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Department of Astrophysical Sciences


David N. Spergel

Associate Chair

Michael A. Strauss

Ronald C. Davidson (Plasma Physics)

Departmental Representative

Neta A. Bahcall

Director of Graduate Studies

Gillian R. Knapp



Neta A. Bahcall

Adam S. Burrows

Christopher F. Chyba, also Woodrow Wilson School

Bruce T. Draine

Jeremy Goodman

J. Richard Gott III

James E. Gunn

Gillian R. Knapp

Jeremiah P. Ostriker

David N. Spergel

James M. Stone, also Applied and Computational Mathematics

Michael A. Strauss

Edwin L. Turner

Assistant Professor

Roman R. Rafikov

Anatoly Spitkovsky

Visiting Lecturer

Michael D. Lemonick

Associated Faculty

N. Jeremy Kasdin, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Lyman A. Page Jr., Physics

Suzanne T. Staggs, Physics

Paul J. Steinhardt, Physics

Robert J. Vanderbei, Operations Research and Financial Engineering

Plasma Physics


Nathaniel J. Fisch

Director of Graduate Studies

Nathaniel J. Fisch


Ronald C. Davidson

Nathaniel J. Fisch

Robert J. Goldston

Stewart C. Prager

Lecturer with Rank of Professor

Samuel A. Cohen

Gregory W. Hammett

Stephen C. Jardin

John A. Krommes

Cynthia K. Phillips

Allan H. Reiman

William M. Tang

Roscoe B. White


Ilya I. Dodin

Philip C. Efthimion

Hantao Ji

Richard P. Majeski

Hong Qin

Associated Faculty

Edgar Y. Choueiri, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Szymon Suckewer, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Information and Departmental Plan of Study

The Department of Astrophysical Sciences offers a comprehensive program for astrophysics majors with the flexibility to accommodate students with a broad range of interests. Many of our majors plan to continue in graduate school in astrophysics. For students with career goals in other areas such as science education, science policy, space exploration, as well as law, medicine, finance, and teaching, we offer a flexible choice of courses and research projects. The department covers all major fields in astrophysics--from planets, to black holes, stars, galaxies, quasars, dark matter, and the evolution of the universe. The relatively small size of the department provides an informal and friendly setting for students. Full accessibility to all faculty members and to the excellent departmental facilities, including our on-campus and remote telescopes and sophisticated computer system, is provided.


Mathematics 201, 202 or equivalent, and Physics 205 or 207; Astrophysical Sciences 204 is strongly recommended.

Early Concentration

Students interested in early concentration in astrophysics should contact the departmental representative.

Program of Study

Every student majoring in astrophysical sciences will acquire the necessary training in astrophysics by taking at least three astrophysics courses at the 300 or 400 level. In addition to these courses, departmental students will take courses in the Department of Physics that provide basic training in mechanics, quantum mechanics, electromagnetic theory, and other relevant topics.

Independent Work

Junior Year. In addition to the course work carried out during the junior year, each student carries out two junior independent research projects, one each semester. Each project is on a research topic of current interest, carried out under close supervision of a faculty adviser who is doing research in this area. The student will complete each term's independent work by submitting a written paper. The research projects can involve data analysis using astronomical data from our telescopes, including data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey--a unique three-dimensional map of the universe--and from national and international facilities such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Similarly, theoretical and computational projects in astrophysics are available. The topics, to be selected jointly by the student and his/her adviser, can range from areas such as cosmology and the early universe, to galaxy formation, large-scale structure of the universe, quasars, black holes, stars, and planetary astrophysics. Interdisciplinary projects, including astronomy and education, science policy, planetary science, astrobiology, space science exploration, and more are possible.

Senior Year. In the senior year, in addition to course work, students carry out an extensive research project with a faculty adviser for their senior thesis. The thesis is completed by submitting the final written paper summarizing the work. There is a wide range of observational and theoretical topics available, including interdisciplinary projects as discussed above. The senior thesis work is frequently published as part of a scientific paper in an astrophysical journal. After the thesis has been completed and read by the adviser and an additional faculty member, the student presents an oral summary of the work, followed by an oral defense of the thesis. 

Senior Departmental Examination

The thesis work and the oral defense, combined with an oral examination on general topics in astrophysics, comprise the senior departmental examination.

Preparation for Graduate Study

The undergraduate program the department provides an excellent preparation for graduate study in astrophysics, with concentrators frequently accepted at the top graduate schools in the country.  

Additional Courses: See Course Offerings especially for the following courses currently offered on a one-time-only basis: AST 201 Mapping the Universe (Fall), AST 303 Modeling and Observing the Universe: Research Methods in Astrophysics (Fall), AST 403 Stars and Star Formation (Spring).


AST 203 The Universe   Spring QR

This specially designed course targets the frontier of modern astrophysics. Subjects include the birth, life, and death of stars; the search for extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life; the zoo of galaxies from dwarfs to giants, from starbursts to quasars; dark matter and the large-scale structure of the universe; Einstein's special and general theory of relativity, black holes, worm holes, time travel, and big bang cosmology. This course is designed for the nonscience major and has no prerequisites past high school algebra and geometry. High school physics would be useful. , A. Spitkovsky, C. Chyba Staff

AST 204 Topics in Modern Astronomy   Spring QR

The solar system; the birth and evolution of the stars; supernovae, neutron stars, and black holes; the evolution of the chemical elements; the formation, structure, and evolution of galaxies; cosmology and the evolution of the universe; and life in the universe. Prerequisites: PHY 103 or 105 and MAT 103 or 104 or equivalent. Intended for students in the sciences. A. Burrows

AST 207 A Guided Tour of the Solar System (see GEO 207)

AST 255 Life in the Universe (see GEO 255)

AST 301 General Relativity (also PHY 321)   Not offered this year

This is an introductory course in general relativity for undergraduates. Topics include the early universe, black holes, cosmic strings, worm holes, and time travel. Two 90-minute lectures. Prerequisites: MAT 201, 202; PHY 203, 208. Designed for science and engineering majors. J. Goodman

AST 302 Structure of the Stars   Not offered this year

Topics include the physical properties of stellar matter under conditions of mechanical and thermal equilibrium, origin, evolution, and death of single and binary stars, stellar atmospheric layers, and the abundances of the chemical elements. Two 90-minute lectures. Prerequisites: MAT 201, 202, PHY 203, 208. Designed for science and engineering majors. J. Goodman

AST 374 Planetary Systems: Their Diversity and Evolution (see GEO 374)

AST 401 Cosmology (also PHY 401)   Not offered this year

Topics include the properties and nature of galaxies, quasars, active galactic nuclei, galaxy clustering, large-scale properties of the universe, formation of galaxies and other structures, microwave background radiation, the big bang, and the early universe. Two 90-minute lectures. Prerequisites: MAT 201, 202; PHY 203, 208. Designed for science and engineering majors. N. Bahcall, D. Spergel

AST 402 Interstellar Matter and Star Formation   Not offered this year

Emission mechanisms (thermal, spectral line, synchrotron) for ionized and neutral gas are applied to observations of the interstellar medium over the entire spectrum to derive its properties. Topics include star formation, HII regions, molecular clouds, dust, masers, interstellar chemistry, supernova remnants, shock processes, cosmic ray acceleration and propagation, magnetic fields. Two lectures, one class. Prerequisites: MAT 201, 202, and PHY 203, 208. G. Knapp, D. Spergel