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Galaxies: structure, dynamics and evolution

Vak 2019-2020

Please note that this course description is preliminary. The final course description will be released in the Summer of 2019.

Admission requirements

Astronomy bachelor's courses Galaxies and Cosmology and Radiative Processes.


In this course we will study the evolution of galaxies. Fundamental astronomical processes such as star formation, recycling and enrichment of gas, formation of planets, etc. all take place in galaxies. Besides that, galaxies are the basic building blocks of the universe, and we use them to trace the evolution of the universe. This broad scope is why galaxy research is in the forefront of astronomy.

This course covers the structure of the galaxies, including dark matter, stars and gas as well as the large scale structure in which galaxies are embedded. It discusses ongoing surveys of the nearby and distant universe. A special focus will be on the evolution of galaxies. The course builds on the bachelor course Galaxies and Cosmology and assumes that the material in this course is known to the student. A very brief recapitulation will be given of the most important material.

Course work consists of exercises, a presentation, and an oral exam. The presentation is on a paper or current research project; the oral exam focuses on the discussion of a research paper.

Topics covered:

  • Techniques how the mass distributions of galaxies are measured
  • Modeling the equilibrium of a gravitational system with a very large number of point sources
  • Structure of nearby and distant galaxies
  • Observational programs to study these galaxies
  • Observations that have been used to understand the evolution of galaxies
  • The role of dark matter in galaxy evolution and formation
  • Advanced models for stellar populations and their application to the study of galaxy evolution

Course objectives

At the end of this course, you:

  • Will be able to analyze recent research papers in the general area of galaxy structure and evolution, and summarize their content and list their implications
  • Can describe the structure and evolution of galaxies and can list the observables of galaxies underlying this knowledge
  • Can explain the main mechanisms responsible for galaxy formation

Soft skills

During this course, you will be trained to:

  • Plan and execute your home exercises on time
  • Report the solutions to your exercises clearly
  • Present a paper or research project
  • Verbally describe topics covered by this course


See Astronomy master schedules

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures
  • Exercise classes

Assessment method

  • Homework assignments: 40% of final grade (average >= 6 as requirement to take oral exam)
  • Oral exam: 60% of final grade


Blackboard is not used in this course.

Reading list

The course is not based on any book in particular. Useful reference books concerning galaxies include:

  • ‘Galaxy Formation and Evolution’ by Houjun Mo, Frank van den Bosch, and Simon White, ISBN13: 978-0521857932’
  • ‘Galactic Dynamics, Princeton Series in Astrophysics’ by James Binney and Scott Tremaine, ISBN13: 978-0-691-13027-9
  • ‘Galactic Astronomy, Princeton Series in Astrophysics’ by James Binney and Michael Merrifield, ISBN13: 978-0-691-02565-0

These books are of excellent quality and deal with a lot of material in great detail. They will be useful throughout the career of an astronomer. However, their level is generally above that of the course, and they do not discuss large scale structure or galaxy evolution in much detail.


Via uSis. More information about signing up for your classes can be found here. Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Lecturer: Prof.dr. M. (Marijn) Franx
Assistant: To be announced
Course website: To be announced