Undergraduate Studies

Astronomy Major Overview

The Astronomy Major at Cornell University is designed to be flexible so that it can be customized to the needs of each student. There is a common core set of courses followed by two concentration paths:

1) Astrophysics Concentration is designed for those who intend to go on to graduate school in the physical sciences such as Astronomy, Physics, or Engineering.                               

2) General Astronomy Concentration is intended for students who do not plan on research careers in astronomy, but may have more broad intellectual interests, and are interested in related career paths, such as education or public outreach. The flexibility offered by the General Astronomy Concentration make it suitable to be elected as second major by a broad group of students.

TO APPLY for an Astronomy Major make an appointment to visit Professor Gordon Stacey, Director of Undergraduate Studies (astronomydus@astro.cornell.edu).

Astronomy Major Core Requirements

The Astronomy Major consists of six core courses in Physics and Mathematics and a laboratory course in Astronomy that are required for every concentration (27-28 credits total), plus additional courses specifically called out to meet the needs of each individual concentration.  To enter the major, a student must have completed at least two Physics, and two Mathematics core courses as listed below with a GPA of at least 2.7.  To count towards the major, the minimum grade for any required course is C-.  The major is normally entered into after consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) in astronomy during the student’s fourth semester of work at Cornell.  The DUS and student together will also select a suitable faculty advisor in the Field of Astronomy at this time. The required core courses are: 

Three semesters of Physics including:

             PHYS 1112 (4 credit hours) Physics I:  Mechanics and Heat
      or PHYS 1116 (4) Physics I:  Mechanics and Special Relativity
  PHYS 2213 (4) Physics II:  Electromagnetism
      or PHYS 2217 (4) Physics II:  Electricity and Magnetism
  PHYS 2214 (4)   Physics III: Oscillations, Waves, and Quantum Physics
      or PHYS 2218 (4)    Physics III:  Waves and Thermal Physics

                         

Three Semesters of Mathematics including: 

           MATH 1910 (4)  Calculus for Engineers
      or MATH 1120 (4)  Calculus II
      or MATH 1220 (4) Theoretical Calculus II
  MATH 1920 (4)  Multivariable Calculus for Engineers
       or MATH 2220 (4)  Multivariable Calculus
       or MATH 2240 (4)  Theoretical Linear Algebra and Calculus     
  MATH 2930 (4) Differential Equations for Engineers
       or MATH 4710 (4)   Basic Probability
       or ASTRO 3340 (4) Symbolic and Numerical Computing

                          

One Laboratory Course in Astronomy chosen from (required to finish, but not enter the major):          

              ASTRO 4410 (4)   Multiwavelength Astronomical Techniques
      or ASTRO 3310 (3)            Planetary Image Processing
      or ASTRO 3334 (3) Data Analysis and Research Techniques in Astronomy

                     
For those pursuing an Astrophysics Concentration, ASTRO 4410 is required.

   
In addition to these core requirements, each Astronomy Major must complete a Concentration in either Astrophysics or General Astronomy, which is an additional set of 9-10 courses concentrated in areas relevant to their future career goals. 


Astrophysics Concentration

The Astrophysics Concentration is designed for those who intend to go on to graduate school in the physical sciences such as Astronomy, Physics, or Engineering.  To enter the Astrophysics Concentration, the student must normally have a GPA better than 3.2 in the Astronomy Major Core Courses. The Astrophysics Concentration requires the following additional 10 courses (39 credit hours total):

Two Semesters of Advanced Astrophysics selected from two of the three courses in the ASTRO 4431, 4432, 4433 sequence:

              ASTRO 4431 (4)   Physics of Stars, Neutron Stars, and Black Holes
      or ASTRO 4432 (4            Evolution of Galaxies
      or ASTRO 4433 (4) Introduction to Cosmology

                    
Five Semesters of Physics including:

           PHYS 3316 (3)           Basics of Quantum Mechanics
  PHYS 3318 (4) Analytical Mechanics
  PHYS 3327 (4) Advanced Electricity and Magnetism
  PHYS 4230 (4) Statistical Thermodynamics
     or AEP 4230 (4)   Statistical Thermodynamics
  PHYS 4433 (4)    Intermediate Quantum Mechanics

                        
Three Semesters of Mathematics including:

             MATH 2940 (4)                 Linear Algebra for Engineers
      or MATH 2210 (4)  Linear Algebra
      or MATH 2230 (4) Theoretical Linear Algebra and Calculus
  AEP 3200 (4, Spring)  Introductory Mathematical Physics
       or AEP 4200 (4, Fall)  Intermediate Mathematical Physics

 

Research Experience:

It is highly recommended that the student with an Astrophysics concentration have at least one semester or one summer research experience under the guidance of a faculty member in the Astronomy Field.

Course/Credit Count.  The requirements for the Astronomy Major with an Astrophysics Concentration are therefore 16 courses totaling 66-67 credit hours.

