Introduction to Astrophysics

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Lectures / Lots of Calculations Professor Winn is an amiable and articulate lecturer on what can be a daunting topic. I'm not a scientist, but I've long been interested in science, and I appreciated the fact that he maintained a certain degree of rigor in his course including a lot of mathematics. If I understood his Course Guidebook correctly, this course approximates an introductory course in Astrophysics for undergraduate physical science majors. It's a physics course, so mathematics, the language of the physical sciences, will of course be used to illustrate concepts and processes. I wasn't able to follow all of the mathematics but I followed enough of it to get the basic relationships. The professor usually dispenses with the more accurate differential equations to use more understandable algebraic approximations to get what he calls "an order of magnitude" calculation. You should be familiar with exponents since there's lots of them, and any educated person should know that when one of his equations has a variable T (temperature) to the 4th power, then temperature must be a very powerful influence. It's interesting to note (although Newton taught us it shouldn't be) how many terrestrial principles of physics are employed out in the universe like angular momentum, hydrostatic balance equations, and tidal forces. Among the fascinating things we learn in this course are that pulsars (collapsed neutron stars) are more massive than our sun but are condensed into the size of a city and rotate 30 times per second. There's also a discussion of merging neutron stars where it's currently thought that all the gold in the universe is created from colliding neutron stars. He ends his lectures with the mystery of dark energy, that mysterious anti-gravity that's accelerating the expansion of the universe. The most difficult lecture was #5 where he shows how Newton used calculus to derive his Universal Law of Gravitation from Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion. If you'd like to argue who was the greatest physicist in history, Newton or Einstein, I'd opt for Newton.After all, he had to invent a new from of mathematics to complete his physical discoveries, while Einstein relied on other mathematicians for their work on n-dimensional geometry to complete his General Theory of Relativity.
Date published: 2021-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Let's do the math!! If you like to hear the phrase, "Let's do the math," this course is for you. The translation of science into math-free courses with as few equations as possible may increase sales, but we need more courses that welcome, encourage, and explore the math that makes science true. This course is outstanding in its presentation of math, a breath of fresh air due to the calm delivery, wonderful graphs, and deep knowledge of the professor. I don't think the math overdone, or the sole focus, but here math claims the central place it deserves in astrophysics. The next step for the Great Courses is to include problem sets so that we can gain practice in doing the math. This course is a wonderful and needed step in that direction. Love the content, love the presentation of the material, and I will take every class this professor teaches.
Date published: 2020-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, but be ready to do some work This is an excellent course, but it requires a good deal of work from the viewer. It goes over physics concepts and equations that I haven't seen since I was an undergraduate. The mathematics isn't difficult, but it, too, had me paying close attention and watching twice -- and I was a mathematics major. The subject is fascinating and the lecturer is engaging, which makes the course worthwhile in spite of the intellectual heavy lifting.
Date published: 2020-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent ! Almost as good as the Astrophysics grad course I took 30 years ago.
Date published: 2020-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent contact and span I found this course to be well aimed at the interested amateur. It provides a great overview of the topic while dealing into enough of the detail to provide a good feel for the granularity that is present.
Date published: 2020-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding course! I watched Professor Winn’s course on Introduction to Astrophyics on The Great Courses Plus, and I found it excellent. There was a great deal of information in the course, and yet it never felt rushed nor overwhelming. I credit that to Professor Winn’s teaching style: he always spoke in a calm and consistent manner and explained things clearly. Some viewers may complain of the amount of math in the course, but I think that’s an asset not a liability — a great deal of astrophysics is animated by mathematics, and Professor Winn isn’t shy about making that explicit throughout the course, and in so doing explains the underlying mathematics fully. This course really makes you think, and it rewards you for doing so.
Date published: 2020-10-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course with a great lecturer! Gives a thorough review of the fundamentals of astrophysics. Quite dense, covering a broad range of topics. Very heavy on the math which was fine for me but may be daunting for some. Mostly just algebra but helps to have a basic understanding of differential calculus.
Date published: 2020-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! One of the few courses which truly is “college level.” Of course in college it would be for non-physics majors but it is the real deal. And, NO, heavy math is not involved unless your definition of heavy math is high school algebra II. The teacher is very good, calm, precise and clear as a bell. Lectures are well thought out. It will take a bit of effort but but shouldn’t it? It’s one of the best!
Date published: 2020-09-11
  • y_2021, m_1, d_26, h_17
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.13
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_4, tr_111
  • loc_en_CA, sid_1360, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 3.8ms
Introduction to Astrophysics
Course Trailer
Zooming Out to Distant Galaxies
1: Zooming Out to Distant Galaxies

Begin by defining the difference between astrophysics and astronomy. Then study the vast range of scales in astrophysics—from nanometers to gigaparsecs, from individual photons to the radiation of trillions of suns. Get the big picture in a breathtaking series of exponential jumps—zooming from Earth, past the planets, stars, galaxies, and finally taking in countless clusters of galaxies.

