Undergraduate Courses

These are the undergraduate courses offered by the Department of Astronomy.

Click on the course number to be taken to that course page within Testudo, the University's Schedule of Classes, which will include such information as the prerequisites, current status of enrollment, and waitlist sizes for each class. (The course may not be offered in the upcoming semester.)

Click on the course title to get a brief description of the course or just scroll down to see all of the descriptions.

There is also a full list of courses in order by catalog number.

General-Interest Courses for Non-Majors

ASTR 100 -- Introduction to Astronomy (3 credits)
Credit will be granted for only one of the following: ASTR 100 or ASTR 101 or ASTR 120. An elementary course in descriptive astronomy, especially appropriate for non-science students. Sun, moon, planets, stars and nebulae, galaxies, and evolution of the Universe. Offered every semester. Sample syllabus
ASTR 101 -- General Astronomy (4 credits)
Three hours of lecture, two hours of laboratory, and one hour of discussion/recitation per week. Credit will be granted for only one of the following: ASTR 100 or ASTR 101 or ASTR 120. Descriptive astronomy, appropriate for non-science majors. Sun, moon, planets, stars, nebulae, galaxies and evolution. Laboratory exercises include use of photographic material, computer simulations and observing sessions if weather permits. Offered every semester. Sample syllabus
ASTR 220 -- Collisions in Space: The Threat of Asteroid Impacts (3 credits)
Not open to astronomy majors. Appropriate for non-science majors. Worried? Can't sleep? Collisions in Space will evaluate the threat of asteroid impacts with the Earth using knowledge of asteroid characteristics and orbits. The merits of possible defense plans will be discussed, as well as the budgetary and political concerns associated with implementing any such plan. I-series course. Typically offered every other semester. Sample syllabus
ASTR 230 -- The Science and Fiction of Planetary Systems (3 credits)
Prerequisite: Must have math eligibility of MATH115 or higher; or MATH113. Have you ever wondered if humans will ever terraform Mars or Europa so we could live there without a spacesuit? Has it ever crossed your mind how lucky you are that you live on a water-rich planet with an oxygen-rich atmosphere? Have you ever suspected novelists and scriptwriters of creating ridiculous planets that violate scientific laws? Does the fate of our planet's thin biosphere keep you up at night? How common is life in the Universe? These are difficult questions, but armed with the right information, you can answer all of them. The Science and Fiction of Planetary Systems will help you develop a deeper understanding of why planets are the way they are. Along the way, you'll see examples of mistakes made in classic science fiction movies, novels and short stories and get the chance to invent your own plausible planets! I-series course. Typically offered every semester. Sample syllabus
ASTR 300 -- Stars and Stellar Systems (3 credits)
Prerequisite: ASTR 100 or 101 and completion of the CORE Distributive Studies requirement in Mathematics and Sciences or of the General Education Fundamental Studies requirement in Mathematics; or permission of CMNS-Astronomy department. Designed primarily for non-science majors. Study of star-types, properties, evolution, and distribution in space; supernovae, pulsars, and black holes. Offered most semesters. Sample syllabus
ASTR 305 -- Astronomy and the Media (3 credits)
Although science plays a central role in modern life, the media can present scientific discoveries and thought as too complex and arcane for intelligent laypeople to understand. This has the effect of excluding non-scientists from this important intellectual discourse and sometimes of even manipulating their views. This course uses astronomy (and other science) news stories to give students the tools and motivation to critically evaluate scientific news for themselves, enabling them to use the media to keep abreast of science throughout their lives. I-series course. Offered occasionally. Sample syllabus
ASTR 315 -- Astronomy in Practice (4 credits)
Appropriate for non-science majors. Three hours of lecture, two hours of laboratory per week. Students learn astronomy research techniques and contribute significantly to the existing body of astronomical knowledge. Students apply methods and tools such as celestial coordinates, telescopes and CCD cameras, and appropriate analysis software to a specific observational goal. Students produce a work detailing their scientific result which will be submitted for publication in a professional venue. Each semester, the course focuses on a specific astronomical topic or type of object, such as asteroids, extrasolar planets, supernovae in other galaxies, quasars, etc. Typically offered every other semester. Sample syllabus
ASTR 330 -- Solar-System Astronomy (3 credits)
Prerequisite: ASTR 100 or 101 and completion of the CORE Distributive Studies requirement in Mathematics and Sciences or of the General Education Fundamental Studies requirement in Mathematics; or permission of CMNS-Astronomy department. Designed primarily for non-physical science majors. The structure of planets and of their atmospheres, the nature of comets, asteroids, and satellites. Comparison of various theories for the origin of the solar system. Emphasis on a description of recent data and interpretation. Offered most semesters. Sample syllabus
ASTR 340 -- Origin of the Universe (3 credits)
Prerequisite: ASTR 100 or 101 and completion of the CORE Distributive Studies requirement in Mathematics and Sciences or of the General Education Fundamental Studies requirement in Mathematics; or permission of CMNS-Astronomy department. Designed primarily for non-science majors. A study of our progression of knowledge about the universe. Topics include: early cosmological models, geocentric vs. heliocentric theory, curvature of space, Hubble's Law, Big Bang Theory, microwave background radiation, evolution of stars and galaxies, dark matter, active galaxies, quasars and the future of the universe. Offered most semesters. Sample syllabus
ASTR 350 -- Black Holes (3 credits)
Prerequisite: ASTR 100 or 101 and completion of the CORE Distributive Studies requirement in Mathematics and Sciences or of the General Education Fundamental Studies requirement in Mathematics; or permission of CMNS-Astronomy department. Formerly ASTR 398B. Designed primarily for non-science majors. Black holes are the most exotic prediction of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity and, amazingly, the Universe seems to manufacture these bizarre objects in copious numbers. As well as being the ultimate laboratory for studying the nature of space and time, they drive some of the most energetic and extreme phenomena known to astronomers (with quasars and gamma-ray bursts being just a couple of examples). In this introduction to the physics and astrophysics of black holes, we start by examining the basic physics of black holes, which fundamentally means understanding gravity. We then look at the nature of stellar-mass black holes and supermassive black holes. We will discuss the fairly recent realization that black holes may be crucial agents for regulating the growth of galaxies. Finally, we dive into the realm of theoretical physics and probe how black holes may provide a route for uncovering new laws of physics governing the structure of space and time. Offered most semesters. Sample syllabus
ASTR 380 -- Life in the Universe (3 credits)
Designed primarily for non-science majors. Study of the astronomical perspective on the conditions for the origin and existence of life in the universe. Offered most semesters. Sample syllabus
ASTR 398 -- Special Topics in Astronomy (3 credits)
Prerequisite: junior standing or permission of department. Repeatable to 6 credits if content differs. This course is designed primarily for students not majoring in astronomy and is suitable for non-science students. It will concentrate study in some limited field in astronomy which will vary from semester to semester. Possible subjects for study are the solar system, extragalactic astronomy and cosmology, the inconstant universe.
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Introductory/Intermediate Courses for Majors

