Course Syllabus

ASTRO 130: Black Holes in the Universe


Instructor: Professor Donghui Jeong (
Office Davey Lab. 518, (T) 814-865-1117
Office hours M/W 1pm - 2pm, or by appointment (call me)
Teaching assistant: Mr. Jiyu (Leo) Liu (
Office Davey Lab. 537, (T) 814-865-7111
Office hours M/F 11am-12pm, or by appointment (send an e-mail)


Required Text

These two books are required:

These books have been written for non-science majors by leading researchers and teachers in the field. They are not mathematical. The two books complement each other very well; the Thorne book is written from the point of view of a relativity researcher, while the Begelman & Rees book is more astronomically focused.

For the first part of the class, we will learn about Einstein's theory of relativity. The textbook for this part of the class is the first few chapters of the following e-book:

Your best strategy will be to do the assigned reading prior to the day the material is discussed in class. This will allow you to ask questions on any material you do not understand.


Suggested Text

These are not required, but will be useful to have for the further study:


Course Description

In this course, we shall study black holes, one of the most fascinating objects in the Universe. Black holes are generated at the very end stage of the evolution of massive stars, after the starts burnt out all its fuels. The gravity around black holes are so strong that nothing can escape from the inside of black holes, and the physics of such a strongly gravitating body should be described by the general theory of relativity that Einstein has discovered 100 years ago.

After reviewing key concepts of general relativity, we shall study black holes at various different places in the Universe with various range of mass. Here, we focus on the observational evidence of the existence of black holes, and theirproperties. Finally, we shall move on to the forefront of theoretical phycis, and discuss about the detail modeling of black holes which is expected to eventually lead us to the glorious marriage of general relativity and quantum mechanics!


Course Requirements

Students in this course should have taken Astro 001 or Astro 010 (or have an equivalent level of knowledge). You should already have a solid understanding of ideas such as the electromagnetic spectrum, Newton's law of gravity, the Doppler shift, the basic properties of stars, and scientific notation.
This course is designed for non-science majors. Advanced mathematics is not required; high-school level math will be used occasionally.


Course Objectives

This course is intended to introduce students to the predicted properties of black holes and the astronomical evidence for their existence. Along the way we will study modern ideas about the nature of space, time, and gravity. Some key topics for discussion include the following:

  • Newton's and Einstein's theories of gravity 
  • What is a black hole? 
  • Predicted properties of black holes 
  • Stars and their fates 
  • How to detect a black hole 
  • Black holes in our backyard 
  • Hypernovae, gamma-ray bursts, and the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer 
  • The supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way Galaxy 
  • Supermassive black holes in galactic nuclei 
  • Black-hole pyrotechnics: Active galaxies and jets 
  • Feedback from supermassive black holes into galaxies 
  • Spinning black holes 
  • Gravitational waves 
  • Black hole thermodynamics and Hawking radiation: Are black holes really black? 
  • Singularities. What's inside a black hole? 
  • Black holes that formed in the early universe 
  • Information paradox of black hole 
  • String theory and extra-dimensional theory of gravity 
  • Wormhole and time machine

We will spend the first few weeks discussing Einstein's ideas about space, time, and gravity since these ideas are absolutely critical for a proper understanding of black holes. Do not worry if black holes do not make an immediate appearance in the first couple weeks; they will be coming and will certainly be the main focus of the course.


Weakly Schedule (subject to be changed)

week contents reading assignment
week 1 (8/22-26) 1. Introduction
2. Newtonian gravity
(T) Prologue
(BR) ch1
week 2 (8/29-9/1) 3. Special relativity (T) ch1
(N) ch2-9
week 3 (9/5-9) 3. Special relativity (T) ch1
(N) ch2-9
week 4 (9/12-16) 4. General relativity (T) ch2
(N) ch10-25
week 5 (9/19-23) 4. General relativity (T) ch2
(N) ch10-25
week 6 (9/26-30) 4. General relativity (T) ch2
(N) ch10-25
midterm 1
week 7 (10/3-7) 5. Schwarzschild black hole
6. Stellar evolution and black hole
(T) ch3
(N) ch31-32
(BR) ch2
week 8 (10/10-14) 6. Stellar evolution and black hole
7. Formation of black hole
(T) ch4-5
(BR) ch2
week 9 (10/17-21) 7. Formation of black hole
8. Black holes in the Universe
(T) ch6-9
(BR) ch3
week 10 (10/24-28) 8. Black holes in the Universe (T) ch8-9
(BR) ch4-7
week 11 (10/31-11/4) 8. Black holes in the Universe (BR) ch8 midterm 2
week 12 (11/7-11) 9. Black holes and Gravitational Waves (T) ch10
(BR) ch10
week 13 (11/14-18) 10. Quantum black holes (T) ch12-13
(BR) ch11
(N) 34-38
week 14 (11/21-25) Thanksgiving N/A N/A
week 15 (11-28-12/2) 11. Black holes and quantum gravity N/A HW 12
week 16 (12/5-9) 12. Black holes elsewhere, wormhole, and time machine (T) ch14


Grading Policy

Throughout the semester, you will earn maximum 100 points from class participation (10 points), homework (20 points), three exams, two midterm exams (20 points each) and one final exam (30 points). The letter grade will be given based on the points that you earn as following:

A 90-100
A- 85-90
B+ 80-85
B 76-80
B- 72-76
C+ 68-72
C 64-68
C- 60-64
D 50-60
F <50

A question a class: As a measure of the class participation, you are required to turn in a question, related to the subject of the class or, more generally the topics of the course at the end of each class. To get the full credit, you need to ask relevant questions at least 2/3 of all classes. Note that this should not discourage you from asking questions during the classes.

