Students may complete a major or minor in Astronomy at Haverford College.


Beth Willman, Associate Professor of Astronomy
Desika Narayanan, Assistant Professor of Astronomy

The Astronomy department ( centers its curriculum on the phenomena of the extraterrestrial Universe and on understanding them in terms of the fundamental principles of physics. We emphasize student research with faculty members, and upper-level courses contain substantial project- and/or research-based investigation.

The 12 courses currently offered in the Astronomy Department address the variety of learning goals:

  • Knowledge of the contents of the extraterrestrial universe, including planets, stars, galaxies, and the large-scale structure of the universe itself, and understanding the formation and evolution of all of these.
  • Problem-solving skills: Like physics, astronomy emphasizes the understanding the physical world in terms of physical laws, an endeavor that is validated by applying these mathematical laws to a variety of astrophysical phenomena and then solving the resulting mathematical problem in order to verify the subsequent predictions with observations.
  • Constructing models: The construction of models to describe natural phenomena and astronomy represents the most creative aspect of any science.
  • Developing Physical Intuition: the ability to look at a complicated system and know what’s important.
  • Computer programming
  • Observing skills in using a variety of astronomical instruments
  • Research experience, which involves: confronting the unknown and tolerating its ambiguity, generating new science with which to understand new observations, analyzing data, the art of scientific collaboration, oral and written communication of new results, designing new experiments/observations, networking with other scientists to generate new collaborative efforts.


Our department offers two majors: astronomy and astrophysics. Both majors provide substantial training in quantitative reasoning and independent thinking through work in and out of the classroom.

The department also offers a minor in astronomy.

  • The astronomy major is appropriate for students who desire an in-depth education in astronomy that can be applied to a wide-range of career trajectories, but who do not necessarily intend to pursue graduate study in astronomy.
  • The astrophysics major is appropriate for students who wish to pursue the study of astronomy with additional attention to the physical principles that underlie astrophysical phenomena. The depth of the physics training required for a degree in astrophysics will prepare students who wish to pursue a career in astronomy or astrophysics, or to do graduate study in astronomy or astrophysics.

Although a variety of pathways can lead to a major in the department, we advise prospective astronomy or astrophysics majors to:

  • study physics (Physics 105 and 106, or 101 and 102, or Bryn Mawr equivalents) beginning in their first year
  • enroll in Astronomy 205/206 and Physics 213/214 in their sophomore year.
  • take Astronomy/Physics 152 in the second semester of the first year.

The department offers three courses, Astronomy 101a, Astronomy 112, and Astronomy 114b, which student can take with no prerequisites or prior experience in astronomy. The department also offers a half-credit course, Astronomy/Physics 152, for first-year students who are considering a physical science major and wish to study some of the most recent developments in astrophysics.

Students may major in astronomy or astrophysics, but not both. Astrophysics majors may not double major in either physics or astronomy, nor can they minor in either physics or astronomy. Astronomy majors may pursue a double major or a minor in physics. A concentration in scientific computing is available for astronomy and astrophysics majors. The department coordinator for this concentration is Beth Willman.

Astronomy Major Requirements

  • Physics 105 (or 101), Physics 106 (or 102), Physics 213, Physics 214.
  • Two mathematics courses. Majors can use Mathematics 121 and all 200-level or higher mathematics courses to satisfy this requirement.
  • Astronomy 205, Astronomy 206, and four 300-level astronomy courses, one of which majors may replace with an upper-level physics course. Majors may substitute 100-level Swarthmore astronomy seminars for 300-level astronomy courses.
  • Astronomy 404, which students may replace by approved independent research either at Haverford or elsewhere.
  • Written comprehensive examinations.

Majors may substitute Bryn Mawr equivalents for the non-astronomy courses. We recommend but do not require Astronomy/Physics 152.