 

General Astronomy Concentration

The General Astronomy Concentration is designed for students who may not plan on a research career in astronomy, but plan on careers in related fields such as education, or public outreach. The flexibility offered by the General Astronomy Concentration make it suitable to be elected as a second major by a broad group of students. The General Astronomy Concentration requires five additional courses in Astronomy (17-18 credits total), plus an additional 15 credits in an External Concentration (four to five courses) as explicated below.

Five Semesters of Astronomy including ASTRO 2211 (Stars, Galaxies and Cosmology) and ASTRO 2212 (The Solar System: Planets, Small Bodies and New Worlds), two of the three courses in the ASTRO 3301, 3302, 3303 sequence, and one additional astronomy course selected from below:

                  ASTRO 2290 (4)                        Relativity and Astrophysics

                  ASTRO 2299 (4)                        Search for Life in the Universe

                  ASTRO 3301 (3)                        Exoplanets and Planetary Systems

                  ASTRO 3302 (3)                        The Life of Stars:  From Birth to Death

                  ASTRO 3303 (3)                        Galaxies Across Cosmic Time

                  ASTRO 4434 (4)                        Evolution of the Planets

                  ASTRO 4445 (4)                        Introduction to General Relativity

                  ASTRO 4490 (4)                        Senior Seminar Critical Thinking

Other Astronomy courses may qualify with prior approval of the DUS.

Fifteen Credit Hours in Complementary Area.  Complementary Areas can be selected from a wide variety of disciplines, but the courses selected must be cohesive, and complement the core requirements. For example, those interested in astrobiology might chose a Complementary Area of biological sciences, those interested in planetary science might pick Earth and Atmospheric Science, those interested in teaching at the high-school level might pick education, and those interested in public policy might pick Government, Economics, or Science and Technology Studies.  It is up to the student, in consultation with their faculty advisor to design the Complementary Area.  At least eight of the Complementary Area credits must be in courses numbered above 3000.  Complementary Areas are normally mapped out by the end of their sophomore year.

Course/Credit Count.  The requirements for the Astronomy Major with a General Astronomy Concentration are therefore 16-17 courses (12 of which are in Astronomy, Physics and Mathematics) totaling 59-61 credit hours (44-46 of which are in Astronomy, Physics, and Mathematics).


Honors

A student may be granted honors in Astronomy upon the recommendation of the Astronomy Advisors Committee of the Astronomy faculty. Typical requirements for graduating with honors are a minimum GPA of 3.5 over the past four semesters and grades of A– or better in:

(Astrophysics Concentration) ASTRO 4410, ASTRO 4431, and ASTRO 4432 or ASTRO 4433
     or
(General Astronomy Concentration) ASTRO 4410, ASTRO 3301, ASTRO 3302, ASTRO 3303


Double Majors

It is expected that some Astronomy majors, especially those with General Astronomy Concentrations will have double majors, either totally distinct from Astronomy, or ones that include courses from their Complementary Area. In these cases, their Complementary Area credits can be counted for both majors as allowed by the second major. For example, students may double major in Astronomy and Mathematics with the Astronomy Core MATH courses counted towards both majors.  However, it is not allowed to double major in Astronomy with an Astrophysics Concentration, and Physics due to extensive overlap of requirements.

Astronomy Minors Overview

The Astronomy Minors at Cornell University are designed to be flexible so that it can be customized to the needs of each student.  There are three concentration paths:

1) Astrobiology Minor is designed for students interested in astronomy, geophysics, biology and science communication.

2) Astronomy Minor is designed for those students focused on astronomy.

3) Data Science in Astronomy Minor is designed for students interested in astronomy and data science.

Non-Astronomy majors from all Cornell colleges are eligible to earn a minor in Astronomy.  Minimum grade requirements are B- in 1000 or 2000 level courses, and C- in higher level courses. Independent study (ASTRO 4940) can qualify for the minor with approval by the Astronomy DUS.

TO APPLY for an Astronomy Minor make an appointment to visit the Director of Undergraduate studies (astronomydus@astro.cornell.edu).

1) ASTROBIOLOGY MINOR:

The Astrobiology Minor is designed for students who are interested in the search for life in the universe, the origin of life on Earth, the evolution of life on Earth, possible life in the Solar System and on Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. The minor provides a cross-disciplinary frame work linking selected Astronomy courses with appropriate courses in Earth and Atmospheric Science, Biology and Science Communication, including:

a.  3 courses in Astronomy from the list below, at least 2 of which must be at or above the 3000 level.

       ASTRO 1101/1103 - From New Worlds to Black Holes
       ASTRO 1102/1104 - Our Solar System
       ASTRO 2202 - A Spacecraft Tour of the Solar System: Science, Policy and Exploration
       ASTRO 2212 - The Solar System: Planets, Small Bodies and New Worlds
       ASTRO 2299 - Search for Life in the Universe
       ASTRO 3301 - Exoplanets & Planetary Systems
       ASTRO 3302 - The Life of Stars: From Birth to Death
       ASTRO 3310 - Planetary Image Processing
       ASTRO 3334 - Data Analysis and Research Techniques in Astronomy
       ASTRO 4410 - Multiwavelength Astronomical Techniques

b.  3 courses in other departments from the list below, at least 1 of which must be from the first 3 courses which are focused on Biology/Geobiology.

