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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 unexpected discoveries continue to be made.

Why study Astronomy at UC?

UC is the only university in New Zealand to offer the study of Astronomy at all levels. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has an exciting programme of teaching and research often using state-of-the-art facilities as part of its core work. These include:

  • field stations for meteor and atmospheric research which are located at Birdlings Flat and at Scott Base, Antarctica
  • an internationally important astronomical observatory at Mount John, Tekapo, equipped with computer-controlled instruments and cryogenic detectors
  • UC is a partner in the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), one of the world's largest telescopes
  • UC constructed Hercules, a high resolution spectograph to search for planets and do improved stellar astrophysics.

As well, the department collaborates nationally and internationally. 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 ASTR112 Astrophysics.

Certain courses require a background in Year 13 physics and calculus. If you have no, or only a limited, background in these subjects you may wish to consider taking our Headstart summer preparatory course.


See all Astronomy courses

100-level courses

Students intending to advance in Astronomy are strongly advised to include in their first-year courses:

200-level and beyond

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 ASTR211 Imaging the Universe and ASTR212 Dynamical Astronomy and the Solar System are taught in alternate years in the second semester. ASTR211 covers computer image processing, astrometry, photometry and spectroscopy. ASTR212 covers solar system astronomy and dynamic astronomy. Students in their first year can undertake these courses once they have completed a first semester prerequisite.

At 300-level (Bachelor of Science) and 400-level (Bachelor of Science with Honours and Master of Science), courses cover the detailed structure and evolution of stars, galaxies, and the Universe.

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.

Career opportunities

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 may follow traditional paths and work 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.

Find out more about what you can do with a degree in Astronomy.

More information

Department of Physics and Astronomy

Phone +64 3 364 2523

Physical location
See the Department's website for up-to-date location details.

Postal address
University of Canterbury
Private Bag 4800
Christchurch 8140
New Zealand

Douglas Walker

Douglas Walker

'The faculty research at UC is top notch...'

Andrew Ridden-Harper

Andrew Ridden-Harper

'UC graduates in Physics and Astronomy do PhDs in some of the best universities in the world...'