Which astronomy course should you take?


We know this can be a confusing problem, so we will try to explain the intended audience for our five introductory non-majors courses and for our two upper-division astrophysics courses. This is the "plain English" description of these courses: see the official Schedule of Classes and Course Catalog for definitive language, and consult your adviser if you have any questions about how these courses fit into your curriculum.


Introductory Non-Majors Courses

The Astronomy Department offers 7 introductory-level courses for non-majors that satisfy the Legacy General Education (GEL) Natural Sciences - Physical Sciences requirement:

For students on the New General Education (GEN) curriculum, one course satisfies the Natural Science requirement:

  • Astronomy 1101: From Planets to the Cosmos (4 cr: 3 cr Lecture + 1 cr Lab)

We expect that other courses will be modified and approved to satisfy additional requirements in the GEN.

These are single-term courses devoted to particular current topics in modern astronomy from the solar system to the entire universe.  They are designed for non-majors seeking to satisfy their Natural Sciences GE requirement.  Note that these courses are not a sequence: they may be taken singly or multiply in any order.

One of these courses, Astronomy 1101, includes a required 1-hour lab section that satisfies the GEL natural sciences laboratory requirement.  Astronomy 1102 is an online-only version of Astronomy 1101 without the lab component. The Astronomy 1140 to 1144 courses are all 3-hour GE courses with only a lecture section.  All of these courses are taught at the same basic level. Astronomy 1221 also does not assume any familiarity with astronomy concepts but does require a higher level of Math background than the other courses.


Astronomy & Astrophysics Majors Courses

The introductory courses for Astronomy and Astrophysics majors and minors are as follows:

  • Astronomy 2291: Basic Astrophysics & Planetary Astronomy (3 cr)
  • Astronomy 2292: Stellar, Galactic, & Extragalactic Astronomy & Astrophysics (3 cr)
  • Astronomy 2895: Topics in Astrophysics Seminar (1 cr)
  • Astronomy 3350: Methods of Astronomical Observation & Data Analysis (3 cr)

Astronomy 2291-2292: Introductory Astrophysics Sequence

This is a general survey of astrophysics, but unlike the 1000-level courses, these are intended primarily for physical sciences majors (especially Astronomy & Astrophysics majors and minors, for whom these are required). These can also be taken as GE courses for those who are interested in a more mathematical approach to the subject. Students who enroll in these courses are expected to have already taken a year of college-level calculus (through Math 153, 1152, 2162, 2173, or equivalent) and at least one year of classical physics, either completion of or concurrent registration in Physics 133, 1251, or equivalent.

Astronomy 2895: Topics in Astrophysics Seminar

This is a 1-credit course taught only during the Autumn Semester. It consists of a single session once per week during which a different member of the astronomy faculty will discuss their research.  It is intended to give those students considering becoming Astronomy & Astrophysics majors or minors a broad overview of the current research topics in the department. Normally taken by first- and second-year students, it is open to anyone considering majoring or minoring in astrophysics.

Astronomy 3350: Methods of Observational Astronomy & Data Analysis

Unlike the courses listed above, this is a course designed primarily for Astronomy & Astrophysics majors and minors, or for very technically-inclined Bachelors of Science students. Astronomy 3350 concentrates on the statistical treatment of experimental data as applied to astrophysical problems (photon detection and the analysis of ensembles of data). Although specific to observational astrophysics, the methods developed in this course will be applicable to any of the physical sciences or engineering disciplines. Prerequisites include Astronomy 2292, Math 153, 1152, 1262, 2173, or equivalent, and Physics 133, 1251, or equivalent. Interested students who are not astronomy majors/minors and/or who have not taken the Astronomy 2291/2292 sequence must speak with the instructor before enrolling in this course.


Upper Division Courses

In addition to the introductory sequences, there are two higher-level astrophysics courses that do not have astronomy prerequisites. These are no-nonsense astrophysics courses that are intended primarily for Astronomy & Astrophysics majors/minors, as well as for physics majors/minors or graduate students in physical sciences other than astronomy. Astronomy & Astrophysics majors are required to take at least one of these courses, but may (and are encouraged to) take the other as a free elective. These courses are taught in the Spring Semester in alternate years. Prerequisites for both courses are differential equations (Math 255, 415, 2255, 2415, or equivalent) and basic quantum physics (Physics 253, 2301, or equivalent); completion of or concurrent registration in statistical physics (Physics 621, 5600, or equivalent) is also recommended, but not required.

Astronomy 5205: Planetary Science

This course provides a multidisciplinary approach to planetary science, integrating modern methods with the Earth and Astrophysical Sciences. It is cross-listed with EarthSc 5205. This course is offered during the Spring semester in odd-numbered years (e.g., Spring 2023).

Astronomy 5681: Principles of Stellar Evolution & Nucleosynthesis.

This course provides an in-depth exploration of the structure and evolution of stars, including nucleosynthesis in stellar interiors and in supernova explosions. The equations of stellar structure are derived from first principles, and the case of degenerate objects is also treated. Topics covered in detail include radiation transport mechanisms, nuclear reactions, and stellar evolution. This course is offered during the Spring Semester in even-numbered years (e.g., Spring 2024).

Astronomy 5682: Introduction to Cosmology.

This course provides a comprehensive introduction to standard Big-Bang cosmology, including an introduction to the General Theory of Relativity. Solutions to Einstein's equations are derived. The structure and evolution of the Universe are studied through the Friedmann equations, including the possible role of the cosmological constant. The early thermal history of the Universe, including primordial particle physics, nucleosynthesis, and the cosmic background radiation, are explored in detail. The very early Universe, including inflation and quantum cosmology and the origin of density fluctuations, is discussed and observational tests of cosmological models are described. This course is offered during every Autumn semester.