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Astronomy and Astrophysics

[ program ]

All courses, faculty listings, and curricular and degree requirements described herein are subject to change or deletion without notice.


For course descriptions not found in the UC San Diego General Catalog 2023–24, please contact the department for more information.

Lower Division

ASTR 1. Stars and Black Holes (4)

An introduction to the evolution of stars, including their birth and death. Topics include the movements of objects in the night sky, gravity and motion, how light and matter interact, stellar birth, stellar evolution, white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes, and general relativity.

ASTR 2. Galaxies and the Universe (4)

An introduction to galaxies and cosmology. Topics include gravity and motion, atomic structure and light, the Milky Way, galaxy types and distances, dark matter, large scale structure, the expansion of the universe, dark energy, and the early universe.

ASTR 3. Planetary Systems Near and Far (4)

An exploration of planetary systems in the nearby universe. Topics include planet formation, gas giants, ice giants, terrestrial worlds, including super earths and dwarf planets, asteroids and comets, moons, and planet habitability. The solar system will be discussed in the context of our knowledge of other planetary systems.

ASTR 4. Life in the Universe (4)

An exploration of life inside and outside of the solar system. Topics include the definition of life, the origination and development of life on earth, evolution and genetics, life in extreme environments, how to identify life on other worlds, the basics of deep space exploration, planet habitability, searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, and the latest research in astrobiology.

ASTR 10. Astronomy and Civilization (4)

Throughout history the mysteries of the night sky have driven humans to pursue a deeper understanding of how the universe works. This course will examine various ways in which astronomical ideas influenced the development of science and civilization from pre-history to the present day. Topics will include archeoastronomy, the development of timekeeping, celestial navigation, the role of astronomy in cultures throughout the world, including indigenous cultures, and the development of scientific theories of the universe.

ASTR 15. Astronomy in Science Fiction (4)

Survey of current topics in astrophysics from the perspective of astronomy in science fiction. The course will consist of readings in selected science fiction novels, watching relevant films, companion readings in an introductory astronomy text, and critical analysis and discussion.

ASTR 18. Additional Topics in Classical Physics (4)

This course explores topics in classical physics with the intent of preparing students from the Physics 2 sequence for upper-division astronomy and astrophysics major courses. Topics include energy methods, rotational motion, coupled oscillators, waves in continua, basic fluids, hydrostatics, Maxwell’s equations, electromagnetic waves and radiation, optics, thermodynamics, and acoustics. Prerequisites: PHYS 2A or PHYS 2AR and PHYS 2B and PHYS 2C and PHYS 2D.

ASTR 20A. Introduction to Astrophysics I (4)

First course in a two-quarter sequence of an introduction to astrophysics. This course covers the formation and evolution of stars and their planetary systems. Topics include telescopes, measuring distances to and masses of stars, thermal radiation and stellar spectra, energy generation in stars, stellar evolution, variable stars, orbital dynamics, the solar system, planetary atmospheres, and exoplanets. Prerequisites: MATH 20A-B-C, PHYS 2A/2AR-B or 4A-B.

ASTR 20B. Introduction to Astrophysics II (4)

Second course in a two-quarter sequence of an introduction to astrophysics. This course covers galaxies and cosmology. Topics include the Milky Way galaxy, star formation and the interstellar medium, galaxies, galaxy evolution, black holes, quasars, dark matter, the expansion of the universe, large-scale structure, cosmology, the early universe, and the big bang. Prerequisites: ASTR 20A.

Upper Division

ASTR 101. Astrophysical Dynamics (4)

Classical dynamics with an emphasis on astrophysical applications. Topics include: extremization, Lagrangian mechanics, symmetry and conservation, two-body problem, Kepler’s laws, stellar dynamics: epicycles, Lindblad resonance, virial theorem and applications, coupled oscillators, modes, waves in continua, acoustic waves, and Jeans instability. Prerequisites: PHYS 2A or PHYS 2AR or PHYS 4A and PHYS 2B or PHYS 4B and PHYS 2C or PHYS 4C and PHYS 2D or PHYS 4D and PHYS 2D or PHYS 4E and MATH 18 or MATH 31AH and MATH 20E.

ASTR 102. Electrodynamics and Optics for Astrophysicists (4)

Electrodynamics and optics with an emphasis on astrophysical applications. Topics include Maxwell’s equations in vacuum and media, applications; electromagnetic waves, Poynting theorem, waves in media; waveguides, resonators, solution of PDEs by separation; Fermat’s principle, geometrical optics, lenses with introduction to gravitational lensing; physical optics, diffraction (Fresnel and Fraunhofer), and interference. Prerequisites: ASTR 101.

ASTR 103. Dynamics of Radiation and Fluids (4)

Electromagnetic radiation and topics in fluid dynamics with an emphasis on astrophysical applications. Topics include special relativity, radiation: multipole expansion, Lienard-Wiechert formulation, radiation from relativistic charges; electromagnetic scattering, topics in radiation processes, introductory fluids, Euler and Navier-Stokes equations, potential flow and induced mass, vorticity, convection and Schwarzchild criterion, and turbulence. Prerequisites: ASTR 102.

ASTR 120. Stellar Astrophysics (4)

In-depth exploration of stellar astrophysics. Radiation and energy transport in interiors and atmospheres of stars. Equations of stellar structure. Basics of stellar modeling. Star formation, stellar evolution as a function of stellar mass, initial mass functions, stellar clusters. Properties of variable stars, late-stage stellar evolutionary processes. Nucleosynthesis, demographics of stellar remnants. Prerequisites: PHYS 2A/2AR-B-C-D or 4A-B-C-D-E.

ASTR 123. Galaxies (4)

An in-depth exploration of the structure and properties of galaxies in the universe. Topics covered include the Milky Way, the interstellar medium, properties of spiral and elliptical galaxies, rotation curves, starburst galaxies, galaxy formation and evolution, large-scale structure, and active galaxies and quasars. Prerequisites: PHYS 2A/2AR-B-C-D or 4A-B-C-D-E.

ASTR 124. Exoplanets (4)

Broad exploration of topics related to (exo)planetary systems. Topics will include planet detection techniques, planet demographics, planet formation, dynamical interactions and evolution of planet-disk and planet-planet systems, terrestrial planet geology, atmospheres and atmospheric processes, and planetary spectroscopy. Prerequisites: PHYS 2A/2AR-B-C-D or 4A-B-C-D-E.

ASTR 150. Observational Optical Research Lab (5)

Laboratory course to provide students with hands-on experience working with astronomical data taken at optical wavelengths of light. Topics include detection of optical light, photon counting statistics, detectors and noise, probability distributions, spectroscopy, optical telescopes, photometry, astrometry, display of scientific data, and scientific writing. A significant portion of the class includes computer programming for data analysis. Prerequisites: PHYS 2A or PHYS 2AR or PHYS 4A and PHYS 2B or PHYS 4B and PHYS 2C or PHYS 4C and PHYS 2D or PHYS 4D and PHYS 2D or PHYS 4E and BILD 62 or COGS 18 or CSE 11 or CSE 6R or CSE 8A or CSE 8B or DSC 10 or PHYS 41.