PhD course: From light to dark - the growing phase of supermassive black holes – University of Copenhagen

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PhD course: From light to dark - the growing phase of supermassive black holes

On May 19 - 23, 2014, DARK Fellow, Sebastian F. Hönig will provide a
5-day course on observational and theoretical extragalactic astrophysics
with the help of Prof. Omer Blaes University of California, Santa Barbara
and Prof. Nadia Zakamska, Johns-­Hopkins-­University, Baltimore.

Lunch will be provided for participants each day. There is no fee for attending the course, but students coming from outside of Copenhagen will have to cover their own transport and housing costs.  Info on housing options in Copenhagen here >>

To register, click here >>

Course description


Supermassive black holes are ubiquitous in large galaxies throughout cosmic history. Intimate relations between their mass and properties of the host galaxies have been discovered, which is interpreted as evidence for co-evolution. Therefore, supermassive black holes play a major role in galaxy evolution and are a central point of current astrophysical research.

Learning objectives
The students will become familiar with one of the key research areas in contemporary astrophysics. They will understand the physical principles of mass accretion on compact objects and learn about the phenomena related to this process. They will be able to transfer their knowledge of radiative processes from elementary physics courses to astronomical models and observations. Finally, they will learn to apply fundamental physical models and statistical methods in data analysis.

The course will be divided in two sections taught by a theoretician and an observer, respectively. In part 1, the students will learn what happens to and around the black hole when it growths. This will be built around the broader topic of accretion theory and be taught by Prof. Blaes. In part 2, the students will see how the theoretical framework they learned in part 1 can be used to understand the impacts of feedback reactions on the observed properties of supermassive black holes and their host galaxies. This second part will focus on observational data and their physical interpretation and will be taught by Prof. Zakamska.

The combination of theoretician and observer will bring in the different approaches to the same problem. In each part, the mornings will be dedicated to lectures while practical session will be held in the afternoons. These practical sessions will be centered around the lecture topics in the mornings and include use of a photoionization codes (e.g. CLOUDY), accretion models, data analysis, and statistical methods/tools.

The course will give 2.5 ECTS. Students who opt to take an exam will obtain a home assignment to be finished within 2 weeks will earn a total of 4 ECTS.

Part 1 (days 1-3): Black hole growth (Prof. Blaes):

  1. Introduction to the basic concepts of mass accretion: what are the different modes and how do they work?
  2. Physical/radiative processes related to accretion (ionization, shocks, etc.): Why do we “see” accretion disks around black holes?
  3. Predictions for observations: What do we expect to observe? Where are the limits of our current understanding and/or models?

Part 2 (days 3-5): Feedback reactions (Prof. Zakamska):

  1. Introduction to the concepts of feedback in the framework of galaxy evolution: Why do we need it? What are the signatures (winds, shocks, starformation)?
  2. Physical mechanisms of feedback (mechanical/kinetic feedback, radiative feedback, etc.)
  3. Current status of research and future possibilities: Where do we stand observationally and what is needed next? How will the new observing facilities (ELTs, JWST, LSST) help?

Cross-/Interdisciplinary aspects

Accretion is a very universal phenomenon, so learning the basics of accretion physics can help understand other type of objects, such as X-ray binaries, young and evolved stars, and (proto-) planetary systems. The radiative processes that occur around black holes are very general physical phenomena applicable to many processes in various fields of physics. The data analysis skills taught in the course are not restricted to astrophysics but are applicable to any kind of large sets of data.

Questions about the course

  • DARK Fellow, Sebastian Hönig,
  • Course administrator: DARK Coordinator, Michelle Løkkegaard,