Astronomy

Darby Dyar, Chair

Sarah Byrne, Academic Department Coordinator


206 Kendade Hall
413-538-2238
https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/astronomy

Overview and Contact Information

Modern astronomy is concerned with understanding the nature of the universe and the various structures—galaxies, stars, planets, atoms—within it. We are interested not only in describing these things, but in understanding how they are formed and how they change, and, ultimately, in reconstructing the history of the universe.

This understanding is always based upon the same set of theories and practices—physics, chemistry, biology, materials science, geology, mathematics, computer science—that we use to understand the earth and its immediate surroundings. Thus, all students are strongly encouraged to base their study of the universe upon a firm grounding in one of these disciplines.

All 100-level courses are taught by Mount Holyoke faculty and staff. Courses at the 200 level and above are staffed collectively by faculty in the Five College Department (as listed above); many of them will be offered off-campus. Students are urged to consult the department to assist in planning a program of study that takes advantage of the rich variety of course opportunities. Through advising, the exact program is always tailored to the student’s particular strengths, interests, and plans.

Astronomical facilities at all five institutions are available for student use. The Williston Observatory at Mount Holyoke includes a historic Clark 8” telescope. The McConnell Rooftop Observatory at Smith College includes two computer-controlled Schmidt Cassegrain telescopes, and the Amherst Observatory has a Clark 18” refractor.

Mount Holyoke Faculty

This area of study is administered by the Astronomy department and is a collaborative program through the Five College Department of Astronomy (FCAD):

Darby Dyar, Kennedy-Schelkunoff Professor of Astronomy

Jason Young, Visiting Lecturer in Astronomy

Thomas Burbine, Director of the Observatory

Caleb Fassett, Research Associate

Five College Faculty

Calzetti, Edwards (Five College chair), Erickson, Giavalisco, Greenstein, Gutermuth, Hameed, Hanner, Heyer, Katz, Lowenthal, Mo, Narayanan, Offner, Pope, Schloerb, Schneider, Snell, Tripp, Wang, Weinberg, Wilson, Yun

Requirements for the Major

The astronomy major is designed to provide a good foundation in modern science with a focus on astronomy. Taken alone, it is suited for students who wish to apply scientific training in a broad general context. If coupled with additional course work in related fields, the astronomy major or minor provides the foundation to pursue a career as a professional astronomer or planetary scientist. Thus, advanced courses in geology, mathematics, physics, biology, and/or chemistry, as well as a facility in computer programming, are strongly encouraged.

Students should note that completion of this major will likely require them to travel to other institutions within the Five Colleges.

A minimum of 32 credits:

MATH-101, MATH-102, and PHYS-110 must be completed as prerequisites for the courses in this major.
Select one of the following:4
Stars and Galaxies
Stars and Galaxies with Lab
PHYS-201Electromagnetism 4
Two astronomy courses at the 200 level (8 credits) from the offerings of the Five College Astronomy department8
One astronomy course at the 300 level (4 credits) from the offerings of the Five College Astronomy department4
Two additional courses at the 300 level, in astronomy or a related field such as mathematics, physics, geology, biology, computer science, or the history or philosophy of science8
One additional course at any level in astronomy or a related field such as mathematics, physics, geology, biology, computer science, or the history or philosophy of science4
Total Credits32

Additional Specifications

  • Students planning graduate study should generally regard this as a minimum program and include additional 300-level work. Advanced course work in physics and mathematics is especially encouraged for students wishing to pursue graduate studies in astronomy.

Requirements for the Minor

The goal of an astronomy minor is to provide a practical introduction to modern astronomy. If combined with a major in another science or mathematics-related field, such as geology, chemistry, or computer science, it can provide a versatile scientific background that prepares a student for future work as a scientist or technical specialist. Alternatively, the minor may be combined with a major in a nonscientific field, such as history, philosophy, or education, for students who wish to apply their astronomical backgrounds in a broader context that could include history of science, scientific writing or editing, or science education.

A minimum of 16 credits:

One 300-level astronomy, physics, or geology course4
Three additional 200-level or 300-level courses in astronomy12
Total Credits16

Five College Course Offerings

Astronomy students will probably take multiple courses off-campus as part of the integrated curriculum of the Five College Astronomy Department.  In addition to the courses listed in the Mount Holyoke course catalogue, the following courses are offered at other institutions.  Students should consult these course listings at the home institution where they are offered.  Enrollment is done through the Five College Interchange.

220 Special Topics in Astronomy
Fall
Intermediate-level classes designed to introduce special topics in astronomy such as comets and asteroids, meteorites, and science and public policy, generally without prerequisites. Special offerings vary from year to year. See listings at individual institutions for more information.

224 Stellar Astronomy
Spring
The basic observational properties of stars will be explored in an experimental format relying on both telescopic observations and computer programming exercises. No previous computer programming experience is required.
S. Edwards (offered at Smith College).
Prereq. Physics 110, Mathematics 102 and one astronomy course; alternates with Astronomy 225.

