Astrophysics Major

Requirements for the Astrophysics Major

An astrophysics major consists of the courses required for the physics major (with one of the 300-level courses being ASTR 311/PHYS 311), along with ASTR 107ASTR 206, and one additional upper-level astronomy course. All students who wish to consider a major in astrophysics are urged to complete the introductory physics sequence (PHYS 100PHYS 107 and PHYS 108), as well as ASTR 107, as soon as possible. In planning the major, students should note that some of the courses have prerequisites in mathematics. 

Goals for the Astrophysics Major

As an Astrophysics major, you will be able to:

  1. Identify, discuss, and explain the basic laws of physics within the fields of classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, as an underpinning to understanding astronomical phenomena.
  2. 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.
  3. Identify, formulate, and solve tractable scientific and technical problems by placing them in context, making appropriate estimates and simplifications, modeling the important physical processes, quantifying predictions with analytic and computational tools, and testing the correctness of the results.
  4. Plan, design, organize, carry out and document hands-on observations with modern instrumentation.
  5. Interpret astronomical data and observations, using physical and mathematical models and computational tools.
  6. Read and critically evaluate primary scientific literature.
  7. Collaborate with peers on research projects that address scientific and technical problems using experiments, computer models, and analysis.
  8. Propose and test hypotheses from an integrated appreciation of observations and physical theories.
  9. Communicate technical knowledge through effective scientific writing and oral presentations.

Honors in Astrophysics

To earn honors in Astrophysics, students must have a minimum grade point average of at least 3.5 in all work in the major field above the 100 level; the advisory committee may petition on the student's behalf if their 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 Astrophysics Advisory Committee, and might be satisfied by a thesis, a summer internship, or a 350. See Academic Distinctions.

Accessibility of Astrophysics 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.