Why Elon Astronomy?

Driven by the big questions

Denver, CO – AAS 2018 – Chambliss Award recipient Sam Jenkins during the Coffee/Posters/Exhibitors session at the American Astronomical Society’s 232nd meeting at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel in Denver, Colorado. The AAS, established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. More than 500 astronomers, educators, industry representatives, and journalists are spending the week in Denver to discuss the latest findings from across the universe. Photo by Phil McCarten/Corporate Event Images, © 2018 American Astronomical Society.

Astrophysics and astronomy ultimately focus on broad questions with deep implications. Are we alone? What is history of our galaxy, the Milky Way? What is the fate of the Universe? These questions motivate our majors to pursue the wonder instilled in them from looking up at the night sky or from remembering the first time they looked through a telescope. Society in large unites around the prospect of exploring the Universe whether it’s through science fiction or actual space missions that bring our ideas to reality. In addition to a professional career in astronomy, graduates of the program find success in other careers (e.g., business, journalism) based on the curiosity required to ask challenging questions and the skill set required to solve them.

A robust curriculum

Elon University is currently the only degree-granting institution for astronomy and astrophysics in North Carolina. We offer two degrees in the program: Astronomy B.A and Astrophysics B.S. The Astronomy B.A. encourages students to combine astronomy with another discipline, which Elon University is well suited to facilitate given the emphasis of creating connections across the overall curriculum. Students in astronomy have a double majored in english, music, and computer science to create a novel skill set for a future career. The Astrophysics B.S. is tailored to students that want to continue their education in graduate school and seek a professional career in the field. Our students have attended graduate school at institutions such as MIT, Tufts University, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Clemson University.

The astronomy curriculum focuses on uncovering content about planets, stars, galaxies, and cosmology at both introductory and advanced levels. The introductory courses Planetary Astronomy and Galactic Astronomy provide the framework for these topics, while Modern Astrophysics and Advanced Astrophysics revisit them with more in depth analysis. We emphasize that the fundamental principles learned in physics courses also translate to astrophysical phenomena, which creates a well-rounded foundation for graduates. Astrophysics majors also complete a semester of research, and many conduct research spanning several years, giving them the avenue to explore their own questions. After taking Introduction to Astronomy, majors often serve as Teaching Assistants for the nighttime astronomy lab, guiding non-majors through operating telescopes and using their phones for astrophotography.

Development of unique skills

Observations are an inherent part of scientific process in astronomy, the most visually based science. As such, visual literacy is developed in all of our classes, giving graduates the skills to analyze detailed images, interpret complex graphs, and use visual aids. Similarly, astrophysics and astronomy majors are positioned to play an important role in a data-driven world. The era of “big-data” forces astronomers to final novel ways to coherently display relationships found in observations and simulations. To assist with this, every major develops the ability to write computer code, a crucial skill in the world today. Scientific results are only valuable if shared with others, and our majors are routinely tasked with writing and presenting their findings to audiences with a wide range of backgrounds. Being effective communicators sets our graduates apart from those at other institutions and lies at the heart of an Elon education.

After graduation

Students graduating with either an astronomy related major or minor have pursued several career paths. The computational skills required in astronomy have set up graduates in jobs geared towards data analytics and data science. The writing aspects of the profession have inspired graduates to author fictional short stories about astronomy related phenomena and edit online publications for popular media outlets like Science News. Many often decide to attend graduate school to continue their education before entering the job market and our department has a strong track record of acceptance into high-ranking programs.