Astronomy and Astrophysics, B.S.

Program Code: ASTRO_BS

Program Description

Astronomy involves the study of the properties, physical nature and origins of the planets, stars, galaxies and universe as a whole. It involves development of instrumentation, observations of celestial objects with ground- and space-based telescopes, and interpretation of findings using the mathematical laws of physics such as gravity, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics. The undergraduate major provides a strong and broad foundation in mathematics, physical science and computation as well as a detailed understanding of modern astronomy. Many research opportunities are available to complement the formal classwork. Graduates proceed to advanced degrees in astronomy and other sciences, and into a wide variety of technical professions.

What is Astronomy and Astrophysics?

Astronomy and Astrophysics is the study of the fundamental problems of the nature and evolution of our Universe. Astronomy and Astrophysics includes topics ranging from the most distant and powerful objects in the universe, quasars and gamma ray bursts, to the origins of chemical elements in stars, to planets, both in our solar system and in orbit around other stars.

You Might Like This Program If...

  • You enjoy applying the ideas of physics to the study of complex systems and phenomena found beyond the Earth.
  • You want to study the answers to big questions relating to astronomy, such as ‘how was the universe created?’ and ‘how likely is it that life exists outside the Earth?’
  • You enjoy writing computer software to solve problems.
  • You have an interest in computer image processing and analysis.

Entrance to Major

In order to be eligible for entrance to the Astronomy and Astrophysics major, a student must have:

  1. Attained at least a 2.00 cumulative grade-point average.
  2. Completed and earned a grade of C or better in each of the following courses: ASTRO 291, CHEM 110, MATH 140, MATH 141, PHYS 211, and PHYS 212.

Degree Requirements

For the Bachelor of Science degree in Astronomy and Astrophysics, a minimum of 125 credits is required:

Requirement Credits
General Education 45
Requirements for the Major 98

18 of the 45 credits for General Education are included in the Requirements for the Major. This includes: 9 credits of GN courses; 6 credits of GQ courses; 3 credits of GWS courses.

General Education

Connecting career and curiosity, the General Education curriculum provides the opportunity for students to acquire transferable skills necessary to be successful in the future and to thrive while living in interconnected contexts. General Education aids students in developing intellectual curiosity, a strengthened ability to think, and a deeper sense of aesthetic appreciation. These are requirements for all baccalaureate students and are often partially incorporated into the requirements of a program. For additional information, see the General Education Requirements section of the Bulletin and consult your academic adviser.

The keystone symbol Keystone/General Education Course appears next to the title of any course that is designated as a General Education course. Program requirements may also satisfy General Education requirements and vary for each program.

Foundations (grade of C or better is required.)

  • Quantification (GQ): 6 credits
  • Writing and Speaking (GWS): 9 credits

Knowledge Domains

  • Arts (GA): 6 credits
  • Health and Wellness (GHW): 3 credits
  • Humanities (GH): 6 credits
  • Social and Behavioral Sciences (GS): 6 credits
  • Natural Sciences (GN): 9 credits

Integrative Studies (may also complete a Knowledge Domain requirement)

  • Inter-Domain or Approved Linked Courses: 6 credits

University Degree Requirements

First Year Engagement

All students enrolled in a college or the Division of Undergraduate Studies at University Park, and the World Campus are required to take 1 to 3 credits of the First-Year Seminar, as specified by their college First-Year Engagement Plan.

Other Penn State colleges and campuses may require the First-Year Seminar; colleges and campuses that do not require a First-Year Seminar provide students with a first-year engagement experience.

First-year baccalaureate students entering Penn State should consult their academic adviser for these requirements.

Cultures Requirement    

6 credits are required and may satisfy other requirements

  • United States Cultures: 3 credits
  • International Cultures: 3 credits

Writing Across the Curriculum

3 credits required from the college of graduation and likely prescribed as part of major requirements.

