Departments & Programs


Major in Astronomy and Astrophysics


The B.S. in Astronomy studies the entire universe—its past, present and future. Topics covered in courses and research programs include our solar system (Sun, planets, asteroids, and comets), the life cycles of stars, our Milky Way galaxy, other galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the large-scale distribution of both luminous and dark matter in the universe.  

Students in Astronomy confront fundamental questions about the nature of our universe and our place in it. They use telescopes at campus observatories. Ambitious students might use and/or analyze data from the Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO Observatories, other ground-based observatories, and space-borne observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Students also use the extensive computing facilities in Swain Hall.

The degree not only prepares students for graduate study and a subsequent career in astronomy and astrophysics, but also for careers in related technical fields including conducting research at universities or national facilities such as NASA centers (e.g. the Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington, DC) and national and private observatories (e.g. the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, Arizona or the Carnegie Observatory in Pasadena, California), teaching at the college or high school level, working at planetariums and science museums, computer-support positions for NASA contractors, scientific writing, positions in the aerospace, defense, surveillance, and environmental fields, and military work.


Students must complete the following Foundations, Intensive Writing, Foreign Language, Breadth of Inquiry, Critical Approaches, and Public Oral Communication requirements for the B.S. in Astronomy and Astrophysics: 

  1. Writing, same as the general requirements for the B.A. degree (English Composition, CASE Intensive Writing).
  2. Foreign language, 3 credit hours (or the equivalent) at or above the second-year level. French, Spanish, German, or Russian is normally required.
  3. Two courses in arts and humanities.
  4. Two courses in social and historical studies.
  5. Two courses in natural and mathematical sciences, fulfilled by major.
  6. One Critical Approaches course.
  7. One Public Oral Communication course.

Students must complete the following requirements for the major:

  1. Mathematics M211, M212, M311, and M343.
  2. Physics P221-P222, P301, P331-P332, and two of P441, P442, P453, or P454.
  3. Astronomy A221-A222, A305, and two 400-level astronomy courses other than S499.

Students must also complete the degree requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences.


The following physics courses are highly recommended for students planning graduate study in astronomy and astrophysics: PHYS-P 309, P340, P321, and two additional courses from PHYS-P 441, P442, P453, or P454. Other courses of interest are PHYS-P 460, P400; MATH-M 312, M344; CSCI-A 201-A202 or C211-C212; GEOL-G 121, G150; HPSC-X 222, X390, X391; CHEM-C 117, C118.