Astro 6531: Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics

Spring 2023

Instructor: Prof. Dong Lai

Time & Place: Monday and Wednesday 9:40 am - 10:55 am, SSB 622

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.

The students should be familiar with classical mechanics and electrodynamics at the intermediate (junior) level, and should be comfortable with vector calculus (e.g. divergence and curl of a vector).


Weekly lectures. There will be about 6-8 problem sets. No final exam (the last problem set may serve as take-home final exam). 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 70% of HWs with passing grades)

Policy statement: You should abide by the CU Code of Academic Integrity. You are encouraged to discuss homework with other students but not to collaborate on writing up the notebook solutions (and not to copy). Anything that you turn in should be your own work (homework, project). If you need any academic accommodations please register with Student Disability Services at the beginning of the term and bring me the description of the appropriate accommodations.

Recommended Books: We will not follow any book too closely, especially when it comes to astrophysical applications.

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).

    Here are the topics covered in Fall 2017 . We will cover some of the topics, and will add some new topics.

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