Astrophysics is the physics of celestial bodies. Majoring in it concerns learning about the physical properties and evolution of stars, planets, galaxies, and quasars—the stuff of the universe. Astrophysics is also closely linked with mathematics and computer science. Many Astrophysics programs put a great deal of emphasis on research. In Penn State University’s program, students not only do research, but also build the very instruments with which they do it. Besides your independent and collaborative research, Astrophysics exposes you to processes of the birth and death of stars. Along the way you’ll learn how to use instruments like reflecting telescopes, gas proportional counters, and CCD cameras (big contraptions designed specifically for taking pictures of the heavens). You’ll walk away understanding the properties of active galactic nuclei. You’ll master general relativity, galactic dynamics, cosmology, and the physics of space plasma. If these subjects sound mysterious, that’s because the universe is a mysterious thing, and the goal of the Astrophysics major is to help you understand it.
our best preparation in high school will be advanced-level courses in math and science—especially physics, calculus, trigonometry, and analytic geometry. Any courses your high school offers in statistics and computer science will also be valuable. The broader your science and math background, the better. Also, try to apply your physics knowledge. Be that nerd whose physics projects for science fairs blows the competition out of the water.