ASTR 641: Active Galaxies

1. Course objectives

This course is intended to provide a comprehensive treatment of the physics of active galactic nuclei and their host galaxies. This includes all objects thought to have supermassive black holes as the driver of the central engine. The course will cover the physics of accretion onto black holes, and radio, infrared, optical, ultraviolet, x-ray, and gamma-ray mechanisms and emission from accretion flows and jets, emission and absorption lines, anisotropic and beaming effects, unification scenarios for AGN phenomena, the relationship between an active nucleus and its host galaxy, and the phenomenology and cosmic evolution of AGN. Upon completion of this course students should be sufficiently knowledgeable of AGN phenomena to begin to address fundamental research problems in the field.

2. Organization & syllabus

The primary texts for the course will be

but the following texts will also be reserved at the library and are useful sources for secondary readings:

Review papers from the current literature will also be included in the assigned reading.

The syllabus for ASTR 641 has been developed over four previous semesters (Spring 1995, 1998, 2001 & 2002) when an AGN course was offered as a 1 or 2-credit Astronomy Seminar (ASTR 73x):

Weeks Subject Reading
1 Basic phenomenology of AGN; radio, FIR, optical, x-ray, gamma-ray surveys; radio loud/quiet dichotomy. Notes; Krolik Chap 1, 2; KN Chap 1, 5, 6
2, 3 The central engine and black hole physics Mean energy density of AGN light, production efficiency and remnant mass, evidence for black holes in galaxies, particle mechanics near a black hole, motion in Schwartzschild metric, motion in a Kerr metric, electromagnetic fields and the rotating black hole battery. Notes; Krolik Chap 4, 5
4, 5 Thin and Thick Accretion disks; Advection dominated accretion; emitted spectra and observational tests. Notes; Krolik Chap 6, 7
6 Continuum emission mechanisms, synchrotron and synchro-self-compton emission, Gamma-ray and TeV sources, blazars. Notes; Krolik Chap7; KN Chap 3, 4, 8
7 Broad, narrow, and extra-nuclear emission line regions photo-ionization codes, model construction, locally optimized clouds, shock ionization. Notes; Krolik Chap 10
8 Jets, acceleration and collimation, morphology, jet radiation, superluminal motion, radio emission. Notes; Krolik Chap 9; KN Chap 9
9 Intrinsic absorption and outflows, dynamics, thermal winds, magnetically driven winds radiation driven winds, mass outflow. Notes; Krolik Chap 11
10 Properties of host galaxies, morphology, bars and peculiarities, impact of nucleus on host, impact of black hole on stellar dynamics. Notes; Krolik Chap 13
11 Onset of activity and fueling formation of black holes, multiple black holes, mergers and fueling mechanisms, cooling flows, bar-driven inflows, encounters. Notes; Krolik Chap 14
12 Anisotropic appearance and unification of disparate AGN mechanisms, radio-quiet unification, radio-loud unification, the alignment effect. Notes; Krolik Chap 12
13 Dust emission, toroidal obscuration, optical scattering from dust, cosmic evolution of dust content of AGN, metalicity constraints. Notes
14 Luminosity function and evolution of AGN, source counts, V/Vmax test, luminosity vs. number evolution, the epoch of activity, AGN at high redshift, HzRGs, AGN formation. Notes; Krolik Chap 3

3. Relation to curriculum

Like most 600-level courses in the Astronomy program, ASTR 641 is optional; students can chose this course based on their interests and research plans. This course will be of interest to most Astronomy graduate students in Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology.

4. Overlap with other courses

The University of Hawaii has no formal course offerings on Active Galaxies other than the seminars mentioned above. Most peer institutions in astronomy offer a course in AGN or High Energy Astrophysics.

5. Number of credits & level

ASTR 641 will have a schedule and workload which are comparable to other 3-credit Astronomy graduate courses. The level of presentation will be fairly high. Physical background includes electrodynamics and special relativity at the level of Jackson's Classical Electrodynamics and a knowledge of radiative processes at the level of Rybicki and Lightman's Radiative Processes in Astrophysics. ASTR 635, Fundamentals of Astrophysics, is a prerequisite; students would also be encouraged to take ASTR 640, General Relativity. The mathematical elements include partial differential equations, differential geometry, and some quantum mechanics

6. Student evaluation

Grades will be derived from problem sets and a final exam. The problem sets will count for about 70% of the grade, while the final will count for about 30%.

7. Instructor availability

Expert teaching resources for ASTR 641 are available within the Physics and Astronomy Department and the IfA. An Astronomy Seminar (ASTR 73x), which serves as the basis for this syllabus, has been taught by various IfA personnel four times in the last 7 years.

8. Courses & workloads

The IfA will not decrease its offerings in other subjects when ASTR 641 becomes a permanently listed course. This subject is regularly taught as an Astronomy Seminar (ASTR 73x), so faculty workloads will not change when 641 is offered instead. No additional IfA or UH resources will be needed to implement this course.

Kenneth C. Chambers (

Last modified: Oct 23, 2002