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Subject Summary: Part II Astrophysics

There are eight 24-lecture courses spread over Michaelmas and Lent Terms, which teach the fundamental physics underlying the course and the main areas of contemporary astronomy - viz relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology, stars, physics of astrophysics, dynamics, fluids and statistical physics. 

The style requires minimal memorizing of descriptive terminology; lecturers rather concentrate on the derivations of fundamentals from first principles and the teaching of basic understanding.  In addition to written examinations, there is an examinable coursework component of either an extended essay or two or more of the CATAM computer projects organized by the Mathematics Faculty. Students proceeding to Part III Astrophysics will be required to demonstrate the necessary computing skills, normally by completing at least one CATAM computing project, before commencing Part III. Any prospective part III students who choose the essay will need to complete a CATAM project over the summer. 

Those going on to Part III Astrophysics have normally taken Part II Astrophysics. The number of Part III places is limited by the number of potential projects (and project supervisors) available and preference is given to students who have taken Part II Astrophysics. Students need not decide about Part III at the time they begin the Part II course but those who have obtained an appropriate level in Part IB (at the discretion of the Institute of Astronomy, but typically a good 2.1 or above in either Mathematics or the Mathematics component of Part IB Natural Sciences) may reserve a conditional place on the Part III Astrophysics course for the following year.  There are detailed standards of entry for Part III which are given here.

Programme Specification: Part II Astrophysics

This course is taught by the Institute of Astronomy.


  1. to encourage work of the highest quality in astrophysics and maintain Cambridge's position as one of the world's leading centres in the field;
  2. to continue to attract outstanding students from all backgrounds;
  3. to provide an intellectually stimulating environment in which students have the opportunity to develop their skills and enthusiasms to the best of their potential;
  4. to maintain the highest academic standards in undergraduate and graduate teaching and to develop new areas of teaching and research in response to the advance of scholarship.

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course, students should have:

  1. obtained an introduction from the course as a whole to astrophysics, emphasising the very wide range of applicability of concepts from many areas in physics;
  2. obtained experience of independent investigation, either through reading for and preparing an essay or through completion of a computational project;
  3. developed their appreciation of general reasoning in the physical sciences;
  4. developed transferable skills.

Teaching and learning methods

These include lectures, supervisions, and guidance in producing essays and computational projects.


Assessment for this course is through:

  • four unseen written examinations (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1, 3 and 4);
  • either a dissertation of not more than 5000 words, based on a literature survey (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 1-4);
  • or computational projects (for aims 1-4 and learning outcomes 2-4).

Courses of Preparation

Essential: None

Recommended: Part IB Physics A, Physics B and Mathematics.

Additional Information

Further information is available on the Course Websites pages.