ASTR 120 -- Introductory Astrophysics - Solar System (3 credits)
Pre- or corequisite: MATH 115. Not open to students who have completed ASTR 100 or ASTR 101. Credit will be granted for only one of the following: ASTR 100 or ASTR 101 or ASTR 120. For students majoring in astronomy or with a strong interest in science. Topics include development of astronomy, planetary orbits, electromagnetic radiation, telescopes as well as constituents and origin of the solar system (planets, satellites, comets, asteroids, meteoroids, etc.). Offered every year in the fall. Sample syllabus
ASTR 121 -- Introductory Astrophysics II - Stars and Beyond (4 credits)
Three hours of lecture and two hours of laboratory per week. Prerequisites: MATH 115 and ASTR 120, or permission of department. For students majoring in astronomy or with a strong interest in science. Includes instrumentation, stellar properties, stellar evolution, structure of the galaxy, other galaxies, large scale structure, Big Bang Theory and future of the universe. Offered every year in the spring. Sample syllabus
ASTR 288 -- Special Projects in Astronomy (1-3 credits)
Prerequisite: permission of department. Repeatable to 6 credits. Independent study, short research projects, tutorial reading, and assisting with faculty research and teaching under supervision.
ASTR 288C -- Astronomy Research Techniques (2 credits)
This intermediate-level course for astronomy majors is designed as a hands-on introduction to astrophysical research, including the methods, tools, and processes that professional astronomers use in their work. Offered every year in the fall.
ASTR 288I -- Introduction to the Astronomy Major (1 credit)
Introduces new astronomy majors to the possible career paths that they might choose upon completion of an undergraduate Astronomy degree, soft skills that would be useful in these possible careers, and useful skills and knowledge to better prepare them for research as an undergraduate. Offered every year in the fall (and sometimes spring). Sample syllabus
ASTR 288P -- Introduction to Astonomical Programming (1 credit)
Prerequisite: Permission of CMNS-Astronomy department required. Must have completed or be concurrently enrolled in ASTR121. Astronomy students are provided with the basics of using the Unix/Linux operating system and scientific programming using either C or Python. Offered most semesters.
ASTR 310 -- Observational Astronomy (4 credits)
Three hours of lecture and two hours of laboratory per week. Prerequisites: ASTR 121; PHYS 171 or PHYS 161; or permission of department. For ASTR majors only. Introduction to current optical observational techniques, with brief coverage of infrared, ultraviolet and x-ray techniques. Statistics, spherical trigonometry, time, catalogs, geometrical and physical optics, telescopes, optical instruments. Effects of the atmosphere. Practical work at the observatory using a CCD camera. Some night-time observing sessions. Typically offered in the fall. Sample syllabus
ASTR 320 -- Theoretical Astrophysics (3 credits)
Prerequisite: ASTR121; and (PHYS270 and PHYS271; or PHYS273). Or permission of CMNS-Astronomy department. Application of selected physics concepts in an astrophysical context. Topics would include gravity (Keplerian motion, Virial theorem, Roche limit, dynamical friction); gas dynamics (hydrostatic equilibrium, stellar models, spiral density waves), thermodynamics and statistical physics (Boltzmann distribution, Wien displacement, convective instability, degenerate gas); atomic physics (quantum principles, H atom, permitted and forbidden lines); radiation processes (line radiation, opacity). Typically offered in the spring. Sample syllabus
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Advanced Courses for Majors

