Planets, stars, galaxies, and an ever-increasing variety of phenomena observed from ground- and space-based observatories are among the objects of study. Areas of special interest at UC Santa Cruz include cosmology, the formation and evolution of stars and galaxies, high-energy astrophysics, active galaxies, supernovae and nucleosynthesis, the motions of stars and galaxies, and all aspects of observational optical and infrared astronomy. Virtually every branch of modern physics must be brought to bear in interpreting new observations: optics, mechanics, relativity, atomic and nuclear physics, applied mathematics, chemistry, geology, and meteorology. The interdisciplinary nature of astronomy, including its historical and philosophical elements, makes its study valuable to those planning careers in a variety of related fields.


Physics /Astrophysics Major

The UCSC major in physics/astrophysics is administered by the Physics Department and combines a core physics major with advanced electives in astrophysics, an astrophysics laboratory course, and senior thesis work on a topic in astrophysics. It is a rigorous program designed to prepare students for a broad range of technical careers or for entry into graduate or professional programs.

All full description of the major can be found in the physics section of the UCSC General Catalog.

Astrophysics Minor

For undergraduate students having a particular interest in the subject, a minor in astronomy and astrophysics is offered. Most students who minor in astronomy and astrophysics are majors in another area of the physical sciences, but it can be taken by any student who has a special interest in astronomy.

The minor in astronomy and astrophysics requires that students take the Physics 5 or 6 series (with associated laboratories), Physics 101A, a minimum of two courses from the Astronomy 12-18 series, and a minimum of three courses from the Astronomy 112-118 series, PHYS 129, PHYS 171, ASTR 257. A senior thesis on an astronomy-related topic is also encouraged.  Interested students should contact the Physics Undergrad Advising office for further information.


Instruction in astronomy for undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz is designed to meet the needs of several groups of students.

Astronomy & Astrophysics courses 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6  provide a general survey of the universe as now understood from historical and modern observations and are intended for those not specializing in a scientific discipline.

Astronomy & Astrophysics courses 12, 13,  16, and 18 emphasize basic physical laws and theories as applied to astronomy and provide a survey of modern astronomy for students with some facility in mathematics. Taken separately, they provide an in-depth introduction to gravitational interaction, stellar evolution, and extragalactic astrophysics. These courses are designed for students intending to major in a scientific subject, although qualified non-science majors may attend. A good high school background in mathematics and physics is assumed. Prior or concurrent enrollment in a basic calculus course (Mathematics 11A or 19A) and a basic physics course (Physics 5A/L or 6A/L) is helpful but not required.

Finally, a more thorough quantitative treatment of selected topics in astronomy and astrophysics at the upper-division level is provided by Astronomy & Astrophysics courses 111, 112, 113, 117, and 118. Completion of course work in calculus of several variables (Mathematics 22 or 23A-B) and Physics 5B/M or 6B/M and 101A is required for these advanced courses.