       BIOMI 2900 - General Microbiology Lectures or
       EAS 2500 - Meteorological Observations and Instruments or
       EAS 3030 - Introduction to Biogeochemistry (crosslisted)

       BIOMG 4380 - The RNA World
       BIOMG 4810 - Population Genetics (crosslisted)
       COMM 2850 - Communication, Environment, Science, and Health (crosslisted)
       COMM 3020 - Science Writing for the Media (crosslisted)
       EAS 3010 - Evolution of the Earth System
       EAS 3040 - Interior of the Earth
       EAS 3050 - Climate Dynamics
 

2) DATA SCIENCE IN ASTRONOMY MINOR:

The Data Science in Astronomy Minor is designed for students with interests in data science and its applications to topics in astronomy. The minor provides a cross-disciplinary frame work linking selected Astronomy courses with appropriate courses in Computer Science, ECE, Information Science, Statistics and Data Science, and ORIE including:

a.  Two courses in Astronomy from the list below, at least 1 of which must be at or above the 3000 level.

       ASTRO 2211 - Astronomy: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology
          or ASTRO 3302 - The Life of Stars: From Birth to Death or
          or ASTRO 4431 - Physics of Stars, Neutron Stars and Black Holes
       ASTRO 2212 - The Solar System: Planets, Small Bodies and New Worlds
       ASTRO 2290 - Relativity and Astrophysics
       ASTRO 2299 - Search for Life in the Universe
       ASTRO 3301 - Exoplanets & Planetary Systems
       ASTRO 3303 - Galaxies Across Cosmic Time
          or ASTRO 4433 - Introduction to Cosmology (crosslisted)
       ASTRO 4432 - Introduction to Astrophysics and Space Sciences II
       ASTRO 4445 - Introduction to General Relativity (crosslisted)
       ASTRO 4940 - Independent Study in Astronomy

b.  Two Astronomy data oriented courses from the following:

       ASTRO 3310 - Planetary Image Processing
       ASTRO 3334 - Data Analysis and Research Techniques in Astronomy
       ASTRO 3340 - Symbolic and Numerical Computing
       ASTRO 4410 - Experimental Astronomy
       ASTRO 4523 - Modeling, Mining and Machine Learning in Astronomy

c.  Two courses in Computer Science, ECE, Information Science, Statistics and Data Science, and Operations Research and Information Science (ORIE).

This includes 1 course in probability and statistics, and 1 course in data structures and algorithms, modeling, and/or machine learning with choices influenced by the particular astronomy emphasis, availability of courses, and consultation with the Astronomy Director of Undergraduate Studies and, if relevant, the instructor of a data-oriented Independent Studies Course (e.g. ASTRO 4940)

Acceptable Courses include:

       BTRY 3010 - Biological Statistics I (crosslisted)
       CS 2110 - Object-Oriented Programming and Data Structures (crosslisted)
       CS 3110 - Data Structures and Functional Programming
       CS 4786 - Machine Learning for Data Science
       ECE 3100 - Introduction to Probability and Inference for Random Signals and Systems (crosslisted)
       ECE 4100 - Random Signals in Communications/Signal Processing     
       ENGRD 2700 - Basic Engineering Probability and Statistics
       INFO 2950 - Introduction to Data Science
       MATH 4710 - Basic Probability
       MATH 4720 - Statistics
       ORIE 3120 - Practical Tools for Operations Research, Machine Learning and Data Science
       ORIE 3500 - Engineering Probability and Statistics II
       ORIE 4740 - Statistical Data Mining I
       ORIE 4741 - Learning with Big Messy Data
       ORIE 4742 - Information Theory, Probabilistic Modeling, & Deep Learning with Scientific & Financial Applications
       ORIE 6741 - Bayesian Machine Learning
       STSCI 3080 - Probability Models and Inference (crosslisted)
       STSCI 4520 - Statistical Computing (crosslisted)
       STSCI 4740 - Data Mining and Machine Learning
       STSCI 4780 - Bayesian Data Analysis: Principles and Practice


3) ASTRONOMY MINOR:

The Astronomy Minor is designed for students with interests focused on astronomy and astrophysics in general and demonstrates a level of interest and competence that is appropriate for pursuit of a wide variety of careers. The Astronomy Minor requires completion of a total of 13 credit hours in Astronomy at or above the 2000 level. At least 6 of these credits must be at or above the 3000 level, and at least 6 of the 13 credits must have a letter grade. All 3000 level courses or above count towards the requirements. The 2000 level courses that count towards the requirements include:

       ASTRO 2211 - Astronomy: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology
       ASTRO 2212 - The Solar System: Planets, Small Bodies and New Worlds
       ASTRO 2290 - Relativity and Astrophysics
       ASTRO 2299 - Search for Life in the Universe

Distribution Requirement:

All courses in astronomy, except ASTRO 1700 may be used to fulfill the science distribution requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Class Forms

For Department Approval of class forms (Add/Drop, Permission #'s, Time Conflict, Overhours), please contact Jill Tarbell (jtm14@cornell.edu).

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