and approximations (quasi-neutrality, ideal MHD, etc.)
    6. The energy equation

Planetary systems

  1. Solar System and exoplanet toxonomy (4h)
  2. Planetary formation(6h)
    • Protoplanetary accretion disks
    • Physical chemistry of the protosolar nebula
    • From dust to planets
    • Migration mechanisms
  3. Planetary evolution(7h)
    • Tidal interactions and system stability
    • Thermal evolution of small bodies
    • Internal structures of terrestrial planets
    • Geology of terrsstrial planets
    • Icy bodies(moons,dwarf planets,small mass exoplanets
    • Giant planets interiors
    • Mass-radius relationship
  4. Planetary atmospheres(6h)
    • Origin and evolution
    • Atmospheric Composition: fundamentals
    • Radiative tranfert and greenhouse effect
    • Vertical structure
    • Clouds and aerosols
  5. Characterization techniques and limitations(4h)
    • Search techniques and sensitivities
    • Characterisation of exoplanet atmospheres
    • In situ measurements
  6. Astrobiology(3h)
    • Life and its origins
    • Life on Earth
    • Habitable environments in the soalr system
    • Habitable zone and biosignatures

Instrumental technics

  1. Astronomy, telescopes and focal instruments
    • Astrophysical context
    • Information messengers
    • Photon detection :multi-wavelength observational technics
    • Introduction to telescope and detector: from radio wavelengths to rays
    • Telescope failies (Newton, Cassegrain,Schmidt,Schmidt-Cassegrain, Ritchey-Chrétien...
  2. Spectro-imaging: spectroscopes,spectrographs and spectrometers
    • Observational parameters: spatial, spectral and temporal information,vidimensionnal detectors, data cube.
    • Adequation between scientifics objectives and spectroscopic facilities
    • Path light analysis
    • Image dissector
    • Example of spectro-imaging systems
  3. Active and adaptative optics
    • Effects of atmospherci turbulence
    • Adaptation and active optics; principales and technics
    • Wavefront analysis: concept and analysis
    • Direct and inverse problems: wavefront reconstruction, deconvolution
    • Applications
  4. Introduction to optical systems
    • Electronics:control command, components, modulation,amplification etc...
    • Signal processing: probabilities, signal description, sampling etc..
    • Opto-mechanics: meechanics and thermics of structures
    • Systems ingineering

Initiation to observations

Initiation to a complete run of observation in a professional context

  1. Preparation of observations
    • Coordinates systems
    • Astronomical instrumentation
    • Definition of observational program
    • Remove night observation with the IRIS telescope
  2. Observations:4 nights at OHP
    • Telescope T80: imaging, interferometry
    • T120: imaging and low resolution soectroscopy
    • T193: high resolution spectroscopy
    • pre-reduction of the data
  3. Data analysis
    • Calibration
    • Scientific analysis
    • Redaction of a research note and moral presentation of the results

Full program of the courses

List of projects proposed in 2016-2017 and some illustrations of achievements

  • Primordial Universe, inflation models
  • White dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes
  • Measuring the expansion of the universe
  • Gravitational lensing
  • How do stars and planets shine?
  • Searching for exoplanets
  • The Solar System beyond Neptun
  • Rendez-vous with a comet nucleus