Jun 22, 2024  
2022/2023 University Catalog 
2022/2023 University Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]


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OFFICE: Physics 131
TELEPHONE: 619-594-6182 / FAX: 619-594-5485
E-MAIL: astroinfo@sdsu.edu
WEBSITE: http://astronomy.sdsu.edu


Chair: Sandquist, Eric L., Professor of Astronomy (B.A., University of Virginia; M.S., Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz)

Undergraduate and Graduate AdviserOrosz, Jerome A., Professor of Astronomy (B.A., University of Northern Colorado; M.S., Ohio University; M.Phil., Ph.D., Yale University)

Director of Mount Laguna Observatory: Quimby, Robert, Professor of Astronomy, Director of Mount Laguna Observatory (B.A., University of California, Berkeley; M.A., Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin)

Tenured and Tenure-Track Faculty:

Welsh, William F., Professor of Astronomy (B.S., State University of New York at Stony Brook; Ph.D., The Ohio State University)

Leonard, Douglas C., Associate Professor of Astronomy (B.A., University of Pennsylvania; M.A., Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley)

Rubin, Kate H., Associate Professor of Astronomy (B.S., Yale University; M.S., Ph.D., University of California, Santa Cruz)

Additional Faculty:

Shafter, Allen W., Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus (B.A., University of California, Irvine; M.A., Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles)


Rao Sudhakar, Sumangala, Ph.D., Astronomy

Windmiller, Gur, M.S., Astronomy

Emeritus Faculty:

Angione, Ronald J., Ph.D., 1969-2004, Professor of Astronomy

Daub, Clarence T., Jr., Ph.D., 1967-1999, Professor of Astronomy

Etzel, Paul B., Ph.D., 1986-2010, Professor of Astronomy; Director of the Mt. Laguna Observatory

Leach, Robert W., Ph.D., 1988-2016, Resident Astronomer in Astronomy

May, Thomas L., Ph.D., 1971-1998, Associate Professor of Astronomy

Talbert, Freddie D., Ph.D., 1968-2002, Associate Professor of Astronomy

Undergraduate Information

The Major

Will the universe expand forever? Is there life on other planets? How are stars formed? These are the types of questions being addressed by students majoring in astronomy. Some areas of study in astronomy include the sun, the solar system, the stars, the Milky Way, the galaxies, and cosmology.

SDSU is the only institution in the California State University system that offers a complete academic program in astronomy. Students actively learn to collect astronomical observations and conduct scientific research.

Joint faculty and student research activities are principally in the area of observational astrophysics. These include ongoing investigations of cosmology, eclipsing binary stars, the formation of galaxies, extrasolar planets, low-mass stars, and star clusters.

The department operates Mount Laguna Observatory, which is frequently used to train students in the use of astronomical telescopes and instruments. Faculty and students also participate in space astrophysics research.

Graduates with a bachelor’s degree are trained in the application of the scientific method to the realm of astronomy and astrophysics, which requires a good foundation of understanding of physics and mathematics. Additionally, our students obtain useful skills in computing applications and in the use of modern instrumentation. Many of our graduates find employment in education, industry, with astronomical observatories, or with government agencies or contractors. Jobs that support continuing research include electronic technicians, image analysts, instrument makers, laboratory technicians, opticians, software developers, and telescope operators. Some of our graduates pursue advanced degrees.

Employment opportunities for astronomers who have advanced degrees include positions at colleges and universities, national observatories and government laboratories, planetariums, and in industry and private companies.

Impacted Program

The astronomy major is an impacted program. To be admitted to the astronomy major, students must meet the following criteria:

  1. Complete preparation for the major;
  2. Complete a minimum of 60 transferable semester units;
  3. Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0.

To complete the major, students must fulfill the degree requirements for the major described in the catalog in effect at the time they are accepted into the pre-major at SDSU (assuming continuous enrollment).

Major Academic Plans (MAPs)

Visit http://www.sdsu.edu/mymap for the recommended courses needed to fulfill your major requirements. The MAPs website was created to help students navigate the course requirements for their majors and to identify which General Education course will also fulfill a major preparation course requirement.

Graduate Information


Graduate teaching associateships in astronomy are available to a few qualified students. A limited number of graduate research assistantships are also available from the department or through faculty with funded research projects. Application for teaching associate or graduate research positions is done as part of the student’s application for Admission to Graduate Study.

The department is also pleased to be able to offer substantial financial support to graduate students, in large part due to the generosity of a bequest by Theodore William and Nhung Lu Booth.