ASTR 399 -- Honors Seminar (1-16 credits)
Enrollment is limited to students admitted to the departmental honors program in astronomy. Credit according to work done.
ASTR 406 -- Stellar Structure and Evolution (3 credits)
Prerequisite: Completed or be concurrently enrolled in ASTR320; or permission of department. Formerly ASTR 498N. Study of stellar internal structure, nuclear reactions, and energy transport. Study of stellar evolution of both low-mass and high-mass stars, including the stellar end states of white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Typically offered every two to three years. Sample syllabus
ASTR 410 -- Radio Astronomy (3 credits)
Prerequisites: ASTR 121; PHYS 273 or PHYS 270+271; or permission of department. Introduction to current observational techniques in radio astronomy. The radio sky, coordinates and catalogs, antenna theory, Fourier transforms, interferometry and arrays, aperture synthesis, radio detectors. Typically offered every two to three years. Sample syllabus
ASTR 415 -- Computational Astrophysics (3 credits)
Prerequisites: ASTR 121; PHYS 273 or PHYS 270+271; or permission of department. Recommended: computer programming knowledge. For ASTR majors only. Introduction to the most important computational techniques being used in research in astrophysics. Topics include modern high performance computer architectures, scientific visualization and data analysis, and detailed descriptions of numerical algorithms for the solution to a wide range of mathematical systems important in astrophysics. Typically offered every two to three years. Sample syllabus
ASTR 421 -- Galaxies (3 credits)
Prerequisite: ASTR 121; PHYS 273 or PHYS 270+271. For ASTR majors only. Structure, kinematics, and dynamics of normal disk and elliptical galaxies, including our own Milky Way Galaxy. Detailed analysis of the stellar and gaseous components. Physics of exotic objects like interacting galaxies, mergers, starburst galaxies, and active galactic nuclei. Typically offered every two years. Sample syllabus
ASTR 422 -- Cosmology (3 credits)
Prerequisite: Completed or be concurrently enrolled in ASTR320; or permission of department. For ASTR majors only. Large-scale structure of the universe, and the intergalactic medium. Dark matter. Cosmological models including the Standard Big Bang model -- predictions (e.g. nucleosynthesis, cosmic background radiation) versus observations. Cosmological constant. Galaxy formation and evolution. Typically offered every one to two years. Sample syllabus
ASTR 430 -- The Solar System (3 credits)
Prerequisite: ASTR 121; PHYS 273 or PHYS 270+271; or permission of department. Formation and evolution of the Solar System. Planetary surfaces, interiors, atmospheres, and magnetospheres. Asteroids, comets, planetary satellites, and ring systems. Emphasis on using basic physics to understand observed properties of the Solar System. Intended for students majoring in the physical sciences. Typically offered every one to two years. Sample syllabus
ASTR 435 -- Astrophysics of Exoplanets (3 credits)
Prerequisite: ASTR 121; PHYS 273 or PHYS 270+271; or permission of department. Formerly ASTR 498X. Introduction to exoplanets. Topics include historical development, advantages, and limitations of detection methods, the statistics of exoplanet characteristics, the bulk properties of known expolanets, and remote sensing for characterization of exoplanets. Typically offered every two years. Sample syllabus
ASTR 450 -- Orbital Dynamics (3 credits)
Prerequisite: Completed or be concurrently enrolled in ASTR320; or permission of department. Vectorial mechanics, motion in a central force field, gravitational and non-gravitational forces, the two-body and three-body problems, orbital elements and orbital perturbation theory, resonances in the solar system, chaos. Intended for students majoring in any of the physical sciences. Typically offered every two to three years. Sample syllabus
ASTR 480 -- High-Energy Astrophysics (3 credits)
Prerequisite: Completed or be concurrently enrolled in ASTR320; or permission of department. Formerly ASTR 498E. The structure, formation, and astrophysics of compact objects, such as white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes, are examined. Phenomena such as supernovae and high-energy particles are also covered. Typically offered every two years. Sample syllabus
ASTR 498 -- Special Problems in Astronomy (1-6 credits)
Prerequisite: major in physics or astronomy or permission of department. Research or special study on topics such as stellar astrophysics, high energy astrophysics, etc. Credit according to work done. Typically offered every two to three years.
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