Total Minimum Credits

A minimum of 120 degree credits must be earned for a baccalaureate degree. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 credits. Students should consult with their college or department adviser for information on specific credit requirements.

Quality of Work

Candidates must complete the degree requirements for their major and earn at least a 2.00 grade-point average for all courses completed within their degree program.

Limitations on Source and Time for Credit Acquisition

The college dean or campus chancellor and program faculty may require up to 24 credits of course work in the major to be taken at the location or in the college or program where the degree is earned. Credit used toward degree programs may need to be earned from a particular source or within time constraints (see Senate Policy 83-80). For more information, check the Suggested Academic Plan for your intended program.

Requirements for the Major

To graduate, a student enrolled in the major must earn a grade of C or better in each course designated by the major as a C-required course, as specified by Senate Policy 82-44.

Common Requirements for the Major (All Options)

Prescribed Courses
ASTRO 320Observational Astronomy Laboratory Keystone/General Education Course3
CHEM 111Experimental Chemistry I Keystone/General Education Course1
CHEM 112Chemical Principles II Keystone/General Education Course3
ENGL 202CEffective Writing: Technical Writing Keystone/General Education Course3
MATH 230Calculus and Vector Analysis4
MATH 251Ordinary and Partial Differential Equations4
PHYS 237Introduction to Modern Physics3
Prescribed Courses: Require a grade of C or better
ASTRO 291Astronomical Methods and the Solar System Keystone/General Education Course3
ASTRO 292Astronomy of the Distant Universe Keystone/General Education Course3
CHEM 110Chemical Principles I Keystone/General Education Course3
MATH 140Calculus With Analytic Geometry I Keystone/General Education Course4
MATH 141Calculus with Analytic Geometry II Keystone/General Education Course4
PHYS 211General Physics: Mechanics Keystone/General Education Course4
PHYS 212General Physics: Electricity and Magnetism Keystone/General Education Course4
PHYS 213General Physics: Fluids and Thermal Physics Keystone/General Education Course2
PHYS 214General Physics: Wave Motion and Quantum Physics Keystone/General Education Course2
Additional Courses
Select one of the following:3
Introduction to Programming Techniques Keystone/General Education Course
Programming for Engineers with C++ Keystone/General Education Course
CMPSC 202
Supporting Courses and Related Areas
Supporting Courses and Related Areas: Require a grade of C or better
Select 12 credits from 400-level ASTRO courses 112
Requirements for the Option
Select an option34

Requirements for the Option

Graduate Study Option (33 credits)
Prescribed Courses
PHYS 400Intermediate Electricity and Magnetism3
PHYS 410Introduction to Quantum Mechanics I3-4
PHYS 419Theoretical Mechanics3
Additional Courses
Select one of the following:3
Advanced Calculus for Engineers and Scientists I
Ordinary Differential Equations
Qualitative Theory of Differential Equations
Select 6-7 credits of the following:6-7
Introduction to Plasmas
Electronics for Scientists
Subatomic Physics
Introduction to Quantum Mechanics II
Thermal Physics
Experimental Physics
Experimental Physics
Intermediate Optics
Special and General Relativity
Supporting Courses and Related Areas
Select 3 additional credits from advanced courses in computer science and engineering, mathematics, or statistics3
Select 10-11 credits in consultation with adviser from department list10-11
Computer Science Option (33 credits)
Prescribed Courses
CMPSC 122Intermediate Programming3
CMPSC 221Object Oriented Programming with Web-Based Applications3
CMPSC 451Numerical Computations3
Additional Courses
Select one of the following:3
Elementary Probability
Elementary Mathematical Statistics
Experimental Methods
Introduction to Probability Theory
Select two of the following:6
Introduction to Digital Systems
Computer Organization And Design
Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science
Data Structures and Algorithms
Supporting Courses and Related Areas
Select 3 additional credits from advanced courses in computer science and engineering, mathematics, or statistics3
Select 12 credits in consultation with adviser from department list12

Academic Advising

The objectives of the university’s academic advising program are to help advisees identify and achieve their academic goals, to promote their intellectual discovery, and to encourage students to take advantage of both in-and out-of class educational opportunities in order that they become self-directed learners and decision makers.

