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Astronomy 253 (Spring 2014): Plasma Astrophysics

Instructors: Steven R. Cranmer   (email, web page)
  P-347 at 60 Garden Street, Phone: 617-495-7271
  Nicholas A. Murphy   (email, web page)
  P-140 at 60 Garden Street, Phone: 617-384-7830
Course Times:     Spring 2014, Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:30-5:00 pm
Location: Classroom, A-101 (at 60 Garden Street)
Office Hours: By appointment, or drop in (see below).
Syllabus: See the most up-to-date PDF version.


This course provides an introduction to plasma physics and plasma processes in an astrophysical context. Topics include charged particle motions, kinetic theory, magnetohydrodynamics, waves, instabilities, dynamos, shocks, particle acceleration, and magnetic reconnection. Specific applications may include solar and stellar coronae (including flares), interplanetary space plasmas, magnetized accretion disks, cosmic rays, galactic dynamos, and interstellar turbulence. The official Harvard web site for this course is HERE.


HERE is a link to the material to be covered in each lecture, including electronic copies of all handouts given and problem sets assigned.


Update, 4/28/2014: Since the original plan to have a final exam was changed, we have altered how the final grade will be computed. It is broken up into contributions from the problem sets (60%), the written term project paper (25%) and the term project presentation (15%). The latter will be held on Wednesday, May 7, 3:00-4:30 pm in room B-105.


Steve is usually available between 10:30 and 5:00 weekdays, but sometimes may have to leave earlier on Fridays. Nick is generally available in his office most afternoons (except for 1-2 hours before teaching) and evenings until 7:00 pm +/- 1.5 hours (1 sigma). Setting up an appointment to meet via email works for both of us, too.


Primary textbook: Plasma Physics for Astrophysics, by Russell M. Kulsrud (Princeton U. Press, 2005). This book provides a good graduate-level overview of the majority of topics covered in this course. The book should be available at the Harvard Coop.

Secondary resources: The syllabus lists a few other textbooks that we've found to be useful. Also, HERE is a list of links to some good online plasma physics lecture notes, resource documents, and some useful data files.