225 Galaxies and Dark Matter
Spring
The role of gravity in determining the mass of the universe will be explored in an interactive format making extensive use of computer simulations and independent projects.
S. Edwards (offered at Smith College).
Prereq. Physics 110, Mathematics 102 and one astronomy course; alternates with Astronomy 224.

226 Cosmology
Fall
The course introduces cosmological models and the relationship between models and observable parameters. Topics in current astronomy that bear upon cosmological problems will be covered, including background electromagnetic radiation, nucleosynthesis, dating methods, determinations of the mean density of the universe and the Hubble constant, and tests of gravitational theories. We will
discuss questions concerning the foundations of cosmology and its future as a science.
Offered at Amherst College.
Prereq. Mathematics 101 and a physical science course

228 Astrophysics I: Stars and Galaxies
Spring
This course is a calculus-based introduction to the properties, structure, formation, and evolution of stars and galaxies. The laws of gravity, thermal physics, and atomic physics provide a basis for understanding observed properties of stars, interstellar gas, and dust. We apply these concepts to develop an understanding of stellar atmospheres, interiors, and evolution, the interstellar medium, and the Milky Way and other galaxies.
Offered at Hampshire, Smith, the University of Massachusetts, and Mount Holyoke Colleges.
Prereq. Physics 110, Physics 190 or concurrent enrollment, and Math 102

301 Writing about Astronomy
Fall and Spring
The goal of this course is to teach the writing techniques and styles that are appropriate for the types of careers that might be pursued by an astronomy major. The course will be composed of both a set of short writing assignments and longer
assignments, and some of these assignments will be orally presented to the class. All students will critique the talks, and some written assignments will be exchanged between students for peer editing and feedback. Some papers will require analysis of astrophysical data.
Offered at the University of Massachusetts.
Prereq. completion of 200-level or higher astronomy class, an English writing course, and at least the first two semesters of physics.

330 Seminar: Topics in Astrophysics
Fall and Spring
In-class discussions will be used to formulate a set of problems, each designed to illuminate a significant aspect of the topic at hand. The problems will be difficult and broad in scope: their solutions, worked out individually and in class discussions, will constitute the real work of the course. Student will gain experience in both oral and written presentation. Topics vary from year to year.
See listings at individual institutions for more information.

335 Astrophysics II: Stellar Structure
Fall
How do astronomers determine the nature and extent of the universe? Centering around the theme of the ‘‘Cosmic Distance Ladder,’’ we explore how astrophysics has expanded our comprehension to encompass the entire universe. Topics include: the size of the solar system; parallactic and spectroscopic distances of stars; star counts and the structure of our galaxy; Cepheid variables and the distances of galaxies; the Hubble Law and largescale structure in the universe; quasars and the Lyman-Alpha Forest.
Offered at the University of Massachusetts.
Prereq. Astronomy 228 or instructor approval.

337 Observational Techniques in Optical and Infrared Astronomy
Fall
This course is an introduction to the techniques of gathering and analyzing astronomical data, particularly in the optical and infrared. Telescope design and optics will be discussed, along with instrumentation for imaging, photometry, and spectroscopy. Topics will include astronomical detectors, computer graphics and image processing, error analysis and curve fitting, and data analysis and astrophysical interpretation, with an emphasis on globular clusters.
J. Lowenthal (offered at Smith College).
Prereq. at least one 200-level astronomy course.
352 Astrophysics III: Galaxies and the Universe
Spring
Advanced course covering physical processes in the gaseous interstellar medium, including photoionization in HII regions and planetary nebulae, shocks in supernova remnants and stellar jets, and energy balance in molecular clouds. Dynamics of stellar systems, star clusters, and the viral theorem will also be discussed, along with galaxy rotation and the presence of dark matter in the universe, as well as spiral density waves. The course concludes with quasars and active galactic nuclei, synchrotron radiation, accretion disks, and supermassive
black holes.
Offered at the University of Massachusetts.
Prereq. Astronomy 335 or two physics courses at the 200 or 300 level.

Mount Holyoke Course Offerings

ASTR-100 Stars and Galaxies

Fall. Credits: 4

Discover how the forces of nature shape our understanding of the cosmos. Explore the origin, structure, and evolution of the earth, moons and planets, comets and asteroids, the sun and other stars, star clusters, the Milky Way and other galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the universe as a whole.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
The department
Notes: The lecture for this course meets at the same time as the lecture for ASTR-101 but this course does not have a lab.

ASTR-101 Stars and Galaxies with Lab

Fall. Credits: 4

Discover how the forces of nature shape our understanding of the cosmos. Explore the origin, structure, and evolution of the earth, moons and planets, comets and asteroids, the sun and other stars, star clusters, the Milky Way and other galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and the universe as a whole. In lab, learn the constellations and how to use the telescopes. Use them to observe celestial objects, including the moon, the sun, the planets, nebulae, and galaxies. Learn celestial coordinate and timekeeping systems. Find out how telescopes work.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
The department
Coreq: ASTR-101L.
Notes: Designed for non-science majors. The lecture for this course meets at the same time as the lecture for ASTR-100.

