The Astronomy major starts with a two-course introduction to the physics of space, time, motion, and electromagnetism, as well as a course on data analysis and programming. It also includes a two-course introduction to calculus.

Everyone's path through the major is slightly different, but we have some advice on where to start based on your prior experience with physics and calculus. Be sure to check out potential Pathways through the Astronomy Major and to consult with your advisor or our Department Chair as well.

Placement advice

Most students considering a major in Physics or Astronomy should start with The Newtonian Synthesis (PHYS 123), which is only offered in the Fall. If you are working on the calculus prereq, there are several Physics and Astronomy courses in the Fall that have no prerequisites: Understanding Space/Time (PHYS 222) and Alien Worlds (ASTR 112). We also offer Mechanics (PHYS 116) each semester; in the Fall, we recommend potential majors take PHYS 123. PHYS 116 is an option for a Spring-semester start, for example if you are completing the calculus pre-req in the Fall.

If you have already taken a calculus-based mechanics course and received a 5 on the AP Physics C Mechanics exam, you automatically place out of PHYS 123 and should take Oscillations and Waves (PHYS 125, Fall) and/or Introductory Astrophysics (ASTR 235, Fall). If you have taken a calculus-based mechanics course but do not have AP credit, you should take our placement exam. The placement exam covers Newton’s laws of motion, work and energy, momentum, rotation, gravitation, and oscillations. Tests must be submitted by the first day of class. The Department Chair will contact students with results by email. If you have scores from IB Higher-Level or comparable exams, you should take the placement exam.

Math preparation

Physics and Astronomy make thorough use of the calculus. The Astronomy major requires MATH 111 and 121. If you are placed in MATH 105/106 or 111, you should complete this before taking PHYS 123 or 116. If you are placed in MATH 121, you should take it at the same time as PHYS 123, since MATH 121 is a prerequisite for PHYS 124.

Declaring your major

Majors are officially declared in Workday. See the advising information page for a how-to guide. You may use the Workday comment box to request a particular faculty member as your major advisor, though advisor assignments involve many considerations such as whether that advisor is going on leaves soon and their current number of advisees. Feel free to contact the department chair with any questions.