University of Virginia, College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Course Listing

Below is a description of all courses offered by the Astronomy Department. Several courses are only offered every other semester or every other year, so check the current semester’s offerings.

All Astronomy courses can be used towards satisfying the Natural Sciences area requirement. ASTR 1210 and 1220 cover complementary subject matter. Each is complete in itself, and a student may elect to take either ASTR 1210 or ASTR 1220, or both concurrently.

Undergraduate Courses

ASTR 1210: Introduction to the Sky and the Solar System (3 credits)

No prerequisites - This course is an excellent first course in astronomy.

Primarily for non-science majors.

The night sky. Brief history of astronomy through Newton. The properties of the sun, earth, moon, planets, meteors and comets. The origin and evolution of the solar system. Life in the universe. Recent results from space missions and ground-based telescopes.

ASTR 1220: Introduction to the Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe (3 credits)

No prerequisites - This course is an excellent first course in astronomy.

Primarily for non-science majors.

Stars, star formation and evolution. Light, atoms, and modern observing technologies. The origin of the chemical elements. Supernovae, pulsars, neutron stars, and black holes. The structure and evolution of our galaxy. The nature of other galaxies. Active galaxies and quasars. The expanding universe, cosmology, the big bang, and the early universe.

ASTR 1230: Introduction to Astronomical Observation (3 credits)

Pre/co-requisite: ASTR 1210 or 1220 or permission of the instructor.

Primarily for non-science majors.

An independent laboratory class in which students work individually or in small groups on observational projects. Extensive use is made of binoculars, 6-inch through 10-inch telescopes, and photographic equipment at the department’s student observatory. In addition, some projects use computers to simulate observations taken with much larger telescopes. Projects focus on the study of constellations, planets, stars, nebulae, and galaxies. Class work is done predominantly at night.

Great Meteor Crater Arizona

ASTR 1260: Threats from Outer Space (3 credits)

No prerequisites - This course is an excellent first course in astronomy.

This introductory astronomy course for non-science majors deals with harmful, or potentially harmful, astronomical phenomena such as asteroid/comet impacts, supernovae, gamma ray bursts, solar storms, cosmic rays, black holes, galaxy collisions, and the end of the universe. Physical principles will be used to evaluate the dangers involved.

ASTR 1270: Unsolved Mysteries in the Universe (3 credits)

No prerequisites - This course is an excellent first course in astronomy.

Primarily for non-science majors.

The universe is full of deep mysteries that astronomers are far from understanding. This course is designed to help students understand the limitations of our knowledge, and why finding solutions to these mysteries is so difficult. A number of though provoking topics will be covered, including: the beginning and end of the universe, black holes, extraterrestrial life, dark matter, and dark energy. 

ASTR 1280: The Origins of Almost Everything (3 credits)

No prerequisites - This course is an excellent first course in astronomy.

Primarily for non-science majors.

From ancient Babylon to modern cosmology, nearly every culture on Earth has stories and myths of creation. It is a universal human desire to understand where we came. In this introductory astronomy class for non-science majors, students will explore the origins of the Universe, structure and galaxies, stars, planets and life. The course will use the content to illustrate the nature of science and scientific inquiry.

ASTR 1500, 1510: Seminar (1 credits)

A seminar designed primarily for first and second year students, taught on a voluntary basis by a faculty member. Topics vary.

ASTR 1610: Introduction to Astronomical Research for Potential Astronomy and Astronomy-Physics Majors (1 credits)

Prerequisite: One semester of calculus and one semester of physics.

Intended primarily for first and second year declared and prospective Astronomy/Physics and Astronomy Majors.

Astronomy faculty members will describe various research projects. The goal is to acquaint students with the both the subject matter and the required physical, mathematical, and computational background of contemporary astronomy research. Potential long term undergraduate research projects will be emphasized. 

ASTR 2110: Introduction to Astrophysics I (3 credits)

Primarily for science majors. Pre/corequisites: MATH 1210 or MATH 1310, PHYS 1710 or PHYS 1425, or permission of instructor.

A thorough discussion of the basic concepts and methods of solar system, stellar, galactic, and extragalactic astronomy with emphasis on physical interpretation. Recent research developments such as black holes, pulsars, quasars, and new solar system observations from the space program.

ASTR 2120: Introduction to Astrophysics II (3 credits)

Primarily for science majors. Pre/corequisites: MATH 1210 or MATH 1310, PHYS 1710 or PHYS 1425, or permission of instructor.

A thorough discussion of the basic concepts and methods of solar system, stellar, galactic, and extragalactic astronomy with emphasis on physical interpretation. Recent research developments such as black holes, pulsars, quasars, and new solar system observations from the space program.

ASTR 3130: Observational Astronomy (4 credits)

Primarily for science majors. Prerequisites: ASTR 1210, 1220 or ASTR 2110, 2120, or permission of instructor.

A laboratory course dealing with basic observational techniques in astronomy. Students make use of observational facilities at McCormick Observatory and at Fan Mountain Observatory. Classes generally meet at night.