33 min
Zooming In to Fundamental Particles
2: Zooming In to Fundamental Particles

After touring the universe on a macro scale in the previous lecture, now zoom in on the microcosmos—advancing by powers of ten into the realm of molecules, atoms, and nuclei. Learn why elementary particles are just as central to astrophysics as stars and galaxies. Then review the four fundamental forces of nature and perform a calculation that explains why atoms have to be the size they are.

32 min
Making Maps of the Cosmos
3: Making Maps of the Cosmos

Discover how astrophysicists map the universe. Focus on the tricky problem of calculating distances, seeing how a collection of overlapping techniques provide a “cosmic distance ladder” that works from nearby planets (by means of radar) to stars and galaxies (using parallax and Cepheid variable stars) to far distant galaxies (by observing a type of supernova with a standard intrinsic brightness).

31 min
The Physics Demonstration in the Sky
4: The Physics Demonstration in the Sky

In the first of two lectures on motion in the heavens, investigate the connection between Isaac Newton’s laws of motion and the earlier laws of planetary motion discovered empirically by Johannes Kepler. Find that Kepler’s third law is the ideal method for measuring the mass of practically any phenomenon in astrophysics. Also, study the mathematics behind Kepler’s second law.

32 min
Newton’s Hardest Problem
5: Newton’s Hardest Problem

Continue your exploration of motion by discovering the law of gravity just as Newton might have—by analyzing Kepler’s laws with the aid of calculus (which Newton invented for the purpose). Look at a graphical method for understanding orbits, and consider the conservation laws of angular momentum and energy in light of Emmy Noether’s theory that links conservation laws and symmetry.

35 min
Tidal Forces
6: Tidal Forces

Why are the rings around Saturn and the much fainter rings around Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune at roughly the same relative distances from the planet? Why are large moons spherical? And why are large moons only found in wide orbits (i.e., not close to the planets they orbit)? These problems lead to an analysis of tidal forces and the Roche limit. Close by calculating the density of the Sun based on Earth’s ocean tides.

32 min
Black Holes
7: Black Holes

Use your analytical skill and knowledge of gravity to probe the strange properties of black holes. Learn to calculate the Schwarzschild radius (also known as the event horizon), which is the boundary beyond which no light can escape. Determine the size of the giant black hole at the center of our galaxy and learn about an effort to image its event horizon with a network of radio telescopes.

32 min
Photons and Particles
8: Photons and Particles

Investigate our prime source of information about the universe: electromagnetic waves, which consist of photons from gamma ray to radio wavelengths. Discover that a dense collection of photons is comparable to a gas obeying the ideal gas law. This law, together with the Stefan-Boltzmann law, Wien’s law, and Kepler’s third law, help you make sense of the cosmos as the course proceeds.

34 min
Comparative Planetology
9: Comparative Planetology

Survey representative planets in our solar system with an astrophysicist’s eyes, asking what makes Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Jupiter so different. Why doesn’t Mercury have an atmosphere? Why is Venus so much hotter than Earth? Why is Jupiter so huge? Analyze these and other riddles with the help of physical principles such as the Stefan-Boltzmann law.

32 min
Optical Telescopes
10: Optical Telescopes

Consider the problem of gleaning information from the severely limited number of optical photons originating from astronomical sources. Our eyes can only do it so well, and telescopes have several major advantages: increased light-gathering power, greater sensitivity of telescopic cameras and sensors such as charge-coupled devices (CCDs), and enhanced angular and spectral resolution.

32 min
Radio and X-Ray Telescopes
11: Radio and X-Ray Telescopes

Non-visible wavelengths compose by far the largest part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Even so, many astronomers assumed there was nothing to see in these bands. The invention of radio and X-ray telescopes proved them spectacularly wrong. Examine the challenges of detecting and focusing radio and X-ray light, and the dazzling astronomical phenomena that radiate in these wavelengths.

33 min
The Message in a Spectrum
12: The Message in a Spectrum

Starting with the spectrum of sunlight, notice that thin dark lines are present at certain wavelengths. These absorption lines reveal the composition and temperature of the Sun’s outer atmosphere, and similar lines characterize other stars. More diffuse phenomena such as nebulae produce bright emission lines against a dark spectrum. Probe the quantum and thermodynamic events implied by these clues.

32 min
The Properties of Stars
13: The Properties of Stars

Take stock of the wide range of stellar luminosities, temperatures, masses, and radii using spectra and other data. In the process, construct the celebrated Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, with its main sequence of stars in the prime of life, including the Sun. Note that two out of three stars have companions. Investigate the orbital dynamics of these binary systems.

34 min
Planets around Other Stars
14: Planets around Other Stars

Embark on Professor Winn’s specialty: extrasolar planets, also known as exoplanets. Calculate the extreme difficulty of observing an Earth-like planet orbiting a Sun-like star in our stellar neighborhood. Then look at the clever techniques that can now overcome this obstacle. Review the surprising characteristics of many exoplanets and focus on five that are especially noteworthy.

