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Astronomy Survey Class?

  1. Dec 18, 2008 #1
    I am a physics major at a school with a limited program and no astronomy of astrophysics options. However, my goal is to go to Grad school for a cosmology/astrophysics. I would bet I know most of what is covered in the one astronomy related course my school offers, which is basically a survey course. So should I bother to take it or just try to do some independent study in Astrophysics in Senior year? Or Both?

    EDIT: Maybe survey was the wrong word, I mean like an overview. Here is the course description:

    PHYSIC 121: Introduction to Astronomy

    This class gives a desciptive (non-mathematical) introduction to astronomy and astrophysics.

    Topics Covered: Introductory material on light, telescopes, and spectroscopy; properties of stars and stellar evolution, including the formation of stars, stellar energy cycles, red giants, white dwarfs, supernovae, neutron stars, and black holes; galactic structure; the expansion of the universe; cosmology; the past and future of the universe.
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 18, 2008 #2


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    Positional astronomy really doesn't have a lot to do with astrophysics and even less with cosmology. Even if you are doing observational work, while it is useful to know why you can put in an observing time request for an object in Orion in winter but not in summer - the submission software will handle this for you anyway.

    It's boring and tedious and you will forget at the stuff about ascending nodes and transit of first point of aries stuff 5mins after the exam anyway.
  4. Dec 18, 2008 #3


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    I'd say take the survey course. I had been an amateur astronomer since age 10, but I'm glad I took the intro course at my university before moving on. HR diagrams, finding distances to open clusters, practicing the application of physical laws - all very useful. We did very little on constellations and observational astronomy in the survey course. If you have an astronomy course available but don't take it, then apply to get into astrophysics grad school, that might look a little strange, especially if you want to do independent study your senior year. Take the course.
  5. Dec 18, 2008 #4


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    I did a Phd in a famous dept full of cosmologists. I was the only one with an astronomy degree, most people had either maths or physics.
    Astrophysics courses (stellar evolution, HR diagrams etc) would be useful. Positional astronomy and spherical trig are not.
    In the ugrad I also did cutting glass plates, loading plate holders and developing them all in the dark - this was not terribly useful for using Hubble.
    The only time any of it was useful was when I was asked 'how many constellations are there' by an ancient astronomer in an interview.

    EDIT - Doh, Am I being stupid here?
    By astronomy survey course, do you mean a quick intro to astronomy or a class on astronomical surveying? (As in right ascensions, declinations shooting a stellar fix etc.)

    ps. I would like to thank however thought that carrying a bunch of theodolites into a muddy freezing field miles out of town in the middle of the night in order to calculate your position from star fixes, would give anyone useful skills in observational cosmology
    Last edited: Dec 18, 2008
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