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Undergraduate Catalog 2016-2017

Astronomy (ASTR)

College of Computer, Mathematical & Natural Sciences
1208 Physical Sciences Complex, 301-405-3001
Chair: S. Vogel
Director: E. McKenzie
Professors: M. C. Miller, L. D. Deming, D. Hamilton, A. Harris, L. Mundy, R. Mushotzky, K. Papadopoulos, C. Reynolds, D. Richardson, J. Sunshine, S. Veilleux
Associate Professors: A. Bolatto, M. Ricotti
Assistant Professors: M. Boylan-Kolchin, S. Gezari
Lecturers: M. Hayes-Gehrke (Senior Lect), A. Peel
Adjunct Professors: S. Cenko (Adjunct Asst Prof), E. Dwek, N. Gehrels (College Park Prof), M. Mumma
Professors Emeriti: M. A'Hearn, J. Earl, J. Harrington, M. Leventhal
Visiting Faculty: D. Neufeld

The Major

The Astronomy Department offers courses leading to a Bachelor of Science 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.  Courses offered by this department may be found under the following acronym: ASTR.

Program Learning Outcomes

The Department of Astronomy B.S. program educates majors toward achieving an understanding of modern astronomical concepts, applying physics and mathematics to astrophysical situations, and gaining experience in gathering and reducing data using astronomical instrumentation and computational tools. Completion of this program provides the opportunity for majors to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary for graduate school or employment after graduation.

  • Identify basic concepts from the many areas of astronomy, including motions in the sky, gravity, electromagnetic radiation, solar system, stars, and galaxies.
  • Develop mathematical skills, acquire physics knowledge, and practice applying these skills and knowledge in astrophysical situations.
  • Use astronomical telescopes/instruments and reduce astronomical data using modern computational methods.
  • Demonstrate advanced level knowledge in several different areas of astronomy.

For further details, see the department's assessment plan: www.astro.umd.edu/academics/astronomyBS.pdf

Academic Programs and Departmental Facilities

The Department of Astronomy is a full partner in the 4.3m Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) ( https://lowell.edu/research/research-facilities/4-3-meter-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 ( www.ptf.caltech.edu/ztf ), 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 ( www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse/ ) 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 ( www.astro.umd.edu/rareas/ctc/#ctcfacilities ) 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 and other sites.

Requirements for the Major

Required Basic Astronomy Courses (14 credits):

            ASTR120 - Astrophysics I:  The Solar System (3 credits)

            ASTR121 - Astrophysics II:  Stars and Beyond (4 credits)

            ASTR310 - Observational Astronomy (4 credits)

            ASTR320 - Theoretical Astrophysics (3 credits)

Advanced Astronomy Courses (6 credits):

Any two 400 level Astronomy courses are required:

ASTR410 - Radio Astronomy Techniques (3 credits)

ASTR415 - Computational Astrophysics  (3 credits)

ASTR421 - Galaxies (3 credits)

ASTR422 - Cosmology (3 credits)

ASTR430 -The Solar System (3 credits)

ASTR450 - Orbital Dynamics (3 credits)

ASTR480 - High Energy Astrophysics (3 credits)

ASTR498N - Stellar Evolution (3 credits)

            Optional Astronomy Seminars

            ASTR288C - Astronomy Research Techniques (2 credits)

            ASTR288M - Current Events in Astronomy Research (1 credit)

Required Introductory Physics Courses (17 credits)

PHYS165 - Introduction to Programming for the Physical Sciences (3 credits)

For students with experience with computer programming this course can be replaced by   PHYS474 Computational Physics or ASTR415 Computational Astrophysics.  If students     complete ASTR415 for this requirement, it cannot be counted as an advanced astronomy course (400-level course) requirement.

            PHYS171 - Mechanics and Thermal Physics (3 credits)

            PHYS174 - Laboratory Introduction (1 credit)

            PHYS272 - Fields (3 credits)

            PHYS273 - Waves (3 credits)

            PHYS275 - Experimental Physics I: Mechanics, Heat and Fields (2 credits)

            PHYS276 - Experimental Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism (2 credits)

Also accepted with consent of advisor: PHYS161, 165, 260, 261, 270, 271 (14 credits)

Advanced Physics Courses (13 credits):

PHYS371 - Modern Physics (3 credits) 

PHYS373 - Mathematical Methods for Physics II (3 credits)

PHYS401 - Quantum Mechanics I (4 credits) 

PHYS404 - Statistical Thermodynamics (3 credits)

Supporting Mathematics/Mathematical Methods Courses (15 credits):

MATH140 - Calculus I (4 credits)

MATH141 - Calculus II (4 credits)

MATH241 - Calculus III (4 credits)

PHYS274 - Mathematical Methods for Physics I (3 credits)

Completion of both MATH246 and either 240 or 461 will be accepted in place of PHYS274.

Total Credits required for the Astronomy Major = 65 credits

Grades in all of the above required courses must be “C-” or better.

Requirements for the Minor


A minor in Astronomy may be earned by completing the following with grades of "C-" or better.  Beginning with students matriculating in Fall 2012, to be awarded a baccalaureate degree, students must have a minimum "C" (2.0) cumulative grade point average across all courses used to satisfy minor requirements. An appointment must be made to register for the minor before final 30 credits are taken.  Please contact Department for complete rules and procedures.


One from:



Introduction to Astronomy



General Astronomy



any other  Introductory sequence in Astronomy


One from:



Collisions in Space - The Threat of Asteroid Impact



The Science and Fiction of Planetary Systems



Three from:



Stars and Stellar Systems



Astronomy and the Media



Solar System Astronomy



Origin of the Universe



Life in the Universe - Astrobiology



Special Problems in Astronomy



Or a course approved by the department


Planetary Sciences

The Departments of Astronomy and Geology jointly sponsor a minor program in Planetary Science. Details about this minor and its course requirements are provided in Chapter 8.


Further information about the program can be obtained by calling the Department of Astronomy office at 301-405-3001.

Students who have been away more than two years may find that due to curriculum changes the courses they have taken may no longer be adequate preparation for the courses required to complete the major. Students in this situation must meet with the Departmental Advisor to make appropriate plans.

Undergraduate Research Experiences

Undergraduates have many research opportunities both on and off campus.  More information is available on the department website under 'Undergraduate Research' ( www.astro.umd.edu/undergrad/ugresearch.html ).


Many undergraduate students do astronomy research internships at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.  See the department website under 'Undergraduate Research' ( www.astro.umd.edu/undergrad/ugresearch.html ).

Honors Program

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 which academic credit is earned.  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 grade point average or recommendation of faculty.)  Honors candidates enroll in ASTR399, complete a research project, write a thesis and do an oral presentation before a committee.  Satisfactory grades lead to graduation With Honors (or High Honors) in Astronomy.  Further information about the Honors Program can be obtained by calling the Department of Astronomy office at 301-405-3001.

Student Societies and Professional Organizations

AstroTerps is a student club open to all undergraduates with an interest in astronomy.  The club invites guest speakers and coordinates many outreach activities, field trips, and special events.

AGN is a group of astronomy undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers. Their goals include facilitating community among astronomy undergraduates, discussing the challenges that women in science face, and giving graduate students a chance to share their experiences with undergraduates through this mentoring opportunity.

Awards and Recognition

For information about external and university awards which our undergraduate students have won, see the department's Fellowships and Prizes webpage ( www.astro.umd.edu/undergrad/fellowships.html#PreviousWinners ).

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