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Department Overview

C319 Physics-Astronomy Building

Modern research in astronomy and astrophysics encompasses a large number of disciplines and specialties. Research areas include planetary systems and astrobiology, stellar structure and evolution, interstellar matter, binaries and compact objects, galactic structure and dynamics, galaxies and quasars, and large scale structure and cosmology.

Undergraduate Program

C319 Physics-Astronomy, Box 351580
(206) 543-2888

The Department of Astronomy offers the following undergraduate program:

  • The Bachelor of Science degree with a major in astronomy

Bachelor of Science

Suggested First-Year Courses: MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126, MATH 308, MATH 324; PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123. At community colleges it is better to take courses in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and computer science rather than the usual introductory astronomy courses.

Department Admission Requirements

PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123 (or full transfer equivalent) with a 2.00 cumulative GPA for the three courses.

Major Requirements

89 credits as follows:

  1. ASTR 300, ASTR 321, ASTR 322, ASTR 323
  2. 9 graded credits of astronomy 400-level courses (with at least 3 credits in ASTR 480 or ASTR 499). Data analysis (ASTR 480) and senior-year research (ASTR 499) are highly recommended, especially for students planning graduate work.
  3. PHYS 121, PHYS 122, PHYS 123; PHYS 224, PHYS 225, PHYS 226, PHYS 227, PHYS 228; PHYS 321, PHYS 322, PHYS 334
  4. MATH 124, MATH 125, MATH 126, and 6 credits from MATH 307, MATH 308, MATH 309, MATH 324, MATH 326, AMATH 352, OR AMATH 353
  5. An additional 6 physics credits in courses at the 300 level or above in physics (chosen from PHYS 311, PHYS 323, PHYS 324, PHYS 325, PHYS 328, PHYS 331, PHYS 335, PHYS 421, PHYS 422, PHYS 423, PHYS 424, PHYS 431, PHYS 432, PHYS 433, PHYS 434) or engineering as approved by adviser.
  6. No grade below 2.0 is acceptable in courses fulfilling the above requirements.
  7. Undergraduates interested in advanced work in astronomy are advised to take a double major in astronomy and physics. Undergraduates interested in immediate employment at an observatory or other scientific institution should include computing and electronics courses as part of their program. As a capstone sequence of hands-on research and dissemination of results, the following is highly recommended: ASTR 480, followed by either ASTR 481 or ASTR 499 or a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) project, and ending with ASTR 482.

Student Outcomes and Opportunities

  • Learning Objectives and Expected Outcomes: With this degree, students obtain knowledge of the components of the universe, an understanding of the physics of its structure, and the technical skills to obtain and analyze data from telescopes. Graduates go on to graduate school or work at observatories or in industrial applications (lasers, x-ray, optical imaging) or in teaching applications. Students are able to do the following:
    • Understand the principal findings, common application, and current problems within astronomy as a scientific discipline
    • Be versed in the computational methods and software resources utilized by professional astronomers
    • Have experience operating modern astronomical instrumentation and analyzing a range of experimental data
    • Assess, communicate, and reflect their understanding of astronomy and the results of astrophysical experiments in both oral and written formats
    • Learn in a diverse environment with a variety of individuals, thoughts, and ideas
  • Instructional and Research Facilities: The department operates a 30-inch telescope with modern instrumentation, primarily for students, at the Manastash Ridge Observatory near Ellensburg. The department is also part of a consortium of universities that operate a 3.5-meter optical/infrared telescope located on Sacramento Peak, New Mexico and that are partners in the innovative Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the future Large Synoptic Survey Telescope. Students also have access to a variety of national facilities, such as the Kitt Peak and Cerro Tololo observatories and the Very Large Array. A variety of research is conducted with satellite instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Data analysis and theoretical research are conducted on the department's cluster of computers, and on a variety of UW and national supercomputer facilities. Undergraduate majors often assist faculty members in acquisition, reduction, and interpretation of data.
  • Honors Options Available: With College Honors (Completion of Honors Core Curriculum and Departmental Honors). With Honors (Completion of Departmental Honors requirements in the major). See adviser for requirements.
  • Research, Internships, and Service Learning: Washington State Space Grant, NSF research experiences for undergraduates. NASA internships, outreach opportunities
  • Department Scholarships: Baer Prize. See adviser for details.
  • Student Organizations/Associations: The Society of Physics Students. Undergraduate Astronomy Institute/Palen Radio Astronomy Group. League of Astronomers. See adviser for details.

Of Special Note: The first required astronomy course, ASTR 321, must be preceded by at least one year of college physics and mathematics. Any lower-division astronomy courses count as electives and not as part of the major. To finish in four years, the student must have completed PHYS 123 before winter quarter of the sophomore year. Students are encouraged to take the capstone sequence: spring: ASTR 480; summer: ASTR 481 or ASTR 499 or an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program; autumn: ASTR 482.

Graduate Program

Graduate Program Coordinator
C319 Physics-Astronomy, Box 351580
(206) 543-2888

Graduate courses in solar system, stellar, galactic, and extragalactic astrophysics are offered. The heart of the program, collaboration of students and faculty members in research at the frontiers of astronomy, involves developing techniques and insight necessary for successful research and, subsequently, defining a thesis topic. Thesis research may use theoretical, computational, or observational material (obtained through facilities of the UW or one of the national ground- or space-based observatories, or a combination). Active research programs in observations and theory are carried out in a variety of areas, including astrobiology and extrasolar planets, interplanetary dust and comets, stellar atmospheres and interiors, stellar evolution and populations, interacting binary stars and compact objects, interstellar matter and nebulae, computational astrophysics and data mining, galaxies and quasars, large scale structure and cosmology, and dark matter and energy.

Doctor of Philosophy

Admission Requirements

Most entering students have a bachelor's degree in physics. Entering students are not required to have a background in astronomy, although some knowledge of general astronomy is expected of those to whom a teaching assistantship is offered. Interested undergraduates are urged to concentrate on preparation in physics and mathematics before entering.

Visit for details on admission requirements. Most application material is submitted through the Graduate School online application.

Degree Requirements

90 credits minimum, to include the following:

Typically PhD students take formal courses during their first two years at the UW while sampling research projects with various faculty. Areas covered include planetary astronomy, stellar interiors and atmospheres, interstellar medium, galaxies, dynamics, cosmology, physical processes, observational astronomy, and a variety of special topics. Early on, students may embark on faculty-supervised research programs.

Core Curriculum: Typical core courses include ASTR 507, ASTR 519, ASTR 521, ASTR 531, ASTR 557, ASTR 561 in one year, and ASTR 508, ASTR 509, ASTR 511, ASTR 512, ASTR 513, ASTR 541 in the alternate year, along with ASTR 500 and ASTR 581 (latter two often offered annually). In addition, each quarter students take a third course emphasizing additional physical or mathematical science study or astronomical research.

Examinations: (1) Qualifying written examination covering general knowledge, taken and passed by the end of the third year. (2) General examination, an oral examination on a topic related to a student's proposed PhD research topic.

Dissertation: Students begin PhD research after passing the general examination, typically in the third or fourth year at UW. Most students complete the PhD thesis and defense two to three years later.

A master of science degree is offered but the department is not currently accepting students for a master's-only program. Students typically earn the master's degree as part of the PhD program. The departmental requirements for a master's degree are either (1) adequate performance on the qualifying exam or (2) an approved and supervised master's thesis.


Normally all students making satisfactory academic progress receive financial support. More than three-quarters of the department's graduate students hold fellowships or research assistantships. Teaching assistantships are available, primarily in elementary astronomy courses.