Homework policy: Solving a homework problem is one of the best ways of learning about the subject. You are encouraged to work together with fellow students, but please write the solutions by yourself. Homework solutions will be distributed via canvas on the due date. Therefore, no late homework will be accepted. You will find similar questions in the exam.

Honors option possibilities:  If you're a student in the Schreyer Honors College then there are opportunities for you to take this course with an honors option. Feel free to contact your teacher about this.
For example, if you're mathematically inclined then you could do small projects with some basic calculations in relativity (e.g. Lorentz transformation; spacetime diagram). Non-mathematical honors options should also be possible.

Exam policy: There will be two midterm exams (on 30 September and 4 November) and one cumulative final exam (during the final exam week, TBA) covering the material discussed in class and the assigned readings. These will be closed-book and closed-notes exams, and will be placed in the University testing center. Please review the introduction (video clip) from the testing center.

In the exams, emphasis will be on the main concepts rather than rote memorization of small peripheral details. "Trick questions" will be avoided, and the main concepts will be clearly emphasized in class and in the books.

No make-up exams will be given except in cases of (1) serious medical emergencies documented by an official physician's note, (2) documented absences on official University business, and (3) religious holidays. If you will miss an exam due to University business or a religious holiday, you must notify me of this in writing by at least two weeks before (providing appropriate documentation). Failure to notify me by this date will result in a denial of the make-up request. The format of the make- up exam will be at the discretion of the instructor. To be clear, the following are *not* valid reasons for missing an exam: (1) job interviews, (2) routine extracurricular activities, (3) being out of town for weddings or other social events, (4) arriving in State College late after spending the weekend at home, (5) sleeping through the exam because your roommate shut off your alarm clock, (6) break- down of your car or bicycle, and (7) suffering from the effects of a hangover.


Academic Integrity

I am passionate about academic integrity, and academic integrity is much more than "don't cheat", though that is certainly part of it. Here are some reasons why academic integrity is so important1:

  • cheating in school leads to more cheating and lying later in life, in all contexts
  • ethical decision making takes a great deal of practice, and college is the best time to practice
  • cheating is contagious
  • you'll be happier and more committed if our class is cheat-free
  • you'll learn more

Examples: Here are some specific examples (though not a complete list) to help clarify how to honestly approach this class. Honest behavior: Discuss ideas with the professor, TAs, and other students in the class. Talking about course concepts with others is a great way to help one another learn. But be sure to write up any work or answers on your own. Be sure you can explain everything in your own words. All work submitted by you should be an honest reflection of what you yourself personally know, understand, and can do without assistance. Dishonest behavior: Any action whereby a student fails to do all the assigned work on their own. Including, but not limited to: Relying on the written work of anyone else. Getting answers from any other source other than your own thinking. Using unauthorized sources of information for any assignments or tests. Misrepresenting any information to the instructor.

Written assignments: Written work that you submit for this class may be analyzed with plagiarism detection software, so be sure that any writing you do for this course, no matter how short or long, is completely in your own words except where otherwise cited. Plagiarism is one of the most frequently committed violations of academic integrity in college classes. Warning: Ignorance is not a valid defense for plagiarism. Educate yourself about what constitutes plagiarism so you don't get burned. See these links from TLT and Library for resources to help you avoid plagiarism.

Exams: The tests in this class are 100% closed notes, closed book, closed electronics, and closed web. Violations of these exam policies unambiguously constitute academic dishonesty. Consequences of violation: At a bare minimum, the score on that exam will be a zero. If it happens a second time, the student fails the course. This, or any other instances of academic dishonesty will be pursued under University and Eberly College of Science regulations concerning academic integrity. In this class there will be no warnings, even on a first offense. Academic dishonesty can result in assignment of a course grade of "F" by the course instructor, or "XF" by Judicial Affairs as the final grade for the student. So please, pretty please, don't cheat.

(1) Bertram Gallant, Tricia, July 2014. "Creating the Ethical Classroom", Penn State Workshop


Disability Policy

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. If you have a disability-related need for reasonable academic adjustments in this course, contact the Office for Disability Services (ODS) at 814- 863-1807 (V/TTY). For further information regarding ODS, please visit the Office for Disability Services Web site. In order to receive consideration for course accommodations, you must contact ODS and provide documentation (see the documentation guidelines). If the documentation supports the need for academic adjustments, ODS will provide a letter identifying appropriate academic adjustments. Please share this letter and discuss the adjustments with your instructor as early in the course as possible. You must contact ODS and request academic adjustment letters at the beginning of each semester.



Eberly College of Science statements

1) The Eberly College of Science Code of Mutual Respect and Cooperation" embodies the values that we hope our faculty, staff, and students possess and will endorse to make The Eberly College of Science a place where every individual feels respected and valued, as well as challenged and rewarded.

2) The Eberly College of Science is committed to the academic success of students enrolled in the College's courses and undergraduate programs. When in need of help, students can utilize various College and University wide resources for learning assistance.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due