The science of astrophysics involves the study of matter and radiation in the universe as understood through the laws of physics.
Astronomical phenomena exhibit an extreme range of physical conditions, from superfluid neutrons in neutron stars, high-temperature nuclear reactions in supernovae, and strong gravitational fields near black holes, to the unique state of the universe during its earliest phases. Theoretical attempts to describe these and more familiar phenomena (such as stars and galaxies) have achieved a useful understanding in many cases. However, our overall knowledge of the universe is still woefully incomplete, and our contemporary physical knowledge is often stretched to its limits in attempting to understand physical conditions that cannot be reproduced in terrestrial laboratories. Department Website
This program builds from a foundation of modern physics to a general account of the known contents of the universe emphasizing current research at each step. Astronomy 16 and 17 provide a complete introductory survey to the major fields of astrophysics, and Astronomy 100 is a survey of modern observational methods that includes travel to use our professional telescopes in Arizona. The research tutorial Astronomy 98 places students in close contact with the wide range of research activities at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to pursue research projects (conducted under the mentorship of members of the faculty), which culminate in their junior papers and optional senior theses.