Both advisers and advisees share responsibility for making the advising relationship succeed. By encouraging their advisees to become engaged in their education, to meet their educational goals, and to develop the habit of learning, advisers assume a significant educational role. The advisee's unit of enrollment will provide each advisee with a primary academic adviser, the information needed to plan the chosen program of study, and referrals to other specialized resources.

READ SENATE POLICY 32-00: ADVISING POLICY

University Park

Robert Morehead
Assistant Teaching Professor and Associate Head, Undergraduate Programs
507 Davey Lab
University Park, PA 16802
814-863-9684
rcm242@psu.edu

Suggested Academic Plan

The suggested academic plan(s) listed on this page are the plan(s) that are in effect during the 2021-22 academic year. To access previous years' suggested academic plans, please visit the archive to view the appropriate Undergraduate Bulletin edition (Note: the archive only contain suggested academic plans beginning with the 2018-19 edition of the Undergraduate Bulletin).

Computer Science Option: Astronomy and Astrophysics, B.S. at University Park Campus

The course series listed below provides only one of the many possible ways to move through this curriculum. The University may make changes in policies, procedures, educational offerings, and requirements at any time. This plan should be used in conjunction with your degree audit (accessible in LionPATH as either an Academic Requirements or What If report). Please consult with a Penn State academic adviser on a regular basis to develop and refine an academic plan that is appropriate for you.

First Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
ASTRO 202ENGL 15, 30H, or ESL 153
MATH 140*‡#†4MATH 141*‡#†4
CHEM 110*#†3CHEM 1111
PHYS 211*#†4CHEM 1123
General Education Course3PHYS 212*#†4
 General Education Course (GHW)1.5
 16 16.5
Second Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
ASTRO 291*#3ASTRO 292*3
MATH 2304MATH 2514
PHYS 213*2PHYS 2373
PHYS 214*2CMPSC 121, 201, or CMPSC 2023
CAS 100, 100A, 100B, or 100C3General Education Course3
 14 16
Third Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
ASTRO 3203ASTRO 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)*3
ASTRO 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)*3CMPSC 2213
CMPSC 1223CMPSC 360 or CMPEN 2713
STAT 300 or 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)3ENGL 202C‡†3
General Education Course3General Education Course3
General Education Course (GHW)1.5 
 16.5 15
Fourth Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
ASTRO 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)*3ASTRO 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)*3
CMPSC 451 or MATH 4513CMPSC/CMPEN 400 Level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)3
CMPSC 465 or CMPEN 3313Supporting Course (consult with an academic adviser for options)3
Supporting Course (consult with an academic adviser for options)1Supporting Course (consult with an academic adviser for options)3
General Education Course3Supporting Course (consult with an academic adviser for options)3
General Education Course3 
 16 15
Total Credits 125

University Requirements and General Education Notes:

US and IL are abbreviations used to designate courses that satisfy University Requirements (United States and International Cultures).

W, M, X, and Y are the suffixes at the end of a course number used to designate courses that satisfy University Writing Across the Curriculum requirement.

GWS, GQ, GHW, GN, GA, GH, and GS are abbreviations used to identify General Education program courses. General Education includes Foundations (GWS and GQ) and Knowledge Domains (GHW, GN, GA, GH, GS, and Integrative Studies). Foundations courses (GWS and GQ) require a grade of ‘C’ or better.

Integrative Studies courses are required for the General Education program. N is the suffix at the end of a course number used to designate an Inter-Domain course and Z is the suffix at the end of a course number used to designate a Linked course.

