Astronomy Courses

Requirements for the major

Prerequisites and Requirements

The course requirements for the astronomy major include many of the same courses used for a physics major, and the prerequisites are essentially identical. Here is a formal listing of the courses:

  • Prerequisites: Math 3, 8, 13, and 23; Physics 13 and 14 (OR 15 and 16).

Major: At least eight courses in physics and astronomy, including:

  • Astronomy 15, Astronomy 25, Astronomy 61, Physics 19, and Physics 24, and
  • One elective from Astronomy 74, Astronomy 75 and Astronomy 81, and
  • Two electives chosen from Physics 41, Physics 43, Physics 44 and Physics 74.

Obviously, if you receive AP credit for a prerequisite, you don't have to repeat the course at Dartmouth.

For official descriptions of these courses, consult the ORC. Very briefly, the required courses are as follows:

  • Astronomy 15 is a basic introduction to astrophysics, with an emphasis on stellar astronomy. A background in elementary physics (at the 13/14 level) is assumed, and calculus is used.
  • Astronomy 25 is the sequel to Astronomy 15, emphasizing extragalactic astronomy and cosmology.
  • Astronomy 61 covers observational technique, and has a substantial observing lab component.
  • Physics 19 and 24 are courses in the standard physics sequence, which cover modern physics and quantum mechanics at an intermediate/elementary level. They are the next in the sequence after Physics 13 and 14 (introductory physics for scientists and engineers).
  • Physics 41, 43, and 44 are the standard "meat and potatoes" of the physics major; they cover, respectively, electricity and magnetism, statistical and thermal physics (which is much more interesting than it sounds!), and classical mechanics. If you're going to grad school and/or have a theoretical bent you may wish to round out the sequence with Atomic physics (42) and electromagnetic radiation (66; especially recommended for astrophysicists).
  • Astronomy 74 is a more advanced astrophysics course,to be taken after you've done the two required 40s level physics courses.
  • Astronomy 81 is an independent study course with an observational component, generally involving a trip to MDM observatory in Arizona. As noted earlier, you should it arrange this almost a year ahead of time with one of the observational professors.
  • Astronomy 87 is an independent study course, but not involving an observing project.

Timing. You should be planning to take Astronomy 15 by the spring of your sophomore year if not before. In general, because astronomy is a technical subject, you'll want to start out on the prerequisites as soon as you can -- and if you discover as a first-year student that you can't stand physics, you may wish to reconsider the choice of an astronomy major. Astronomy isn't physics, but they're joined at the hip ...

Other courses. If you're intending to go on to grad school, you'll want to take other courses as well. More physics can't hurt, especially if you're theoretically inclined. Note that graduate courses are open to qualified undergraduates -- you may wish to take courses in either physics or astronomy (though, because of limited resources, the graduate astronomy courses tend to be offered every other year).

And don't forget the elementary courses! These don't carry major credit but can play an important educational role. A relatively straightforward and non-technical course such as Astronomy 2/3 can be a nice change and whet your appetite for the hard stuff. Astronomy 1 covers planetary science, a topic which isn't treated elsewhere in the major curriculum. Because these courses don't go into great technical detail, they tend to have more time to cover qualitative material, which is important general background. All this can be time well spent!

Check out the Astronomy Major brochure.