Astronomy and astrophysics are concerned with the study of the nature and distribution of matter and radiation throughout all time and space in the Universe. Astronomers have always been keen to harness the latest technological advances in their quest for ever more precise and revealing observations. As a consequence, astronomy in recent years has been one of the most rapidly expanding of all physical sciences and many exciting and often quite unexpected discoveries continue to be made.
The Department of Physics and Astronomy has a vigorous and exciting programme of teaching and research often using state-of-the-art facilities as part of its core work. Field stations for meteor and atmospheric research are located at Birdlings Flat and at Scott Base, Antarctica. The department operates an observatory at Mount John, Tekapo, and is a partner in the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), one of the world's largest telescopes.
As well as these, the department has many collaborations nationally and internationally that give access to some of the best facilities around the world. For example, we have a collaboration with Nagoya University in Japan, who installed a 1.8 metre telescope at Mount John for finding planets orbiting distant Milky Way stars.
Year 12 mathematics and physics are strongly recommended for ASTR 112. Certain courses require a background in Year 13 physics and mathematics with calculus. If you have no, or only a limited, background in these subjects there may be certain courses you need to take first, or you may wish to consider taking our Science Headstart summer preparatory course.
At an advanced level, Astronomy is heavily based on physics. Students intending to pursue study in Astronomy must first and foremost obtain a good grounding in Physics and Mathematics.
The courses ASTR 211 and ASTR 212 are taught in alternate years in the second semester. ASTR 211 covers computer image processing, astrometry, photometry and spectroscopy. ASTR 212 covers solar system astronomy and dynamical astronomy. Students in their first year can undertake these courses once they have completed a first semester prerequisite.
At 300 (BSc) and 400 (Bachelor of Science with Honours and Master of Science) level, courses cover the detailed structure and evolution of stars, galaxies, and the Universe.
Astronomy and astrophysics are taught within the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Students with good BSc(Hons) or MSc degrees can proceed to the PhD programme. Students who enter for MSc and PhD degrees in Astronomy undertake research for a thesis, usually using the telescopes at the University's Mount John Observatory at Tekapo and now using SALT. Mount John is the principal centre for research in optical astronomy in New Zealand and is equipped with computer-controlled instruments and state-of the-art cryogenic detectors.
Instrumentation is a particularly strong point of the department: construction of Hercules (a high resolution spectrograph to search for planets and do improved stellar astrophysics) was completed recently as was the design of a similar instrument for SALT. The collaboration with SALT gives opportunities for graduate students to work with data from the largest optical telescope in the world. This will enhance the current research fields within the department, which include gravitational lensing, stellar astrophysics, planet searching, variable stars, the cosmic microwave background and neutrino astronomy.
Students majoring in Astronomy acquire a wide range of skills, from the use of spectroscopic and photometric detector systems (and the analysis of the data obtained), through electronics and optics, to computer skills for analysis and interpretation of data. This produces a graduate who is well equipped to undertake employment not only in astronomy, but in any number of fields which require practical experience or which involve analysis of real data.
Studying Physics and Astronomy equips graduates with skills in problem solving, abstract thinking, evaluating, communicating and decision making. It develops high levels of curiosity, inventiveness, and mathematical and computer competencies.
Graduates with Astronomy degrees may follow traditional paths and work in astronomy either as scientists, technicians, research assistants, engineers, astronomers, patent agents, technical authors or even managers at an observatory or in an institute. However, many Astronomy graduates move into other fields, particularly computing and information technology, management, and science communication or media work. With some additional study graduates can become meteorologists, geophysicists, material technologists or medical physicists.
For further career information, please go to www.canterbury.ac.nz/careers