Major In Astronomy

The University of Maryland at College Park offers an undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree in Astronomy as well as a series of courses of general interest to non-majors. Astronomy majors are given a strong undergraduate preparation in astronomy, mathematics and physics. The degree program is designed to prepare students for positions in government and industry laboratories or for graduate work in astronomy or related fields. A degree in astronomy has also proven valuable as preparation for non-astronomical careers. The Undergraduate Catalog provides an overview of the Astronomy Department and program.

Course Information

Lists of Astronomy-related courses are available in a couple of formats:

  • The department maintains an index of all offered undergraduate astronomy courses. This list includes course descriptions but does not indicate whether a class is being taught in a particular semester.
  • The university maintains a schedule of the astronomy courses offered each semester. These lists also include the prerequisites, current status of enrollment, and waitlist sizes for each class.

Requirements for the Major

Astronomy majors are required to take a two semester introductory astrophysics course sequence: ASTR 120 and ASTR 121. In addition, ASTR 310 (Optical Astronomy), ASTR 320 (Theoretical Astrophysics), and any two 400-level astronomy courses are required. See Astronomy's course index for course info.

Students majoring in astronomy must also obtain a good background in physics. The required sequence is PHYS 171, 272, 273, and the associated labs PHYS 174, 275, and 276. (With permission of the undergratuate advisor, PHYS 161, 260, 261, 270, and 271 can be substituted for this sequence.) In addition, three upper level physics courses are required: PHYS 371, 401, and 404. See the course index for Physics for course info.

Astronomy majors also take a series of supporting courses in mathematics. These are MATH 140, 141, and 241, along with PHYS 274 and 373. (Completion of both MATH 246 and either 240 or 461 will be accepted in place of PHYS 274.) See the course index for Physics and for Math for course info.

Finally, Astronomy majors also take a programming course for the physical sciences, normally PHYS 165. For students with experience with computer programming, this course can be replaced by PHYS 474 or ASTR 415. (If students complete ASTR 415 for this requirement, it cannot be counted toward the requirement for two 400-level astronomy courses.)

The program requires that a grade of C- or better be obtained in all required courses. Any student who wishes to be recommended for graduate work in astronomy must maintain at least a B average. He or she should also consider including several additional advanced courses beyond the minimum required, to be selected from astronomy, physics, and mathematics. He or she should also be familiar with at least one programming language.

The department maintains a sample 4-year plan that includes the General Education requirements (for students who enter the university in Fall 2012 or later) and a sample 4-year plan that includes the CORE requirements (for students who entered prior to Fall 2012). You can find more detailed information, such as alternative 4-year plans, in the pamphlet entitled "Department Requirements for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Astronomy". This pamphlet is available from the Astronomy Department's front office or from the undergraduate adviser.

Facilities

The Department of Astronomy is a full partner in the 4.3m Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT), one of the largest and most technologically advanced telescopes in the continental U.S. We have joined Caltech and other partners in the Zwicky Transient Facility, a time-domain survey for studying rare and exotic transient phenomena with first light at Palomar Observatory in 2017. The Department is involved with major space missions, such as NASA's Deep Impact, EPOXI, and Rosetta missions which have explored comets. Additionally, the Department operates a small observatory on campus which has four fixed telescopes ranging in aperture from 20" to 7" and six portable 8" telescopes. This facility is used for undergraduate majors' classes and for small-scale research projects, as well as for an Open House Program for the public. The Department operates a modern computer cluster for computation-intensive science projects, and we have a new visualization laboratory for state-of-the-art simulations and displays of large datasets. Opportunities are available for undergraduates to become involved in research with all of these facilities. A number of our students also conduct research and instrumentation projects with distinguished scientists at the nearby NASA Goddard Space Flight Center or at other sites.
Click here for more information about the department's facilities.
Click here for more information about on and off-campus research.

Honors

The Honors Program offers students of exceptional ability and interest in astronomy opportunities for research participation. Honors students work with a faculty advisor on a research project for academic credit. Certain graduate courses are open for credit toward the bachelor's degree. Students are accepted into the Honors Program by the Department's Honors Committee on the basis of recommendations from their advisors and other faculty members. Honors candidates submit a written report on their research project which, together with an oral comprehensive examination in the senior year, concludes the program which may lead to graduation "with honors (or high honors) in astronomy."

Further information about advising and the Honors Program can be obtained by calling the Department of Astronomy office at (301) 405-3001.

Courses for Non-Science Majors

There are a variety of courses offered for students who are interested in learning about astronomy but do not wish to major in it. These courses do not require any background in mathematics or physics and are designed especially for the non-science major. ASTR 100 or ASTR 101 provide a general survey of astronomy. (ASTR 101 is similar to 100 but includes hands-on astronomical laboratory work.) Several 300-level courses are offered primarily for non-science students who want to learn about a particular field in depth, such as the solar system, cosmology, and life in the universe.