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Cornell University    
  Sep 25, 2017
Courses of Study 2017-2018


In the College of Arts and Sciences .

Course Offerings  

Cornell’s Astronomy faculty, research staff, graduate, and undergraduate students are active in diverse areas of modern astronomy ranging from theoretical astrophysics and general relativity to the study of exoplanets, pulsars, star formation, galaxy formation and evolution, cosmology, and the exploration of the solar system. Cornell is leading an international consortium to build a large field of view submillimeter telescope, CCAT-p, in the high Atacama desert in Chile. Several members of the department faculty are also principal investigators on major NASA space and planetary exploration missions.

The department offers a number of courses to satisfy a general interest in astronomy. These courses have few or no prerequisites and are not intended for the training of professional astronomers. Among the introductory courses, several choices are available, depending on background and on the requirements to be fulfilled. The 1000-level courses are designed primarily for nonscience majors. The alternative introductory sequence ASTRO 2211 -ASTRO 2212  is geared toward sophomore physical science and engineering majors and requires co-registration in beginning calculus. ASTRO 2201  and ASTRO 2202  are intended for students with an interest in astronomy but no scientific background; they are topical rather than survey-oriented. ASTRO 3301 , ASTRO 3302  and ASTRO 3303  are designed for astronomy majors with the General Astronomy Concentration and for physical science and engineering majors as an introduction to core topics in astrophysics. Other courses at the 2000- and 3000-levels may appeal to students of various backgrounds and interests, as indicated in the individual course descriptions.

Courses numbered above 4000 are intended for students who have had two to three years of college physics and at least two years of college mathematics. ASTRO 4940 - Independent Study in Astronomy  permits students to engage in individual research projects under the guidance of a faculty member.

Interested students are encouraged to become members of the undergraduate Cornell Astronomy Club. The club has access to the Fuertes Observatory on campus and conducts regular observing and astrophotography sessions. All students are invited to visit the Space Sciences Building, see the exhibits on display there, and consult faculty members about career plans or choice of courses.



T. L. Herter, chair (616 Space Sciences Bldg., (607) 254-4556); G. J. Stacey, director of undergraduate studies (212 Space Sciences Bldg., (607) 255-5900); R. E. Bean, J. A. Burns, D. F. Chernoff, J. M. Cordes, E. E. Flanagan, P. J. Gierasch, A. G. Hayes, M. P. Haynes, L. Kaltenegger, D. Lai, J. P. Lloyd, R. V. E. Lovelace, J. I. Lunine, P. D. Nicholson, D. A. Riechers, S. W. Squyres, Y. Terzian, S. A. Teukolsky, I. M. Wasserman. Emeritus: D. B. Campbell, R. Giovanelli, P. F. Goldsmith, M. O. Harwit, J.F. Veverka

The Major:

The Astronomy Major consists of six core courses in Physics and Mathematics and a laboratory course in Astronomy that are required for every concentration (27-28 credits total), plus additional courses specifically called out to meet the needs of each individual concentration. To enter the major, a student must have completed at least two Physics, and two Mathematics core courses as listed below with a GPA of at least 3.0. To count towards the major, the minimum grade for any required course is C-. The major is normally entered into after consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) ( in astronomy during the student’s fourth semester of work at Cornell. The DUS and student together will also select a suitable faculty advisor in the Field of Astronomy at this time.

The requirements described below apply to students entering the major or minor in fall 2014 or later. Students who entered the major or minor before fall 2014 may choose between fulfilling the new requirements and fulfilling the pre-2014 requirements. For the pre-2014 requirements, please consult earlier versions of the Courses of Study or contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Prof. Gordon Stacey (

Core Requirements:

One laboratory course in astronomy chosen from:

Major Concentrations:

In addition to these core requirements, each Astronomy Major must complete a Concentration in either Astrophysics or General Astronomy, which is an additional set of 9-10 courses concentrated in areas relevant to their future career goals.

Astrophysics Concentration:

The Astrophysics Concentration is designed for those who intend to go on to graduate school in the physical sciences such as Astronomy, Physics, or Engineering. To enter the Astrophysics Concentration, the student must normally have a GPA better than 3.2 in the Astronomy Major Core Courses. The Astrophysics Concentration requires the following additional 10 courses (39 credit hours total):


Research Experience:

It is highly recommended that the a student with an Astrophysics Concentration have at least as semester or summer research experience under the guidance of a faculty in the Astronomy Field.