ASTR 3140: Observational Radio Astronomy (4 credits)

Primarily for science majors. prerequisites: ASTR 2110, 2120, or permission of instructor.

An introduction to the tools, techniques, and science of radio astronomy. Discussion includes fundamentals of measuring radio signals, radiometers, antennas, and interferometers, supplemented by illustrative labs; radio emission mechanisms and simple radiative transfer; radio emission from the Sun and planets, stars, galactic and extragalactic sources, and the cosmic microwave background.

ASTR 3340: Teaching Astronomy (3 credits)

Open to non-science students; prerequisites: ASTR 1210, 1220, or permission of instructor.

A seminar-style class offered primarily for non-majors planning to teach science or looking to improve their ability to communicate science effectively. In addition to astronomy contect, students will learn effective concept-based astronomy lessons. 

ASTR 3410: Archaeo-Astronomy (3 credits)

Open to non-science students; pre/co-requisite: A 1000- or 2000-level Astronomy course or permission of instructor.

A discussion of prescientific astronomy, including Mayan, Babylonian, and ancient Chinese astronomy and the significance of relics such as Stonehenge. The usefulness of ancient records in the study of current astrophysical problems, such as supernova outbursts, is also discussed. The course uses current literature from several disciplines including astronomy, archaeology, and anthropology.

ASTR 3420: Life Beyond the Earth (3 credits)

Open to non-science students; pre/corequisite: A 1000- or 2000-level Astronomy course or permission of instructor.

The possibility of the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life; methods and desirability of interstellar communication; prospects for humanity’s colonization of space, interaction of space colonies and the search for other civilizations.

ASTR 3460: Development of Modern Astronomy (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

A reading course dealing with the history of astronomy.

ASTR 3470: Science and Controversy in Astronomy (3 credits)

Open to non-science students; pre/corequisite: ASTR 1210 or ASTR 1220 or permission of instructor.

A critical evaluation of controversial topics in science and pseudo-science from the astronomer’s perspective. The methods of science and the nature of scientific evidence with their implications for unresolved astrophysical problems; extraterrestrial life; UFO’s; alien abductions; X-files; astrology, etc.

ASTR 3480: Introduction to Cosmology (3 credits)

Open to first year students; primarily for non-science students.

A descriptive introduction to the study of the ultimate structure and evolution of the universe. Covers the history of cosmological speculation, the nature of the galaxies, a qualitative introduction to relativity theory and the nature of space-time, black holes, models of the universe (big bang, steady-state, etc.) and methods of testing them, history of the universe.

ASTR 3880: Planetary Astronomy (3 credits)

Primarily for science majors. Prerequisite: Calculus, or permission of instructor.

The goal of this course is to understand the origins and evolution of bodies in the solar system. The observations of atmospheres and surfaces of planetary bodies by ground-based and orbiting telescopes and by spacecraft will be described. The principal topics will be the interpretation of remote sensing data for atmospheres and surfaces of planetary bodies, the chemistry and dynamics of planetary atmospheres, the interactions of these atmospheres with the surfaces and with the local plasma, and the role of meteorite and comet impacts on surfaces of planetary bodies. 

ASTR 4140: Research Methods in Astrophysics (3 credits)

Primarily for science majors. Prerequisite: ASTR 2110/2120 and PHYS 2660, or instructor permission

Primarily for astronomy/astrophysics majors. Students will be exposed to a research methods-intensive set of mini projects,with emphasis on current active areas of astrophysics research. The goal is to prepare students for research in astrophysics. Topics will include databases and database manipulation, astronomical surveys, statistics, space observatories and observation planning, intro to numerical simulations, and proposal writing.

 

ASTR 4440: The Nature of Discovery in Astronomy (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

This course examines the development of astronomy from about 1950 to the present. Initially, we review the historical development of modern astronomy — how the emphasis on the research frontiers shifted over time as new ideas and instruments developed. We discuss the nature of scientific creativity and the conditions which encourage or discourage scientific and astronomical discovery. This leads us to analyse the conditions in Universities and research organizations which promote scientific research, and how well they have succeeded. Questions of how to judge success in these matters will arise. 

Although some background in astronomy would be advantageous for the seminar, it is not necessary since we will explain the basic scientific questions which are discussed.

ASTR 4810: Astrophysics (3 credits)

Prerequisites: ASTR 2110, 2120 (recommended); MATH 5210, 5220; PHYS 3210, 3310 (concurrent), 3430 (concurrent), 3650; or instructor permission.

Basic concepts in mechanics, statistical physics, atomic and nuclear structure, and radiative transfer are developed and applied to selected fundamental problems in the areas of stellar structure, stellar atmospheres, the interstellar medium and extragalactic astrophysics. 

ASTR 4993: Tutorial (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

A study of a topic of special interest to the student under individual supervision by a faculty member. May be repeated once for credit.

ASTR 4998: Senior Thesis (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

Graduate Courses

ASTR 5010: Astrophysical Processes (3 credits)

Prerequisite: ASTR 2110, 2120 (recommended); MATH 5210, 5220; PHYS 3210, 3310 (concurrent), 3430 (concurrent), 3650; or instructor permission.

