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OSU College of Arts and Sciences Department of Astronomy

Which astronomy course should you take?

We know this can be a confusing problem, so we will try to explain the intended audience for our three introductory sequences and for our two upper-division astrophysics courses. This is the "plain English" description of these courses: see the OSU "Course Offerings Bulletin" for definitive language, and consult your adviser if you have any questions about how these courses fit into your curriculum.

Introductory Non-Majors Courses

The Astronomy Department offers 5 introductory-level courses for non-majors that satisfy the GEC physical sciences requirement: The first two (Astronomy 161 & 162) are a 2-quarter sequence, though many students also take just Astronomy 161 as a non-sequence GEC physical sciences course. Astronomy 141-143 are individual courses (but not a sequence) that satisify the single-quarter GEC physical sciences course requirment.

Astronomy 161-162

This is our 2-quarter introductory astronomy sequence, usually taken by students to meet the science component of the General Education Curriculum (GEC) or as a free elective. The mathematics used in this course is minimal, nothing more complicated than simple algebra and trigonometry. There is no formal laboratory, but there are opportunities to enjoy planetarium demonstrations and to look through telescopes (for which some instructors offer class credit). Examinations are usually multiple choice, although some instructors use other test formats (such as short written answers to questions). The course format is 5 hours of lecture per week. Solar-system astronomy and basic astronomical concepts (light and its interaction with matter, gravity and orbits) are covered in Astronomy 161; stars, galaxies, and the structure and evolution of the Universe are covered in Astronomy 162. Astronomy 161 can be taken alone, it is a prerequisite for Astronomy 162. Each year we also offer Honors Sections of this sequence during the Autumn and Winter quarters. The honors sections are smaller (30 students or fewer) and highly interactive, and are directed primarily towards students who are not physical-science majors.

Astronomy 141-143

These are single-quarter courses devoted to particular current topics in modern Astronomy:
Ast141: Life in the Universe
Ast142: Black Holes
Ast143: History of the Universe
All are 5-hour courses that are taught at the same basic level as Astronomy 161 and 162 and may be taken in any order; they are not a sequence. They have similar prerequisites to Astronomy 161, and are intended for those students who only need 1 quarter of a Physical Sciences GEC and are interested in taking something other than our Astronomy 161/162 sequence. They may also be taken as electives.

Introductory Astronomy Majors Courses

The introductory courses for Astronomy Majors and Minors are as follows:

Astronomy 291-292: Introductory Astrophysics Sequence

This is a general survey of astrophysics, but unlike the 100-level sequences, this course is intended primarily for physical sciences majors (including Astronomy majors and minors, for whom these are required courses); it is not a GEC course. These courses assume that students have already had (and passed) a year of college-level calculus (through Math 153 or equivalent) and at least one year of classical physics, either completion of or concurrent registration in Physics 133 or equivalent.

Astronomy 294: Introductory Seminar

This is a 1-credit course taught during Autumn and Winter quarters. It consists of a single session once per week with each of the Astronomy faculty to introduce those considering becoming Astronomy Majors or Minors with current research topics in the department. Normally taken by Freshman or Sophomores, but open to anyone interested in changing majors to Astronomy.

Astronomy 350: Methods of Observational Astronomy & Data Analysis

Unlike the 100- and 200-level courses listed above, this is a course designed primarily for Astronomy majors and minors, or for very technically inclined Bachelors of Science students. Astronomy 350 concentrates on the statistical treatment of experimental data as applied to astronomical problems of the detection of photons. Although specific to observational astronomy, the statistical methods developed in this course are generally applicable to any of the physical sciences or engineering. Prerequisites include Astronomy 292 (or Astronomy 162 in very exceptional cases), Math 153, and Physics 133. Interested students who are not Astronomy majors/minors and/or who have not taken the Astronomy 291/292 sequence must speak with the instructor before enrolling in this course.

Upper Division (600-Level) Courses

In addition to the introductory sequences, there are two 600-level Astronomy courses that do not have Astronomy prerequisites. These are no-nonsense astrophysics courses that are intended primarily for Astronomy majors/minors, as well as for Physics majors/minors or graduate students in Physics (note that these courses are cross-listed in Physics). Astronomy majors are required to take at least one of these courses, but may (and are encouraged to) take the other as a free elective. These courses are taught in Winter Quarter in alternate years. Prerequisites for both courses are differential equations (Math 255 or 415 or equivalent) and basic quantum physics (Physics 253 or equivalent); completion of or concurrent registration in statistical physics (Physics 621 or equivalent) is also recommended, but not required.

Astronomy 681/Physics 681:
Principles of Stellar Evolution & Nucleosynthesis.

This course provides an in-depth exploration of the structure and evolution of stars, including nucleosynthesis in stellar interiors and in supernova explosions. The equations of stellar structure are derived from first physical principles, and the case of degenerate objects is also treated. Topics covered in detail include radiation transport mechanisms, nuclear reactions, and stellar evolution. This course is offered in even-numbered years.

Astronomy 682/Physics 682:
Introduction to Cosmology.

This course provides a comprehensive introduction to standard Big-Bang cosmology, including an introduction to the General Theory of Relativity. Solutions to Einstein's equations are derived. The structure and evolution of the Universe is studied through the Friedmann equations, including the possible role of the cosmological constant. The early thermal history of the Universe, including primordial particle physics, nucleosynthesis, and the cosmic background radiation, are explored in detail. The very early Universe, including inflation and quantum cosmology and the origin of density fluctuations, is discussed and observational tests of cosmological models are described. This course is offered in odd-numbered years.