PhD in Astronomy & Astrophysics

Sep 03, 2019

Students who would like to earn a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics will likely encounter core and elective courses, qualifying examinations, and the completion of a scientific dissertation.

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Individuals who are interested in a career studying, researching, and teaching about topics such as black holes, the formation of stars and planets, or the development of telescopes, may consider earning a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Astronomy and Astrophysics. Read on to learn more about what is required for this degree as well as some common program admission requirements.

PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics Program Description

A major requirement of earning a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics is conducting independent research in this area, leading to the completion of a dissertation. As such, access to observatories, telescopic equipment, and supercomputers is essential for graduate students in this discipline. In addition to research and coursework, participating in seminars, colloquia, and journal talks provide opportunities for learning. Most degree programs will also require the completion of preliminary or qualifying exams. Core and elective classes will broaden students' exposure to topics in astronomy and astrophysics. Some classes that may be encountered by PhD students include the following.

Particle Astrophysics

This course could consider both the basics of particle astrophysics as well as current experimentation and data. Specific topics considered might be solar physics, gamma-ray bursts, and gravitational rays. In addition, students might be exposed to cosmic rays and neutrinos.

Computational Physics and Astrophysics

A course in computational physics and astrophysics is likely to introduce students to the computational methods used for modeling physical phenomena. Those taking this class may also be exposed to methods used to determine whether numerical results are reliable. Visualizations to increase understanding of mathematical results might be reviewed.

Stellar Dynamics

Courses in stellar dynamics and evolution could begin with analyzing the historic understanding of this topic. The class may then move into the physics associated with this topic, such as hydrostatic equilibrium, energy transfer, and star formation and evolution. Finally, students might be introduced to theories regarding the dynamics of the galaxy, such as spiral structure and dynamical evolution


An exoplanets course could introduce students to the thousands of planets that have recently been discovered outside of our solar system. Participants might have the opportunity to learn about the formation of exoplanets, their physical properties, and how to detect them. Some assignments may require students to write code in a programming language.


Cosmology courses frequently examine the structure and evolution of the universe. Specific topics could include galaxy clusters, the cosmic microwave background, and first starts. Students may also be introduced to powerful ground and space based telescopes that provide data on these phenomena.

PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics Admissions

Applicants for a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics are required to hold a bachelor's degree. The undergraduate major is typically physics or mathematics, but regardless of major, advanced undergraduate courses in physics, mathematics, and astronomy are expected. Candidates should expect to submit a university application, and provide transcripts, recommendations, and a personal statement. GRE general examinations and the GRE physics subject test may be required as well.

Earning a PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics can provide a springboard to careers in research and teaching in this field. A wide range of courses and preparation of a dissertation are usually required for this degree.

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