Astronomy

Astronomy poses some hefty questions. How old is the universe? Will it continue to expand forever? Within that cosmological framework, astronomers at Vassar study the universe on several scales. They study and observe galaxies - gravitationally-bound collections of hundreds of billions of stars - and try to answer questions about them. Why do some galaxies form spiral structures? How do colliding galaxies interact? What are the life cycles of stars within them? They also study clusters of stars and model how they evolve. At the on-campus observatory, they monitor variable objects like supernovae (exploded high mass stars) and quasars (supermassive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies) and study solar system objects.

The way astronomy is taught at Vassar was shaped by Maria Mitchell, America's first woman astronomer and also the first director of the Vassar Observatory. She was famous for pushing her students to think for themselves, do their own research, and come to their own conclusions. She believed that students work best when they are part of a supportive scientific community. The astronomy faculty at Vassar are committed to the same principles, as can be seen by the myriad opportunities available to students in the department.

The astronomy curriculum includes introductory and advanced astrophysics courses with topics covering planets, stars, interstellar matter, galaxies, and cosmology, and observational techniques. Prospective students interested in finding out more about the department or in arranging a visit can contact us at physics@vassar.edu.