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Difference between Astrophysics and Astronomy ?

  1. Jan 10, 2010 #1
    I'm transferring schools for the fall of 2010, and one of the schools that I'm looking into offers a B.S. in Physics and a seperate B.S. in Astronomy. The other school I'm looking into offers only a B.S. in Physics, though they say I can take elective courses in Astronomy. Basically, I want to study Astrophysics, but I'm confused by which school I should go to.. Should I go for the B.S. in Astronomy (and if I do, is it feasible for someone with a B.S. in Astronomy to do graduate work in astrophysics?) or should I stick with the B.S. in Physics? I was always under the impression that at the university, Astrophysics and Astronomy are one in the same, am I wrong?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 10, 2010 #2


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    In some contexts Astronomy can be used to mean "observation" and Astrophysics can be used to mean "theory". In other contexts they are used interchangeably. This is (in all probability) the case at this university. If you want to study Astrophysics, a BS in Astronomy is the best way to go.

    Edit: It is probably a good idea, though, to go to this university's website, and see what this degree entails.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2010
  4. Jan 10, 2010 #3
    The labels really don't matter very much. Different schools structure things in different ways, and it's more a matter of politics than of substance.
  5. Jan 10, 2010 #4
    I've been to both websites and the B.S. in Astronomy seems to entail course work in classical mechanics, waves and optics, UNIX/Linux programming, a class called "The Physical Universe", Stars and Radiation, Galaxies, 2 courses in Cosmology and 3 AST electives.

    The Physics program at the same school (for comparision): Classical mechanics, E&M, UNIX/Linux programming, a bunch of courses in quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, waves and optics and a bunch of physics lab electives.

    So, based on that information, is it safe to say that you still endorse the Astronomy major if I plan on studying astrophysics in the future?
  6. Jan 10, 2010 #5


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    If you want to go to grad school in astrophysics, chances are good an astronomy major alone will not require enough physics - you'll need to be ready to take a few grad level physics courses. How about double majoring? Or if that's not an option, I'd say go with the physics major and take astronomy electives.
  7. Jan 11, 2010 #6
    I had this concern myself, so I asked an advisor for the school and she said that the astronomy major was designed to comply with physics departments and that I'd have no trouble transitioning to grad school. So that eased my mind a bit. Thanks a lot.
  8. Dec 18, 2010 #7
    I think that the two terms are used interchangeably. Except one of them is mainly used for observation while the other is used for theory (like nicksauce mentioned).
  9. Dec 18, 2010 #8

    Having taken an upper level class in astrophysics, it's not clear to me why you would not want to take E&M, quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics if you are interested in astrophysics. It seems to me it would be more important to get a firm foundation in physics. And of course you can take a few electives in astronomy.
  10. Dec 18, 2010 #9
    Judging by the courses you posted, this is incorrect. The astronomy degree doesn't seem like it gives you a full preparation in physics. Of course, I have no idea what they do for 3 semesters of undergrad cosmology. Maybe they get deep into general relativity for all I know (but I'm guessing not).
  11. Dec 25, 2010 #10


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    I agree. It seems that computer science (and programming in general) is more important than physics for most astronomy research these days.
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