M2 Astrophysics : Overview of the teachings

© 2021 Observatoire Astronomique de Strasbourg | Webdesign et développement Alchimy.

Astrophysics aim at studying complex systems (stars, planets, molecular clouds, galaxies, the Universe, etc.) that involve a great variety of physical processes or scales. As such, it investigates the most extreme regimes that can be found in nature (the longest time scales, the greatest energies, masses, densities, etc.) and questions the most fundamental aspects of the laws of physics. This variety leads naturally astrophysicists to develop a wide range of methods and tools to acquire, organise and analyse scientific data.

The teachings offered at the M2 Astrophysics in Strasbourg have been organised to reflect these defining features of the field. They offer a complete set of lectures in fundamental astrophysics as well as many courses dedicated to the methodologies necessary for a professional practice of the physics of the Universe.

Fundamentals

Some examples of the teachings dedicated to fundamental astrophysics are :

  • General Astrophysics : for an overview of concepts specific to our field (Dr. A. Siebert)
  • Physics of Galaxies (Prof. C. Boily, Dr. C. Bot) dedicated to their dynamics, evolution or stellar content
  • Plasma Physics (Dr. H. Baty), including an introduction to MHD
  • Stellar Physics & Compact Objects (Dr. Pétri) : from generic processes in stars to the most extreme ones in e.g. white dwarves, neutron stars and black holes.
  • Cosmology (Prof. D. Aubert) for an overview of the Universe a as ‘physical object’
  • Interstellar Medium (Dr. L. Cambresy), to understand the processes at play in gas between and leading to stars.
  • High-Energy Astrophysics (Drs. Pétri & Maggi) to investigate the most violent and energetic processes in the cosmos, involving notably astro-particles.

Methods

Methodological courses are combined with the aforementioned fundamental lectures. They are provided by astrophysicists in order to emphasize the specifics of our field. Overall, they provide a solid fundation in data science, that is routinely practiced in astrophysics. Examples of courses are :

  • scientific programming (G. Landais, Dr. N. Gillet, Prof. D. Aubert), including a course on Python for astronomy and an introduction to parallel computing
  • numerical simulation (Drs. P. Ocvirk, A. Siebert, Prof. C. Boily) including a project related to standard astrophysical situations (radiative transfer, hydrodynamics, chaotic motion…)
  • statistics (Drs. Maggi & Monari) applied to astrophysics
  • an introduction to Machine Learning (Dr. J. Chardin) that is now ubiquitous in all sub-fields of astrophysics
  • data-bases (Dr. S. Derrière) that are now essential in an era dominated by very large astronomical surveys and that leads to student projects on professional catalogs.

Astronomical observation techniques are also part of the curriculum, with activities such as :

  • a 2T36 Observation program (Drs. P. Guillout, S. Derrière) is performed by the students along the course of the academic year, using instruments installed at the Strasbourg Observatory
  • the Observatoire de Haute-Provence field trip (Drs. Ocvirk & Maggi), which gives the opportunity to students to enable a week-long observation program on professional facilities.

Partners

Some courses are provided remotely by partners institutions. They are dedicated to specialties not present at the Strasbourg Observatory :

  • Exoplanets & Protoplanetary disks : provided by the University of Grenoble and members of the IPAG (Drs. Augereau, Delfosse)
  • Inverse Methods : provided by the University of Lyon and members of the CRAL and TPS Strasbourg (Drs. Thiébault & Louys)
  • Instrumentation/Heliophysics/Celestial mechanics : provided by the University of Freiburg and members of the KIS. The course content cycles from one year to another.

Conversely, some of our teachings are also provided to these partners on a regular basis (e.g. Cosmology, Physics of Galaxies, Interstellar Medium, etc.).

Professional practice and internships

A signifcant part of the aforementioned courses leads to students-led project over several weeks, with written and oral reports. This projects imply an important workload but act as an excellent preparation for the actual day-to-day practices in the scientific (academic/industrial) world.

Furthermore, the M2 academic year must include an 3.5 months internship, and up to 5 months for some of our students in parallel diploma (engineering school, magistère). The internship must be done in an astrophysics team, in France or abroad, and must lead to an actual research project. These internships must be obtained directly by the students, depending on their interests and constraints : for this purpose they have access to a database of internships curated at the French national level with hundreds of offers every year. At the end of the project period, the internship will lead to a master thesis and an oral presentation, both in fully executed in English. The internship grade accounts for 50% of the final M2 grade.