University of Virginia
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Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
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Course Descriptions

Department of Astronomy

Degree Requirements

Graduate Study The department offers a broad program emphasizing theoretical and observational astrophysics, astrometry, and radio astronomy. Courses in physics and mathematics are also required to complement a student's studies. Most students take three or four courses per semester during the first two years and perhaps one in the third year.

Students should become involved in research as early as possible and are expected to work closely with members of the faculty on research topics in an apprenticeship-like arrangement. This allows the student to gain competence and independence in a relatively short period of time. Most student research projects produce published papers. First- and second-year students ordinarily take three credits of research each semester under ASTR 995.

For the M.S. degree, students are required to successfully complete 24 graduate course credits, including six credits of ASTR 995 (Directed Research); pass the qualifying examination for the M.S. degree, given in January of the first year; and submit a written description their research. This last requirement is waived if the student's research is accepted for publication by a referred journal and the student is a principal author. Normally, the M.S. degree is awarded at the end of the first year of studies.

The Doctor of Philosophy degree requires successful completion of 72 graduate credits, at least 54 of which should be in courses other than non-topical research. The qualifying examination for the Ph.D. is given in January of the second year. The student's entire record, including the qualifying examinations, course work, and indications of research potential, is considered by the graduate faculty when recommendations for Ph.D. degree candidacy are made in February of the second year. There is no language requirement for either the M.S. or Ph.D. degree. Ph.D. students are expected to complete their dissertations by the end of their sixth year, and financial aid is generally not continued beyond the sixth year.

Facilities Local observing facilities include a 100-cm Schmidt-Cassegrain reflecting telescope and a conventional 75-cm reflector at Fan Mountain, 25 km to the southwest of Charlottesville. These are equipped for CCD imagery, photometry, spectroscopy, and direct photography. On the Grounds is the Leander McCormick Observatory 66-cm refractor, which began operations in 1885, and its collection of 140,000 astrometric photographic plates, which represents a major astronomical resource. A computer-controlled PDS microdensitometer for analysis of photographic plates is available. The department also operates a cooperative observing program at Mt. Stromlo Observatory in Canberra, Australia.

The department provides excellent computing and image processing facilities based on a local network of Sun UNIX workstations and the University's IBM UNIX workstations. Supercomputer access at national laboratories is readily available via faculty sponsorship.

The offices of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory are located on the University Grounds, and it is possible for students to be jointly supervised by University and NRAO scientific staff members. Faculty and students often collaborate with astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute, NASA-Goddard, the Naval Observatory, and other conveniently accessible research centers in the Washington-Baltimore area.

For further information, please write Astronomy Graduate Admissions, P.O. Box 3818, University Station, Charlottesville, VA 22903-0818;; or

530 McCormick Road
P.O. Box 400325
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4325
(434) 924-7494

Course Descriptions


ASTR 511 - (3) (O)
Astronomical Techniques

Prerequisite: ASTR 211-212, PHYS 342, 343 or instructor permission.
Surveys modern techniques of radiation measurement, data analysis, and image processing, and their application to astrophysical problems, especially the physical properties of stars and galaxies. Includes relevant laboratory experiments and observations with the department's telescopes are included. Students are expected to develop a familiarity with FORTRAN programming and other basic computer skills if they do not already possess them.

ASTR 534 - (3) (E)
Introductory Radio Astronomy

Prerequisite: MATH 225 and PHYS 210.
Studies the fundamentals of measuring power and power spectra, antennas, interferometers, and radiometers. Topics include thermal radiation, synchrotron radiation, and line frequency radiation; and radio emission from the planets, sun, flare stars, pulsars, supernovae, interstellar gas, galaxies, and quasi-stellar sources.

ASTR 539, 540 - (3) (IR)
Topical Seminar

Prerequisite: Instructor permission.
Studies various current topics that are listed in the Course Offering Directory.

ASTR 542 - (3) (E)
Interstellar Medium

Prerequisite: Instructor permission.
Studies the physics of the interstellar gas and grains, the distribution and dynamics of gas, and cosmic radiation and interstellar magnetic fields.

ASTR 543, 544 - (3) (O)
Stellar Astrophysics

Prerequisite: Instructor permission.
Studies observed properties and physics of stars including radiative transfer; stellar thermodynamics; convection; formation of spectra in atmospheres; equations of stellar structure; nuclear reactions; stellar evolution; and nucleosynthesis. Includes applicable numerical techniques.

ASTR 545 - (3) (E)
High Energy Astrophysics

Prerequisite: Instructor permission.
Introduces the physics of basic radiation mechanisms and particle acceleration processes that are important in high energy phenomena and space science. Discusses applications to pulsars, active galactic nuclei, radio galaxies, quasars, and supernovae.

ASTR 546 - (3) (SI)
Binary Stars

Prerequisite: Instructor permission.
Studies 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 548 - (3) (O)
Evolution of the Universe

Prerequisite: Instructor permission.
Studies the origin and evolution of structure in the universe. Topics include the formation and evolution of galaxies, and tests of the theory based on observations of large-scale structure and the properties of galaxies as a function of look-back time.

ASTR 803 - (3) (SI)
Stellar and Galactic Dynamics

Prerequisite: Knowledge of the methods of advanced calculus and classical mechanics.
Studies the types and composition of galaxies; mass distributions and kinematics; general dynamics of stellar systems; Liouville and Boltzmann equations, isolating integrals; encounters, relaxation times; epicyclic stellar orbits; dynamics of interstellar material; observations, hydromagnetic equations; gravitational stability of a disk-shaped galaxy; and spiral structure. Cross-listed as APMA 647.

ASTR 836 - (1) (S)
Current Astronomical Topics

UVa staff and guest speakers discuss current research problems.

ASTR 849, 850 - (3) (SI)
Advanced Seminar

Subjects of current interest, such as star formation, galaxy evolution, cosmology, etc., are discussed. The topic to be covered appears in the Course Offering Directory each semester.

ASTR 897 - (3-12) (S)
Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Research

For master's research, taken before a thesis director has been selected.

ASTR 898 - (3-12) (S)
Non-Topical Research

For master's thesis, taken under the supervision of a thesis director.

ASTR 995 - (3-12) (S)
Supervised Research

Under supervision, the student undertakes or assists with a current research problem. This course may be repeated for credit.

ASTR 997 - (3-12) (S)
Non-Topical Research, Preparation for Doctoral Research

For doctoral research, taken before a dissertation director has been selected.

ASTR 999 - (3-12) (S)
Non-Topical Research

For doctoral dissertation, taken under the supervision of a dissertation director.

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