Course/Credit Count:

The requirements for the Astronomy Major with an Astrophysics Concentration are therefore 16 courses totaling 66-67 credit hours.

General Astronomy Concentration:

The General Astronomy Concentration is designed for students who do not plan on a research career in astronomy, but plan careers in related fields such as education, or public outreach. The flexibility offered by the General Astronomy Concentration make it suitable to be elected as second major by broad group of students. The General Astronomy Concentration requires five additional courses in Astronomy (17-18 credits total), plus an additional 15 credits in an External Concentration (four to five courses) as explicated below.

Fifteen credit hours in complementary area:

Complementary Areas can be selected from a wide variety of disciplines, but the courses selected must be cohesive, and complement the core requirements. For example, those interested in astrobiology might chose a Complementary Area of biological sciences, those interested in planetary science might pick Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, those interested in teaching at the high-school level might pick education, and those interested in public policy might pick Government, Economics, or Science & Technology Studies. It is up to the student, in consultation with their faculty advisor to design the Complementary Area. At least eight of the Complementary Area credits must be in courses numbered above 3000. Complementary Areas are normally mapped out by the end of the sophomore year.


Course/Credit Count:

The requirements for the Astronomy Major with a General Astronomy Concentration are therefore 16-17 courses (12 of which are in Astronomy, Physics, and Mathematics) totaling 59-61 credit hours (44-46 of which are in Astronomy, Physics, and Mathematics).

Additional Information:

With permission of the major advisor, students interested in planetary studies may substitute appropriate advanced courses or may pursue an independent major under the program in the Science of Earth Systems. Majors are encouraged to supplement the above courses with any astronomy, physics, or other appropriate courses at or above the 3000-level. Advanced seniors can enroll in astronomy graduate courses with the permission of the instructor. Students are also encouraged to work with faculty members on independent study projects under the course ASTRO 4940 - Independent Study in Astronomy  or to apply to a variety of programs at Cornell, Arecibo, and elsewhere that offer undergraduates summer employment as research assistants. Nearly all undergraduate majors and concentrators become involved in research projects in the junior and senior years.

Students whose interest in astronomy is sparked somewhat late in their undergraduate career are encouraged to discuss possible paths with the director of undergraduate studies in Astronomy.


A student may be granted honors in Astronomy upon the recommendation of the Astronomy Advisors Committee of the Astronomy faculty. Typical requirements for graduating with honors are a minimum GPA of 3.5 over the past four semesters and grades of A– or better in:

(Astrophysics Concentration) ASTRO 4410 , ASTRO 4431 , and ASTRO 4432  or ASTRO 4433 


(General Astronomy Concentration) ASTRO 4410 ASTRO 3301 ASTRO 3302 , ASTRO 3303 

Double majors:

It is expected that some majors, especially those with General Astronomy Concentrations will have double majors, either totally distinct from Astronomy, or ones that include courses from their Complementary Area. In these cases, their Complementary Area credits can be counted for both majors as allowed by the second major. For example, students may double major in Astronomy and Mathematics with the Astronomy Core MATH courses counted towards both majors. However, it is not allowed to double major in Astronomy with an Astrophysics Concentration, and Physics due to extensive overlap of requirements.


Non-Astronomy majors from all Cornell colleges are eligible to earn an Astronomy Minor. The Astronomy Minor is designed to demonstrate a level of interest and competence in astronomy and data science that is appropriate for pursuit of a wide variety of careers. To apply for an Astronomy Minor make an appointment to visit the Director of Undergraduate studies (

The Astronomy Minor requires completion of a total of 13 credit hours in Astronomy at or above the 2000 level.  At least 6 of these credits must be at or above the 3000 level, and at least 6 of these credits must be in course work. Independent study (ASTRO 4940 ) can qualify for the minor with approval by the Astronomy DUS.

Grades of B- or better in 2000 level courses, and C- or better in courses at the 3000 level are required.  All 3000 level courses or above count towards the requirements. The 2000 level courses that count towards the requirements include:

Distribution Requirement:

All courses in astronomy, except ASTRO 1700  may be used to fulfill the science distribution requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences.