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Compact Objects and Accretion


Admission requirements

Basic knowledge of General Relativity and stellar structure is recommended.


White dwarfs, neutron stars and solar mass black holes are the final remnants of stars after they have exhausted their nuclear power. Supermassive black holes instead have still unknown origins, despite the increasing number of observations. They are found at centre of galaxies with their masses in excess of hundred thousand times that of our Sun. Compact objects are fascinating because they are unique astrophysical probes of General Relativity and extreme nuclear physics and magnetism. Moreover, their gravitational field can generate powerful accretion of matter and channel the released energy in radiation and particle outflows.

In this course, we will discuss the following topics:

  • Historical overview on compact objects

  • Theory and observations of white dwarfs, neutron stars and stellar black holes

  • Theory and observations of supermassive black holes

  • Brief introduction on hydrodynamics in plasma

  • Theory of accretion discs around compact objects in different accretion regimes

  • Observation of accretion discs

In addition, we will review classical papers and summary of open questions

Course objectives

The student will learn:

  • How matter in the most extreme conditions behaves in nature

  • State of the art observations of compact object properties

  • How to extract physical information on compact objects through a combination of theory and observations

  • The physics of accretion which, for its ubiquity, is important across different fields in astrophysics

Soft skills

In this course, students will be trained in the following behaviour-oriented skills:

  • Problem solving (recognizing and analyzing problems, solution-oriented thinking)

  • Analytical skills (analytical thinking, abstraction, evidence)

  • Structured thinking (structure, modulated thinking, computational thinking, programming)

  • Project management (planning, scope, boundaries, result-orientation)

  • Responsibility (ownership, self-discipline, bear mistakes, accountability)

  • Written communication (writing skills, reporting, summarizing)

  • Critical thinking (asking questions, checking assumptions)


See Schedules Astronomy master 2017-2018

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

  • Written report based on ~3 classical papers during the course: 30%

  • Written exam at the end of the course: 70%


Blackboard is not used for this course.

Reading list

  • Black Holes, white Dwarfs and Neutron Stars: The Physics of Compact Objects by Shapiro & Teukolsky, ISBN 9780471873167 (recommended)

  • Accretion power in Astrophysics by Frank, King & Raine, ISBN 9780521629577, download here (recommended)


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: Dr. Elena Maria Rossi
Assistant: Stella Reino
See Compact Objects and Accretion course website