The Department of Astronomy provides an advanced educational path leading to the attainment of a Master of Science degree in astronomy. For students aiming to pursue a Ph.D. in Astronomy or Physics, our program offers invaluable research experience, graduate-level coursework, and dedicated mentorship designed to strengthen their preparation for Ph.D. studies. Upon completing our program, students have all the required credentials and are well-prepared for various careers in astrophysics-related fields in industry, at observatories, or in space-mission support.

Furthermore, the M.S. program goes beyond academics by offering ample opportunities for students to gain practical experience in teaching and public outreach initiatives. It also equips them with the requisite qualifications to hold lecturer positions at San Diego State University and even pursue tenure-track faculty positions at community colleges.

The M.S. in Astronomy program strongly emphasizes embracing diversity and welcoming students from a rich tapestry of cultural and academic backgrounds. We understand that a diverse community is vital for advancing scientific knowledge and enhancing STEM education. As such, we are wholeheartedly dedicated to offering inclusive support to every student, empowering them on their journey to achieve their career aspirations.

Graduates of the M.S. Program have Charted Diverse Career Paths and Roles

Data Scientists and Analysts at prestigious institutions leading groundbreaking international space missions (e.g., Space Telescope Science Institute, NASA/JPL) or collaborating with industry partners (e.g., Malin Space Science Systems).

Support Scientists at renowned observatories housing some of the world’s largest optical telescopes (e.g., Palomar Observatory, Gemini Observatory, NOIRLab, W. M. Keck Observatory).

Teaching Faculty at community colleges throughout the San Diego area.

Many of our alumni have also chosen to pursue doctoral programs in astronomy or physics, with recent graduates currently enrolled in Ph.D. programs at esteemed institutions like UC Irvine, New Mexico State University, UC San Diego, UT Austin, Louisiana State University, and UMass Amherst.

Thesis projects are conducted in close collaboration with our department faculty, whose research spans a wide spectrum, from discovering and characterizing exoplanets and exploring the structure and evolution of stars, to investigating the physics behind the most luminous explosions in the cosmos and delving into the formation and growth of galaxies.

Our graduate students enjoy access to various resources, including MLO observing facilities, extensive campus computing resources, and the cutting-edge capabilities of the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

For those interested in community outreach, a plethora of on-campus observing facilities are at your disposal, including a Clark 12-inch refractor, two permanently installed 12-inch reflecting telescopes, ten portable 8-inch Meade LX200 reflectors, and an assortment of 20 smaller portable reflecting telescopes. Students can additionally craft their own captivating planetarium shows using our classic Spitz AP3 planetarium.

Program Tracks

Students must specify a plan of completion within their application to the program.

Plan A: Thesis

Bridge-to-Ph.D. Track

For students aiming to pursue a doctorate at another institution.

This track culminates in a final oral examination of a research thesis and requires the consent of the astronomy graduate adviser.

ASTR 799A – Thesis Units: 3

Plan B: Non-Thesis

Career Track

For students aiming to pursue a technical, teaching, or outreach career. 

This track culminates in a final comprehensive examination covering the astronomy core curriculum. Students may select courses from across the College of Sciences to complete their Program of Study (subject to the approval of the astronomy graduate adviser).

Program Completion Requirements

In addition to meeting the requirements for classified graduate standing and the basic requirements for the master’s degree as described in Requirements for Master’s Degrees, the student must also meet the following departmental requirements in a 30-unit program. At least one-half of the units required for a master’s degree must be courses at the 600- and 700-level with the approval of a graduate adviser. 

Complete the 12-Unit Core Course Curriculum

ASTR 630 – Stellar Atmospheres and Interiors: Units 3
ASTR 650 – Galactic Structure and Evolution: Units 3
ASTR 670 – Foundations of Modern Cosmology: Units 3
ASTR 680 – Astronomical Techniques: Units 3

Complete at Least 15 Additional Units

Complete at least 15 additional units of 500-, 600-, and 700-level in astronomy graduate-level courses or 500-, 600-, 700-level courses in related fields not to exceed 12 units of 500-level courses if pursuing Plan B.

Approved Courses 

PHYS 552 – Modern Optics and Lasers: Units 3
PHYS 564 – Nuclear Physics: Units 3
PHYS 570 – Relativity: Units 3
PHYS 580 – Computational Physics: Units 3
PHYS 606 – Statistical Mechanics: Units 3
PHYS 608 – Classical Mechanics: Units 3
PHYS 610A – Quantum Mechanics: Units 3
MATH 524 – Linear Algebra: Units 3
MATH 530 – Advanced Calculus II: Units 3
MATH 543 – Numerical Matrix Analysis: Units 3
MATH 636 – Mathematical Modeling: Units 3
MATH 693A – Advanced Numerical Methods: Computational Optimization: Units 3
STAT 550 – Applied Probability: Units 3
STAT 551B – Probability and Mathematical Statistics: Units 3
STAT 676 – Bayesian Statistics: Units 3

(or others with the consent of the departmental graduate adviser.)

The student is also required to demonstrate competency in a scientific computing language, (e.g., Python, Fortran, C/C++).

Advancement to Candidacy

All students must satisfy the general requirements for advancement to candidacy as specified in Requirements for Master’s Degrees. If the student’s undergraduate preparation is deficient, they will be required to take courses for the removal of the deficiency. These courses are in addition to the minimum of 30 units for the master’s degree.


Courses Offered by the Department of Astronomy

Degree Learning Outcomes and Curriculum Map