General Information

The Department of Astronomy offers graduate study leading to the Master of Science degree in astronomy. The degree is designed to prepare students either for further graduate work leading to the doctorate, or for a professional career in teaching or in industry.

San Diego State University operates the Mount Laguna Observatory, which is located 45 miles east of the campus at an elevation of 6,100 feet. The observatory houses three research telescopes: the new 1.25-m Phillips Claud reflector, a 1.0-m telescope, and an “Evryscope” that images the entire sky repeatedly throughout the night. Each of these is available for faculty and student research. Instrumentation for these telescopes includes both optical and near-IR cameras, as well as optical spectrographs. A dormitory is available to house visiting astronomers and there is also a shop-laboratory building on site. The observatory also houses the 0.5-m Buller telescope, which is featured in our education and public outreach programs connected to the neighboring Awona Harrington Visitor Center.

Campus facilities include a fixed 12-inch reflecting telescope, ten portable 8-inch Meade LX200 reflectors, and 20 smaller assorted portable reflecting telescopes. Two CCD cameras are also available. A Spitz AP3 planetarium is used for both student instruction and public outreach programs. The central campus library has a very extensive collection of astronomical texts and journals. In addition, the Special Collections section contains the world-renowned Zinner Collection of rare and historically important astronomical texts. The department also maintains a resource room of astronomical catalogs, charts, and selected reference texts.

Some of the research interests in the department include the structure and evolution of stars, eclipsing and interacting binary stars, the stellar content of nearby galaxies (through observations of novae and low-mass x-ray binaries), exoplanets, the formation of galaxies, gas flows, and supernovae. Graduate students are extensively involved in many of these research programs. Students often make use of observatory facilities in support of their thesis research.

Admission to Graduate Study

All students must satisfy the general requirements for admission to the university with classified graduate standing, as described in Admission and Registration . In addition, students must have an overall grade point average of at least 2.85 in the last 60 units of their undergraduate work and must have preparation in astronomy and/or related sciences substantially equivalent to that required for the bachelor’s degree in astronomy at San Diego State University.

Students applying for admission should electronically submit the university application available at http://www.calstate.edu/apply along with the application fee. Applicants should also fill out the program-specific application on Interfolio.

Graduate Admissions

The following materials should be submitted directly to:

Graduate Admissions
Enrollment Services
San Diego State University
San Diego, CA 92182-7416

  1. Official transcripts (in sealed envelopes) from all postsecondary institutions attended;
    • In some cases, electronic submission of transcripts is possible.  See the Graduate Admissions instructions for details.
    • Students who attended SDSU need only submit transcripts for work completed since last attendance.
    • Students with international coursework must submit both the official transcript and proof of degree. If documents are in a language other than English, they must be accompanied by a certified English translation.
  2. GRE scores (http://www.ets.org SDSU institution code 4682);
  3. English language score, if medium of instruction was in a language other than English (http://www.ets.org SDSU institution code 4682).

International applicants/students should please see the SDSU International Student Center for information specific to international students. All graduate and postbaccalaureate applicants, regardless of citizenship, whose preparatory education was principally in a language other than English must demonstrate competence in English. Those who do not possess a bachelor’s degree from a postsecondary institution where English is the principal language of instruction must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). The TOEFL exam may be taken via computer or via a paper exam. A minimum score of 550 on the paper exam or 213 on the computer-based TOEFL is required.

Interfolio (Electronic Submission)

To complete this program-specific application, please upload via Interfolio:

  1. Names and email addresses of people who can provide lLetters of reference (two or three). Because the system will send requests for letters directly to the recommenders via email, it is important that the correct email addresses are entered.;

  2. A personal statement about academic and research goals.

  3. Copies of transcripts (can be unofficial).

  4. General GRE scores (optional). The General GRE test scores can be submitted if a student believes the score will help their application. There is no minimum score threshold for the General GRE exams.

  5. Physics Subject GRE score (optional). The GRE Physics Subject test score can be submitted if a student believes the score will help their application.

We encourage applicants to consider applying for a Teaching Associate position.  No prior teaching experience is required.  For applicants who wish to apply for a Teaching Associateship, also provide via Interfolio:

  1. Name and email address of one person who can provide a letter of reference that addresses teaching experience or potential.

  2. A brief personal statement about teaching philosophy.

  3. An application for a teaching associate position or graduate assistantship (download the Teaching Associate/Graduate Assistantship TA/GA application form [PDF format]; [MS Word format]).


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