Astronomy Major

Requirements for the Astronomy Major

For students intending to pursue a Ph.D. in Astronomy, we offer, jointly with the Department of Physics, a major in Astrophysics. For students interested in other pursuits, such as a Ph.D. in Planetary Science or careers in education, data science, scientific and technical computing, and public outreach (e.g., museum staff, journalism), we offer a major in Astronomy.

The major consists of 12 courses. In astronomy, we require ASTR 107, ASTR 206, and another 200-level course, and two 300-level courses (one of which may be in an affiliated field). We also require MATH 215, and PHYS 100, PHYS 107, PHYS 108, PHYS 120, PHYS 205, and PHYS 207.

Students should consult with faculty about choosing electives and research opportunities appropriate for their fields of study. For example, students interested in pursuing graduate study in planetary science should elect additional courses in geosciences and chemistry. Students working toward teacher certification might add courses in other sciences and in education, and might coordinate their fieldwork with ASTR 350, while those planning to enter the technical workforce might elect additional courses in computer science. 

Goals for the 100 level curriculum:

  1. Develop critical thinking skills to evaluate claims based on scientific standards of evidence
  2. Cultivate basic scientific/physical reasoning abilities
  3. Explore the constellations, the motions of the sky, and our place in the cosmic neighborhood, using naked eye and telescopic observations
  4. Understand the properties of light as a universal messenger, enabling astronomers to decipher the physical processes that shape planets, stars, galaxies and the evolution of the universe
  5. Apply the physical laws of light and gravity to stars, galaxies, and planetary systems

Goals for the 200-300 level curriculum:

  1. Apply an astronomer’s toolkit, based on the properties of light, matter and gravity, to understand the life stories of planetary worlds, planetary systems, stars, galaxies, and the origin and fate of the universe.
  2. Collaborate with peers on research projects.
  3. Plan, design, organize, carry out and document hands-on observations with modern instrumentation.
  4. Identify, formulate, and solve tractable scientific and technical problems.
  5. Analyze and interpret astronomical and planetary data and observations, using physical and mathematical models.
  6. Read and critically evaluate primary scientific literature.
  7. Develop a scientific approach to problem-solving through making observations, applying physical theories, and iterative testing of hypotheses.
  8. Communicate technical knowledge through effective scientific writing and oral presentations.

Accessibility of Astronomy Facilities

Students with disabilities are welcome in all astronomy department courses, including those with laboratories. The Whitin Observatory has telescopes accessible to students with mobility-related disabilities, including outdoor telescopes for 100-level courses and the computer-controlled 0.7m telescope used for upper-level courses and independent research. Other accommodation requests can be made by contacting Disability Services, or by meeting with the instructor.

Honors in Astronomy

To earn honors in the major, students must have a grade point average of at least 3.5 in all work in the major field above the 100-level; the department may petition on her behalf if her GPA in the major is between 3.0 and 3.5. The student must complete a significant research project culminating in a paper and an oral examination. The project must be conducted after the junior year and approved in advance by the department, and might be satisfied by a thesis, a summer internship, or a 350. See Academic Distinctions.