Astrophyics Major Requirements

  • Physics 105 (or 101), Physics 106 (or 102), Physics 213, Physics 214, Physics 211 (usually taken concurrently with Physics 213).
  • Two mathematics courses. Majors can use Mathematics 121 and all 200-level or higher mathematics courses to satisfy this requirement.
  • Astronomy 205, Astronomy 206, and any two 300 level astronomy courses. Majors can substitute 100-level Swarthmore astronomy seminars for 300-level astronomy courses.
  • Physics 302, Physics 303, and Physics 309.
  • The Senior Seminar, Physics 399, including a talk and senior thesis on research conducted by the student. Majors can undertake this research in a 400-level research course with any member of the Physics or Astronomy departments or by doing extracurricular research at Haverford or elsewhere, e.g., an approved summer research internship at another institution. The major writes a thesis under the supervision of both the research advisor and (if the research advisor is not a Haverford faculty member) a Haverford advisor.

Majors may substitute Bryn Mawr equivalents for the non-astronomy courses. We recommend but do not require Astronomy/Physics 152 and Physics 308.

Astronomy Minor Requirements

  • Physics 105 (or 101); Physics 106 (or 102)
  • Astronomy 205; Astronomy 206; one 300 level astronomy course. Minors may substitute a 100-level Swarthmore astronomy seminar for the 300-level astronomy course.

We recommend (but do not require) Astronomy/Physics 152.

Honors Requirements

The department regards all astronomy and astrophysics majors as candidates for Honors. For both majors, faculty awards honors in part on the basis of superior work in the departmental courses and in certain related courses. For astronomy majors, the faculty also bases honors on performance on the comprehensive examinations, with consideration for independent research. For astrophysics majors, the faculty also bases honors on the senior thesis.


The William J. Strawbridge Observatory, given in 1933, has its own library, classroom, computer room, and workspace for departmental students. Facilities include:

  • a computer controlled 16” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a CCD camera;
  • a CCD spectrometer; a 12” Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope;
  • three portable 8” telescopes with outside piers;
  • a 4” solar telescope

Linux and Mac computers are available for student research and astronomy classwork. The astronomy library contains 3,000 bound volumes and most of the relevant astronomy journals. All of these facilities are available for use by students.

Special Programs

In 2010, Haverford became a member of the 0.9m telescope at Tucson’s Kitt Peak National Observatory ( consortium, and in 2013 we became a member of the Northeast Astronomy Participation Group’s partnership with the ARC 3.5m telescope at Apache Point Observatory ( in New Mexico. We offer all Haverford astronomy and astrophysics majors the opportunity to obtain astronomical observations at one of these research facilities in Tucson or Apache Point.

Haverford is also part of the KNAC eight-college consortium ( that provides research assistantships for a summer student exchange program, grants for student travel to outside observatories, and a yearly symposium at which students present their research.


ASTR H101 Astronomical Ideas
Fundamental concepts and observations of modern astronomy, such as the properties of planets, the birth and death of stars, and the properties and evolution of the Universe. Not intended for students majoring in the physical sciences.
B Willman, D. Narayanan

ASTR H152I Freshman Seminar in Astrophysics
This half-credit course is intended for prospective physical science majors with an interest in recent developments in astrophysics. The class examines topics in modern astrophysics in the context of underlying physical principles. Topics include black holes, quasars, neutron stars, supernovae, dark matter, the Big Bang, and Einstein’s relativity theories.
D. Narayanan

ASTR H205A Introdution to Astrophysics I
General introduction to astronomy including: the structure and evolution of stars; the properties and evolution of the solar system including planetary surfaces and atmospheres; exoplanets; and observational projects using the Strawbridge Observatory telescopes.
D. Narayanan

ASTR H206B Intro Astrophys II
Introduction to the study of: the structure and formation of the Milky Way galaxy; the interstellar medium; the properties of galaxies and their nuclei; and cosmology including the Hot Big Bang model.
B. Willman

ASTR H341A Observational Astronomy
Observing projects that involve using a CCD camera on a 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. Projects include spectroscopy; variable star photometry; H-alpha imaging; imaging and photometry of galaxies and star clusters; instruction in the use of image processing software and CCD camera operation. Students work in groups of two with minimal faculty supervision. Formal reports are required.
B. Willman

ASTR H404 Research in Astrophysics
Intended for those students who choose to complete an independent research project in astrophysics under the supervision of a faculty member.
B Willman, D. Narayanan