All incoming Schreyer Honors College first-year students at University Park will take ENGL 137H/CAS 137H in the fall semester and ENGL 138T/CAS 138T in the spring semester. These courses carry the GWS designation and replace both ENGL 30H and CAS 100. Each course is 3 credits.

Graduate Studies Option: Astronomy and Astrophysics, B.S. at University Park Campus

The course series listed below provides only one of the many possible ways to move through this curriculum. The University may make changes in policies, procedures, educational offerings, and requirements at any time. This plan should be used in conjunction with your degree audit (accessible in LionPATH as either an Academic Requirements or What If report). Please consult with a Penn State academic adviser on a regular basis to develop and refine an academic plan that is appropriate for you.

First Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
ASTRO 202ENGL 15, 30H, or ESL 153
MATH 140*‡#†4MATH 141*‡#†4
CHEM 110*‡#†3CHEM 1111
PHYS 211*‡#†4CHEM 1123
General Education Course3PHYS 212*‡#†4
 General Education Course (GHW)1.5
 16 16.5
Second Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
ASTRO 291*#3ASTRO 292*3
MATH 2304MATH 2514
PHYS 213*2PHYS 2373
PHYS 214*2CMPSC 121, 201, or CMPSC 2023
CAS 100, 100A, 100B, or 100C3General Education Course3
 14 16
Third Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
ASTRO 3203ASTRO 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)* 3
ASTRO 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)* 3PHYS 4004
MATH 405, 411, or 4173CMPSC/MATH/STAT selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)3
PHYS 419 or MATH 4193ENGL 202C‡†3
General Education Course3General Education Course3
General Education Course (GHW)1.5 
 16.5 16
Fourth Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
ASTRO 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)*3ASTRO 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)*3
PHYS 4104PHYS 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)*3
PHYS 400 level selection (consult with an academic adviser for options)*3Supporting Course (consult with an academic adviser for options)3
General Education Course3Supporting Course (consult with an academic adviser for options)3
General Education Course3Supporting Course (consult with an academic adviser for options)2
 16 14
Total Credits 125

University Requirements and General Education Notes:

US and IL are abbreviations used to designate courses that satisfy University Requirements (United States and International Cultures).

W, M, X, and Y are the suffixes at the end of a course number used to designate courses that satisfy University Writing Across the Curriculum requirement.

GWS, GQ, GHW, GN, GA, GH, and GS are abbreviations used to identify General Education program courses. General Education includes Foundations (GWS and GQ) and Knowledge Domains (GHW, GN, GA, GH, GS, and Integrative Studies). Foundations courses (GWS and GQ) require a grade of ‘C’ or better.

Integrative Studies courses are required for the General Education program. N is the suffix at the end of a course number used to designate an Inter-Domain course and Z is the suffix at the end of a course number used to designate a Linked course.

Career Paths

Careers

Penn State students with a B.S. in Astronomy & Astrophysics have been successful in establishing careers in a wide variety of technical fields. Students should be aware that a degree in astronomy is less well known by employers than degrees in computer science or physics. We encourage majors intending to end their education with a B.S. to obtain a minor or double major in one of these two allied fields. Students interested in job placement after a B.S. degree are strongly encouraged to participate in departmental research or the Eberly College of Science internship program during their time at Penn State.

MORE INFORMATION ABOUT POTENTIAL CAREER OPTIONS FOR GRADUATES OF THE ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS PROGRAM

Opportunities for Graduate Studies

Many of our alumni pursue graduate education in astrophysics after completing our undergraduate degree. Students apply to enter PhD programs in astrophysics in the fall of their senior year. Some students choose to do graduate work in related fields such as physics, geoscience / planetary science, ecology, or engineering. Other students have successfully pursued master’s degrees in education in order to earn teaching certification to teach physics or Earth and space science.

Professional Resources

Contact

University Park

DEPARTMENT OF ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS
525 Davey Lab
University Park, PA 16802
814-865-0418
rcm242@psu.edu

http://astro.psu.edu