Extreme Universe
Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics of Moscow State University Skobeltsyn Institute of Nuclear Physics of Moscow State University
русский / english

Education and Outreach

Course: Gamma- and X-ray Astrophysics

INSTRUCTOR: Professor George F. Smoot
Office: SINP Room 309


This course covers the general area of gamma- and x-ray Astrophysics. Since this is such a large area, we will focus on the physics of emissions and physics of relativistic jets and diffuse plasmas such as the inter-cluster medium (hot plasma that makes the bulk of the baryonic mass in galactic clusters) and supernova remnants.


This is a lecture course in which topics are presented by the instructor, practice examples are explained, and students are assigned problems or questions both during class periods and outside of class. Discussions are usually held at the end of the formal class. Questions and short quizzes are given daily and there is a comprehensive final exam. The course is a prerequisite for advanced (Masters and PhD thesis) research in the field). This course therefore assumes that students have completed undergraduate physics courses in electromagnetism and basic special relativity.


  1. To introduce students to gamma- and x-ray Astrophysics.
  2. To introduce students to timely and current quality observations.
  3. To orient students to the range of methods, topics, and approaches that characterizes the field.
  4. To provide students with opportunities to develop basic science and instrumentation/experiment design skills.


The course will cover the following topics:
  1. Introduction and Overview
    1. The grand unified spectrum of electromagnetic radiation from the sky;
    2. Overview of gamma- and x-ray sources;
    3. Specific look at gamma- and x-ray sources and general spectra;
    4. Gamma Ray Bursts, black holes and AGN as sources – relativistic jets;
    5. Other sources of gamma-rays and x-rays;
    6. gamma- and x-ray detectors;
    7. need to go to space for precise observations.
  2. General Aspects of gamma- and x-rays in Astrophysics
  3. The Interaction of X-rays and Gamma-rays with matter – 9+ lectures
    1. Photo-electric effect
    2. Compton Scattering – Thomson, Compton, Rayleigh scattering
    3. Basic Principles of a Compton Telescope
    4. Klein-Nishina cross section and implications
    5. Synchrotron Radiation
    6. Inverse Compton Scattering — The Major producer of astrophysical X- & gamma-rays
      1. Review of the Compton Effect
      2. Review of Thomson Scattering
      3. Klein-Nishima Cross-section new perspective
      4. Inverse Compton Scattering
      5. The Compton Catastrophe
      6. Spectrum of IC; Kompaneets Eqn.; y parameter defined
      7. Full relativistic Boltzmann Equation and relativistic modified Kompaneets eqn
      8. Synchrotron-Self-Compton
      9. Sunyaev-Zel’dovich Effect
    7. Bremmstrahlung
    8. Pair production
    9. Radiation with Radiation and with Protons & the GZK cut off (gammas and protons)
  4. Astrophysical Polarization – three lectures
  5. A Review: Light from the Cosmic Frontier: Gamma Ray Bursts
  6. GRB Fireball Models
  7. Relativistic Jets & Gamma-ray burst emission mechanisms
  8. Relativistic jet physics and blazars
  9. X-ray and Gamma-ray instrumentation and considerations
    1. Total Absorption Calorimeters
    2. Imaged and Coded Mask Detectors
    3. Tracking Detectors
    4. Combined and Hybrid Detectors and Compton Telescopes
    5. Polarization Detectors
  10. Considerations for an X-ray (and gamma-ray) test facility
  11. Measurements in actual environment


Text and References:
Radiative Processes in Astrophysics – [George B. Rybicki, Alan P. Lightman] - Rybicki & Lightman ‪John Wiley & Sons, 1979 - ‪Pages: 382

Radiative Processes in Astrophysics: This clear, straightforward, and fundamental introduction is designed to present-from a physicist's point of view-radiation processes and their applications to astrophysical phenomena and space science. It covers such topics as radiative transfer theory, relativistic covariance and kinematics, bremsstrahlung radiation, synchrotron radiation, Compton scattering, some plasma effects, and radiative transitions in atoms. Discussion begins with first principles, physically motivating and deriving all results rather than merely presenting finished formulae. However, a reasonably good physics background (introductory quantum mechanics, intermediate electromagnetic theory, special relativity, and some statistical mechanics) is required. Much of this prerequisite material is provided by brief reviews, making the book a self-contained reference for workers in the field as well as the ideal text for senior or first-year graduate students of astronomy, astrophysics, and related physics courses. Radiative Processes in Astrophysics also contains about 75 problems, with solutions, illustrating applications of the material and methods for calculating results. This important and integral section emphasizes physical intuition by presenting important results that are used throughout the main text; it is here that most of the practical astrophysical applications become apparent.

High Energy Astrophysics — (third edition) 2011. Longair, M.S. Cambridge: Cambri dge University Press - Pages: ‪888

Providing students with an in-depth account of the astrophysics of high-energy phenomena in the Universe, the third edition of this well-established textbook is ideal for advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate courses in high energy astrophysics. Building on the concepts and techniques taught in standard undergraduate courses, this textbook provides the astronomical and astrophysical background for students to explore more advanced topics. Special emphasis is given to the underlying physical principles of high-energy astrophysics, helping students understand the essential physics. Now consolidated into a single-volume treatment, the third edition has been completely rewritten. It covers the most recent discoveries in areas such as gamma-ray bursts, ultra-high energy cosmic rays and ultra-high energy gamma-rays. The topics have been rearranged and streamlined to make them more applicable to a wide range of different astrophysical problems.

Additional Advanced Reference for basic electromagnetism: Classical Electrodynamics Third Edition by John David Jackson

The defining book covering the physics and classical mathematics necessary to understand electromagnetic fields.


The student is expected to have completed a standard undergraduate physics curriculum and understand basic electromagnetism and Special Relativity well and a bit of quantum mechanics and so forth. The book Classical Electrodynamics by J.D. Jackson has a very good and strong course covering all the basic and advanced material needed for the course.


Coursework will be weighted as follows:
1. Homework 25%
2. Quizzes 25%
3. Final exam 30%
4. Attendance &



25% + 55% + 20% = 100%
Extra Credit given for creative and outstanding solutions and new concepts or an oral report.

G. Materials