Basic concepts in mechanics, statistical physics, atomic and nuclear structure, and radiative transfer are developed and applied to selected fundamental problems in the areas of stellar structure, stellar atmospheres, the interstellar medium and extragalactic astrophysics. 

ASTR 5110: Astronomical Techniques (3 credits)

Prerequisites: ASTR 2110-2120; PHYS 342, 343 or permission of instructor.

This course surveys modern techniques of radiation measurement and data analysis and their application to astrophysical problems, especially the physical properties of stars. Relevant experiments in the laboratory and at the telescope will be included.

ASTR 5340: Introductory Radio Astronomy (3 credits)

Prerequisites: MATH 235, PHYS 210.

Fundamentals of measuring power and power spectra, antennas, interferometers, and radiometers. Thermal radiation, synchrotron radiation and line frequency radiation. Radio emission from the planets, sun, flare stars, pulsars, supernovae, interstellar gas, galaxies and quasi-stellar sources.

ASTR 5350: Radio Astronomy Instrumentation (3 credits)

Prerequisite: ASTR 5340 or permission of instructor.

An introduction to the instrumentation of radio astronomy. Discussion includes fundamentals of measuring radio signals, noise theory, basic radiometry, antennas, low noise electronics, coherent receivers, signal processing for continuum and spectral line studies, and arrays. Lecture material is supplemented by illustrative labs.

ASTR 5420: The Interstellar Medium (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

Topics covered include the physics of interstellar gas and grains, the distribution and dynamics of the gas, and cosmic radiation and interstellar magnetic fields.

ASTR 5430, 5440: Stellar Astrophysics (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

Observed properties and physics of stars. Radiation transfer; stellar thermodynamics; convection. Formation of spectra in atmospheres. Equations of stellar structure; nuclear reactions. Stellar evolution and nucleosynthesis. Applicable numerical techniques.

ASTR 5450: High Energy Astrophysics (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

Introduction to the physics of basic radiation mechanisms and particle acceleration processes which are important in high energy phenomena and space science. Applications to pulsars, active galactic nuclei, radio galaxies, quasars, and supernovae will be discussed.

ASTR 5460: Binary Stars (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

The determination of orbital elements, the mass-luminosity-radius relation, formation of binary systems, the Roche model, mass loss, mass transfer, circumstellar material, accretion disks, evolution of close interacting binaries, and some special classes of binaries such as cataclysmic variables, RS CVn binaries, Algol-type binaries, and X-ray binaries.

ASTR 5480: Evolution of the Universe (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

The origin and evolution of structure in the universe. The formation and evolution of galaxies. Tests of the theory based on observations of large scale structure and the properties of galaxies as a function of lookback time.

ASTR 5500, 5510: Topical Seminar (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

A detailed study of a current topic is made by the instructor and the seminar members. The topic to be covered will appear in the academic schedule for the semester in which it is given. In recent years, there have been ASTR 5500 - Stellar Populations, ASTR 5510 - Extragalatic Astronomy, and ASTR 5510 - Galactic Astronomy.

ASTR 5610: Galactic Structure and Stellar Populations (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

This course explores the structure and evolution of star clusters and galaxies, with particular emphasis on objects in the local universe. Topics explored include the evolution of individual stars and their kinematics, chemistry, and spectral energy distributions, the effeE6CC99 such evolution on populations of stars with both simple and complex star formation histories, and galaxies as collections of stellar populations. The course introduces fundamental tools of Galactic astronomy, with topics including methods for assessing the size, shape, age, and dynamics of the Milky Way and other stellar systems, galaxy formation, interstellar gas and dust, dark matter, and the distance scale.

ASTR 5630/5640: Extragalactic Astronomy (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Permission of instructor.

These classes are intended for graduate and senior undergraduate astronomy students. We survey the field of extragalactic astronomy, considering such topics as: morphological, photometric, dynamical and demographic properties of normal galaxies, together with their gaseous, chemical, stellar and nuclear properties; special kinds of galaxy, such as interacting, starburst and active galaxies; galaxy groups and clusters; dark matter and gravitational lenses; galaxy formation and evolution; the intergalactic medium; and the cosmological framework. ASTR 5630 emphasises the properties of normal galaxies and stellar dynamics, while ASTR 5640 emphasises active galaxies, clusters, evolution and cosmology.

ASTR 5800: Introduction to Astrochemistry (3 credits)

Prerequisite: Students should have a basic knowledge of chemical kinetics, such as that obtained in an undergraduate course in physical chemistry, and a basic knowledge of either atomic or molecular spectroscopy.

This interdisciplinary course will introduce advanced undergraduates and graduates to molecules and their chemistry in different sources throughout the universe, especially in clouds of gas and dust lying among the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy and external galaxies. Among the topics to be studied: a brief intro to stars \amp; the interstellar medium, astronomical spectroscopy, & molecular spatial maps.