ASTR-102 Solar Systems

Spring. Credits: 4

Travel through our solar system using results of the latest spacecraft. Explore the origins of our worlds through the study of planet formation, meteorites, asteroids, and comets. Discover the processes that shape planetary interiors, surfaces, and atmospheres. Compare our solar system to others by learning about newly discovered exoplanets. Trace the conditions that may foster life throughout the solar system and beyond.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
J. Young
Notes: The lecture for this course meets at the same time as the lecture for Astronomy 103 but this course does not have a lab.

ASTR-103 Solar Systems with Lab

Fall and Spring. Credits: 4

Travel through our solar system using results of the latest spacecraft. Explore the origins of our worlds through the study of planet formation, meteorites, asteroids, and comets. Discover the processes that shape planetary interiors, surfaces, and atmospheres. Compare our solar system to others by learning about newly discovered exoplanets. Trace the conditions that may foster life throughout the solar system and beyond.In lab, learn the constellations and how to use the telescopes. Use them to observe celestial objects, including the moon, the sun, the planets, nebulae, and galaxies. Learn celestial coordinate and timekeeping systems. Find out how telescopes work.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
J. Young
Coreq: ASTR-103L.
Notes: The lecture for this course meets at the same time as the lecture for Astronomy 102, but the lab is also required for this course.

ASTR-115 Introduction to Astronomy

Fall. Credits: 4

A comprehensive introduction to the study of modern astronomy, covering planets--their origins, orbits, interiors, surfaces and atmospheres; stars -- their formation, structure and evolution; and the universe -- its origin, large-scale structure and ultimate destiny. This introductory course is for students who are planning to major in science or math.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
A. Jaskot

ASTR-223 Planetary Science

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This intermediate-level course covers fundamentals of spectroscopy, remote sensing, and planetary surfaces. Discussions will include interiors, atmospheres, compositions, origins, and evolution of terrestrial planets; satellites, asteroids, comets, and planetary rings.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
The department
Prereq: 1 physical science course and MATH-100 or MATH-101.

ASTR-226 Cosmology

Fall. Credits: 4

Cosmological models and the relationship between models and observable parameters. Topics in current astronomy that bear upon cosmological problems, including background electromagnetic radiation, nucleosynthesis, dating methods, determinations of the mean density of the universe and the Hubble constant, and tests of gravitational theories. Discussion of questions concerning the foundations of cosmology and its future as a science.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
J. Young
Prereq: ASTR-100 or ASTR-101, one semester of physics, and one semester of calculus at high school or college level.

ASTR-228 Astrophysics I: Stars and Galaxies

Spring. Credits: 4

A calculus-based introduction to the properties, structure, formation, and evolution of stars and galaxies. The laws of gravity, thermal physics, and atomic physics provide a basis for understanding observed properties of stars, interstellar gas, and dust. We apply these concepts to develop an understanding of stellar atmospheres, interiors, and evolution, the interstellar medium, and the Milky Way and other galaxies.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
J. Young
Prereq: PHYS-110 and MATH-102.
Advisory: PHYS-201 and MATH-203 strongly suggested.

ASTR-295 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 4

The department
Instructor permission required.

ASTR-330 Topics in Astrophysics

In-class discussions will be used to formulate a set of problems, each designed to illuminate a significant aspect of the topic at hand. The problems will be difficult and broad in scope: their solutions, worked out individually and in class discussions, will constitute the real work of the course. Students will gain experience in both oral and written presentation. Topics vary from year to year.

ASTR-330MN Topics in Astrophysics: 'Moon'

Not Scheduled for This Year. Credits: 4

This course will survey the past, present, and future of lunar exploration and science. We will focus on the evolution of the Moon as a paradigm for terrestrial planets, with specific units on interiors, heat flow, thermal evolution, magnetism, volcanism, volatiles, impacts, crustal composition and mineralogy, regoliths, and spectroscopy of its surface. This is a discussion-based, interactive seminar with students and faculty reading current papers from the literature.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
D. Dyar
Prereq: Any intermediate-level Astronomy or Geology course.
Advisory: Astronomy 223 recommended.

ASTR-330VE Topics in Astrophysics: 'Venus'

Fall. Credits: 4

This course will survey the past, present, and future of the exploration and science of the planet Venus. We will focus on the evolution of Venus as a paradigm for Earth's possible future. We will have specific units on interiors, heat flow, thermal evolution, magnetism, volcanism, impacts, crustal composition and mineralogy, and spectroscopy of its surface. This is a discussion-based, interactive seminar with students and faculty reading current papers from the literature.

Applies to requirement(s): Math Sciences
D. Dyar
Prereq: Any intermediate-level Astronomy or Geology course.
Advisory: Astronomy 223 recommended.

ASTR-395 Independent Study

Fall and Spring. Credits: 1 - 8

The department
Instructor permission required.