Astronomy Major and Minor

The range of astronomical phenomena is vast–from the Hot Big Bang origin of the Universe, to the death throes of collapsing stars, to the canyons of Mars. Any study of astronomy is enriched by a firm understanding of the physics underlying these phenomena. Our curriculum is shaped to provide our majors with a solid foundation in the basic principles of astronomy and physics, an understanding of the most recent developments in astronomy and cosmology, and the tools and inspiration to pursue further learning in the sciences.

Student research is a vital part of the major. Extraordinary teachers and mentors, our faculty also work at the cutting edge of modern astronomy and cosmology, creating exceptional research opportunities for majors. Some of those opportunities are based on campus, within the College’s well-equipped William J. Strawbridge Observatory; others take students across the country to observatories such as the one at Kitt Peak in Arizona.

Curriculum & Courses

The astronomy major is a good fit for students who want an in-depth education in astronomy that can be applied to a range of careers, not just further study in astronomy. Core course work ranges from introductory physics, to waves and optics, to introductory quantum mechanics, to introductory astrophysics and advanced astronomy, including observational astronomy. Math classes are also required. For the department’s astrophysics major, see that Area of Study.

Minors must complete coursework that includes introductory physics, introductory astrophysics, and one advanced astronomy class.

  • Major

    • PHYS H105 (or PHYS H101 or PHYS H115), PHYS H106 (or PHYS H102), PHYS H213, PHYS H214.
    • Two mathematics courses; MATH H121 and all 200-level or higher mathematics courses can be used to satisfy this requirement.
    • ASTR H205, ASTR H206, four 300-level astronomy courses, one of which may be replaced by an upper-level physics course. Majors can substitute 100-level Swarthmore astronomy seminars for 300-level astronomy courses.
    • ASTR H404, which may be replaced by approved independent research either at Haverford or elsewhere.
    • Written comprehensive examinations.

    Bryn Mawr equivalents may be substituted for the non-astronomy courses. ASTR H152/PHYS H152 is recommended but not required.

  • Minor

    • PHYS H105 (or PHYS H115 or PHYS H101); PHYS H106 (or PHYS H102).
    • ASTR H205; ASTR H206; one 300-level astronomy course. Minors may substitute a 100-level Swarthmore astronomy seminar for the 300-level astronomy course.

    We strongly recommend (but do not require) ASTR H152/PHYS H152.

Research & Outreach

Astronomy majors need not submit a senior paper; however, they must take a series of comprehensive exams on astronomy and complete an independent research project as part of Astronomy 404.

After Graduation

We are invested in the long-term success of our students and are committed to developing the skills and perspectives—as well as the relationships—that will enable our majors to thrive in a range of careers.

Typically, more than half of our majors pursue graduate study at the Ph.D. level in physics or astrophysics. Others go on to graduate programs in related areas such as mathematics, engineering, materials science, climate science, and computer science.

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