Brief Description of Concentration

astrophysics - spaceThe science of astrophysics involves the study of matter and radiation in the universe as understood through the laws of physics. Astronomical phenomena exhibit an extreme range of physical conditions, from superfluid neutrons in neutron stars, high-temperature nuclear reactions in supernovae, and strong gravitational fields near black holes, to the unique state of the universe during its earliest phases. Theoretical attempts to describe these and more familiar phenomena (such as stars and galaxies) have achieved a useful understanding in many cases. However, our overall knowledge of the universe is still woefully incomplete, and our contemporary physical knowledge is often stretched to its limits in attempting to understand physical conditions that cannot be reproduced in terrestrial laboratories.

Learning Objectives

The concentration in Astrophysics introduces students to a broad range of phenomena through a program of both observational and theoretical courses. This program builds from a foundation of modern physics to a general account of the known contents of the universe. 

Gateway Courses

  • Astronomy 16: Stellar and Planetary Astronomy; spring
  • Astronomy 17: Galactic and Extragalactic Astronomy; fall
    • Astronomy 16 and 17 may be taken in either order; whichever is taken first, must be preceded or taken concurrently with one introductory course in Mechanics
  • Physics 15a: Introductory Mechanics and Relativity; fall and spring
  • Physics 16: Mechanics and Special Relativity; fall
  • Physical Sciences 12a: Mechanics from an Analytic, Numerical, and Experimental Perspective; spring
  • Mathematics or Applied Mathematics 21a, 23a, 25a


The astrophysics concentration is designed to provide a broad introduction to scientific thinking and models, quantitative problem solving, and data analysis and interpretation, and to prepare students for graduate school in astrophysics and related fields. Somewhat less than half of our graduates use their astrophysics concentration as a foundation for graduate studies in astrophysics/astronomy, physics, and planetary science. The paths of the remaining majority of students have been diverse, and recent graduates are among other things now serving in the Air Force, working in management consulting, aerospace and defense consulting, and studying in law school and medical school. For more information about alumni/ae, please see the astrophysics concentration web pages.