Astro 6531: Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics

Fall 2017

Instructor: Prof. Dong Lai

Time & Place: Tentative: Monday and Wednesday 3:30 pm - 4:45 pm in 622 SSB

Class website:


Four-credit lecture course, aimed at general astrophysics/physics/engineering graduate students as well as well-prepared undergraduate students.

A knowledge of fluid dynamics is essential for understanding many of the most interesting problems in astrophysics (and applied physical sciences). This course will survey fluid dynamics (including magnetohydrodynamics and some plasma physics -- time permitting) important for understanding various astronomical (and terrestrial) phenomena. Topics include basic fluid and MHD concepts and equations, waves and instabilities of various types (e.g., sound, gravity, Rossby, hydromagnetic, spiral density waves; Rayleigh-Taylor, thermal, Jeans, rotational, magnetorotational instabilities), shear and viscous flows, turbulence, shocks and blast waves, etc. These topics will be discussed in different astrophysical contexts and applications, such as atmosphere and ocean, star and planet formation, stellar oscillation/rotation/magnetism, compact objects, interstellar medium, galaxies and clusters. This course is intended mainly for graduate students (both theory and observation) interested in astrophysics and space physics. Students in other areas of applied science and engineering may find the broad astrophysical and terrestrial applications useful. Well-prepared undergradate students may also take the course. No previous exposure to fluid dynamics and astronomy is required.


Weekly lectures. There will be about 6-8 problem sets. No final exam (the last problem set may serve as take-home final exam or there may be an oral exam/interview). There may be a student project during the second half of the semester (TBD). Grades will be determined by these HWs, project and participations in class. Either Letter or S/U grade option is possible. (S = attend lectures and do 50% of HWs with passing grades)

Recommended Books: (all should be on reserve in the Math Library). We will not follow any book too closely, especially when it comes to astrophysical applications.

Kip Thorne and Roger Blandford have been writing a book on "Application of Classical Physics" for many years.
Here is their lecture notes (see Ch.13-19 on Fluid and MHD) The book is finally coming out in 8/2017. You may consider buying this book for your long career in physics !

There are many other nice (famous) fluid dynamics books, many containing interesting applications (not necessarily astrophysical), such as

  • "Physical fluid dynamics" by Tritton
  • "An Introduction to fluid dynamics" by Batcheler
  • "Waves in Fluid" by Lighthill
  • "Elements of Fluid Dynamics" by Acheson

    Fluid Mechanics Films

    Topics covered in class: (suggested reading from Shu, LL=Landau & Lifshitz, TB=Thorne-Blandford, or other sources). I will update this regularly (usually after each lecture).

    Student Project Information can be found here (TBD)
    Back to Dong's Homepage .