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Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
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Course Descriptions

Department of Astronomy

Astronomy Building
530 McCormick Road
University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400325
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4325
(434) 924-7494

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 The University is part of the Large Binocular Telescope Consortium, and through the Steward Observatory has guaranteed access to some of the largest telescopes in the world. 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 provides excellent computing and image processing facilities based on a local network of Sun UNIX workstations, a Beowulf cluster, 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, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 400325, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4325;; or

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 535 - (3) (O)
Introduction to Radio Astronomy Instrumentation
Prerequisite: ASTR534 or Instructor permission.
An introduction to the instrumentation of radio astronomy. Discussion includes fundamentals of measuring radio signals, noise theory, basic radiometry, antennas, low noise electronics, coherent receivers, signal processing for continuum and spectral line studies, and arrays. Lecture material is supplemented by illustrative labs.

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 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 551 - (3) (O)
Galactic Structure and Stellar Populations
Prerequisite: Instructor permission.
Explores the structure and evolution of star clusters and galaxies, with emphasis on the kinematics, chemistry, ages, and spectral energy distributions of stellar populations. The course introduces fundamental tools of Galactic astronomy, including methods for assessing the size, shape, age, and dynamics of the Milky Way and other stellar systems, galaxy formation, interstellar gas and dust, dark matter, and the distance scale.

ASTR 553 - (3) (O)
Extragalactic Astronomy
Prerequisite: Physics and Math through PHYS 251, MATH 325 (or equivalent); ASTR 211,212 (or equivalent).
This course provides an overview of extragalactic astronomy. Topics include both qualitative and quantitative discussion of various types of galaxy (ellipticals, spirals, dwarf, starburst); results from theory of stellar dynamics; groups and clusters of galaxies; active galaxies; high-redshift galaxies; galaxy evolution; the intergalactic medium; and dark matter. The course is intended for advanced undergraduate astrophysics majors and first and second year graduate students. Assessment will be based on homework assignments, a midterm and a final examination.

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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