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Astronomy Frequently Asked Questions


 Does JMU offer a degree in astrophysics?

JMU doesn’t currently have a degree that is specifically titled ‘Astronomy” or “Astrophysics”. Students who choose to go on to pursue graduate studies in astronomy or astrophysics benefit from a more sound background in physics. In addition, students who complete the B.S. in Physics with a minor in Astronomy will take most of the same courses they would in completing a B.S. in Astronomy elsewhere. This includes courses in astrophysics, relativity, and observational astronomy.

 Do JMU graduates go to graduate programs in astronomy?

While some astronomy minors go on to private sector jobs like other physics majors, other do go on to some of the most well-known graduate programs in astronomy, astrophysics, and planetary science such as Virginia, Wisconsin-Madison, UCLA, Northern Arizona University, Boston University, and others.

 Will I need to take much math as an astronomy student?

Like any other physical science, astronomy quantifies observations of our natural world and develops theories to explain them. Therefore, a solid background in mathematics is needed to do astronomy at the bachelor’s level.

 Do you have to be a physics major to minor in astronomy?

While the majority of astronomy minors at JMU are physics majors, there are students from other majors who minor in astronomy. In recent years this has included mathematics, chemistry, engineering, and geology and environmental science.

 What research opportunities are there in astronomy at JMU?

Perhaps the biggest benefit of studying astrophysics at JMU is the chance to work on research projects with our astronomy faculty. The faculty in astronomy have funding from agencies such as NASA and NSF that often allows them to provide salaries to undergraduates for summer research projects. They also can help send those students to regional and national conferences to present their research work.

 How do I get to work at the planetarium?

The John C. Wells Planetarium is one of JMU’s most well-known science outreach facilities. This state-of-the-art planetarium hosts school groups nearly every day of the school year and has shows for the general public each Saturday. While the JCWP has a full-time faculty member as its director, students are hired as planetarium assistants each year. These students are trained on how to operate the projectors and star ball and how to point out interesting features in the night sky. Once trained, these assistants actually run the shows for some school groups and the general public. It is a great way to learn how to communicate science to the public and improve your knowledge of astronomy.

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