33 min
Why Stars Shine
15: Why Stars Shine

Get a crash course in nuclear physics as you explore what makes stars shine. Zero in on the Sun, working out the mass it has consumed through nuclear fusion during its 4.5-billion-year history. While it’s natural to picture the Sun as a giant furnace of nuclear bombs going off non-stop, calculations show it’s more like a collection of toasters; the Sun is luminous simply because it’s so big.

34 min
Simple Stellar Models
16: Simple Stellar Models

Learn how stars work by delving into stellar structure, using the Sun as a model. Relying on several physical principles and sticking to order-of-magnitude calculations, determine the pressure and temperature at the center of the Sun, and the time it takes for energy generated in the interior to reach the surface, which amounts to thousands of years. Apply your conclusions to other stars.

34 min
White Dwarfs
17: White Dwarfs

Discover the fate of solar mass stars after they exhaust their nuclear fuel. The galaxies are teeming with these dim “white dwarfs” that pack the mass of the Sun into a sphere roughly the size of Earth. Venture into quantum theory to understand what keeps these exotic stars from collapsing into black holes, and learn about the Chandrasekhar limit, which determines a white dwarf’s maximum mass.

34 min
When Stars Grow Old
18: When Stars Grow Old

Trace stellar evolution from two points of view. First, dive into a protostar and witness events unfold as the star begins to contract and fuse hydrogen. Exhausting that, it fuses heavier elements and eventually collapses into a white dwarf—or something even denser. Next, view this story from the outside, seeing how stellar evolution looks to observers studying stars with telescopes.

33 min
Supernovas and Neutron Stars
19: Supernovas and Neutron Stars

Look inside a star that weighs several solar masses to chart its demise after fusing all possible nuclear fuel. Such stars end in a gigantic explosion called a supernova, blowing off outer material and producing a super-compact neutron star, a billion times denser than a white dwarf. Study the rapid spin of neutron stars and the energy they send beaming across the cosmos.

33 min
Gravitational Waves
20: Gravitational Waves

Investigate the physics of gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Einstein and long thought to be undetectable. It took one of the most violent events in the universe—colliding black holes—to generate gravitational waves that could be picked up by an experiment called LIGO on Earth, a billion light years away. This remarkable achievement won LIGO scientists the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

32 min
The Milky Way and Other Galaxies
21: The Milky Way and Other Galaxies

Take in our entire galaxy, called the Milky Way. Locate Earth’s position; then survey other galaxies, classifying their structure. Use the virial theorem to analyze a typical galaxy, which can be thought of as a “collisionless gas” of stars. Note that galaxies themselves often collide with each other, as the nearby Andromeda Galaxy is destined to do with the Milky Way billions of years from now.

32 min
Dark Matter
22: Dark Matter

Begin with active galaxies that have supermassive black holes gobbling up nearby stars. Then consider clusters of galaxies and the clues they give for missing mass—dubbed “dark matter.” Chart the distribution of dark matter around galaxies and speculate what it might be. Close with the Big Bang, deduced from evidence that most galaxies are speeding away from us; the farther away, the faster.

31 min
The First Atoms and the First Nuclei
23: The First Atoms and the First Nuclei

The Big Bang theory is one pillar of modern cosmology. Another is the cosmic microwave background radiation, which is the faint “echo” of the Big Bang, permeating all of space and discovered in 1965. The third pillar is the cosmic abundances of the lightest elements, which tell the story of the earliest moment of nucleosynthesis taking place in the first few minutes of the Big Bang.

34 min
The History of the Universe
24: The History of the Universe

In this last lecture, follow the trail of the greatest unsolved problem in astrophysics. Along the way, get a grip on the past, present, and future of the universe. Discovered in the 1990s, the problem is “dark energy,” which is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. Trace this mysterious force to the lambda term in the celebrated Friedmann equation, proposed in the 1920s.

37 min
Joshua N. Winn

There are so many reasons to study exoplanets, including exploration, the search for life, the rich physics problem of planet formation, and the technological challenge.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

About Joshua N. Winn

Dr. Joshua N. Winn is the Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University. After earning his Ph.D. in Physics from MIT, he held fellowships from the National Science Foundation and NASA at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Winn's research goals are to explore the properties of planets around other stars, understand how planets form and evolve, and make progress on the age-old question of whether there are other planets capable of supporting life. He was a member of the science team of NASA's Kepler mission and is the Deputy Science Director of a future NASA mission called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite. He has authored or coauthored more than 100 scientific articles on the subject of exoplanetary science. At MIT, Dr. Winn teaches physics and astronomy and has won several awards for his dedication to his students, including the Buechner Faculty Teaching Prize in 2008 and the School of Science Prize for Excellence in Graduate Teaching in 2013. His talent for communicating science to the general public was honed during graduate school, when he wrote for the science section of The Economist.

Also By This Professor