The Australian National University offers a specialist Astronomy and Astrophysics Honours Program. The one-year course is designed as a preparation for PhD research in astrophysics and provides the opportunity to develop your research skills, in addition to focussed coursework that provides a solid foundation for further study. Any student completing the course will be in an excellent position to continue to astrophysical research at any Australian university or overseas. An honours degree is also recognised by employers in industry as an indication of your ability to solve problems, work independently, and to conduct research.

The astrophysics honours program is taught jointly by the Mathematical Sciences Institute, the Research School of Physics and Engineering, and by the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (Mt Stromlo Observatory).

Why study astronomy and astrophysics at ANU?

  • Study with internationally-renowned astronomers: ANU astronomers are outstanding achievers: we are proud to have the only Nobel-prize winning Australian astronomer, three researchers that have been awarded the governments prestigious Federation Fellowships, and six of the most highly-cited Australian scientists.
  • Study with one of our academic astronomers making discoveries in many fields: We have nearly 50 academic staff who can offer a wide range of exciting honours projects and courses, from studies of planets to galaxy to cosmology, both for the theoretically- and observationally-inclined students.
  • Study in a working observatory: the RSAA operates a working observatory, with our own telescope facilities. This provides unrivalled observing opportunities and experience for our students.
  • Be part of the wider astronomy community: RSAA has a lively atmosphere, with many astronomers and technical staff, and a large number of national and international visitors pass through each year. 
  • Pursue exciting job opportunities: all of our honours students who wished to continue in astronomy have been successful in finding PhD places. Over 80% of our PhD graduates who wish to continue in astronomy over the last ten years have found astronomy research jobs.

The RSAA honours program

You can choose to enrol in the BSc(Hons) Astronomy and Astrophysics program, which enables you to specialise totally in astronomy and astrophysics. Alternatively, you can enrol in either the BSc(Hons) Mathematics or BSc(Hons) Physics programs, while still completing an astronomical research project and some astronomy coursework. If you are uncertain, you can enrol in the astronomy and astrophysics program and change to one of the other programs during the honours year.

Admission requirements

To be admitted into the astrophysics program for next year, a student must have successfully completed three years of an undergraduate course, including a large proportion of maths and physics courses. An average grade of distinction (70%) or above is required. In special cases, these requirements can be waived, at the discretion of the heads of department.

Bok Honours Year Scholarship

The top applicant each year will be awarded the Bok Honours Year Scholarship: a prestigious award valued at $5000, or $9500 for students transferring their enrolment to ANU. Other students may be offered RSAA Honours Year scholarships. Students are also encouraged to apply for an ANU honours scholarship. The deadline for these scholarships is 30th November.

Submission date

First semester honours will start on 29 January, 2018 and finish (with the submission of the thesis) at the end of October. In any case please make sure that your honours and scholarship applications are sent to the College of Science (not RSAA) by 30th November.  There is also the possibility to start honours mid-year.  Information and deadlines for the College of Sciences are available here.  

Further information

For further information, or to request admission materials, please contact our RSAA honours convener, Prof Naomi McClure-Griffiths.


Important dates

Please note that some of the 1st semester honours courses may run slightly into the semester break.

Honours coursework rules

  1. 50 per cent of the honours assessment in astronomy and astrophysics is for a research project.
  2. Students are required to do 24 points of coursework for the other 50 per cent of their honours assessment.
  3. Up to 24 points (in 3 and 6 point quanta) are to be selected from the list below.
  4. ASTR4002, ASTR4007 and GEOL3022 may be taken if not already taken as a third year subjects (ASTR3002, ASTR3007, GEOL3022).
  5. Some courses (e.g. diffuse matter in the Universe, high energy astrophysics, astrophysical gas dynamics, and observational techniques) may be given in alternate years.
  6. A student who misses these courses in 4th year may take them as a graduate course in the following year.
  7. Additional 6 cp units may be selected from suitable units in physics or maths subjects to approval by the astronomy & astrophysics honours convenor. Possible examples include: A unit from the physics honours program. One of the computational modelling units in the Bachelor of Computational Science honours program. One of the units in the mathematics honours program
  8. For the honours degree, students have to take up to five courses in total. This can be either all five courses offered by RSAA (see list below) or equivalent honours courses from geology, physics or maths.
  9. A minimum of three courses offered by RSAA have to be taken.

Recommended honours courses

ASTR4007: From stars to galaxies  (6CP)

Offered in: 1st Semester

Syllabus: This course will introduce star formation, structure, evolution, element production and thermonuclear reactions, and pulsating stars. The galaxy component will cover, galaxy formation theory, classification, star formation, galaxy interactions, dark matter, black holes and large-scale structure of the Universe.  This course can be taken if not taken as a third year course.

ASTR4002: Black holes and cosmology (6CP)

Offered in: 2nd Semester

Syllabus: This course covers the theory of general relativity with applications to black holes and cosmology. Topics include the following. Metrics and Riemannian tensors. The calculus of variations and Lagrangians. Spaces and space-times of general relativity. The Schwarzschild metric and black holes. Photon and particle orbits.  Theoretical cosmology: Universe models.  Dark matter and dark energy.  Observational Cosmology: historical observations, distances, accelerating Universe and the cosmic background radiation. This course can be taken if not taken as a third year course.

ASTR4003: High Energy Astrophysics (6CP)

Offered in: 1st Semester

Syllabus: The course is based on the theoretical development of non-thermal emission processes from relativistically moving plasma containing high energy relativistic particles and the inference of source parameters from the observation of non-thermal emission in the radio through to the high energy gamma ray region of the spectrum.

ASTR4006: Galaxies (6CP)

Offered in: 1st Semester

Syllabus: The course begins with an overview of galaxies at all redshifts in the Universe, introduces the basic tools for their study and proceeds to analyse the properties of disk, elliptical and dwarf galaxies, as well as discussing the formation of galaxies.

ASTR4012: Astrophysical gas dynamics (6CP)

Not offered in 2017

Syllabus: The course systematically develops the fundamental equations of gas dynamics including magnetic fields. These equations are then used to study astronomical flows in a number of different environments such as stellar winds, wind-driven bubbles, interstellar shock waves, supernova blast waves, accretion disks and jets. Through the study of these specific examples, the course develops a good general physical and mathematical understanding of the transport of mass, momentum and energy in astrophysics.

ASTR4015: Stellar Atmospheres and Spectroscopy (6CP)

Not offered in 2017

Syllabus: The course is based on the theoretical development of the transfer of radiation through the atmospheres of stars, determining how the emergent spectrum may be used to determine the chemical composition of stars. Other aspects of stars related to their atmospheres are also examined; these include magnetic activity and stellar winds.

ASTR4017: Diffuse matter in the Universe - 6CP

Offered in: 2nd Semester

Syllabus: The course covers the following topics: The diffuse universe; line emission processes; collisional excitation; line transfer effects; collision ionisation equilibrium; cooling plasmas; interstellar shocks; theory of photo-ionised regions; parameters of photo-ionised regions and interstellar dust.

ASTR8011: Observational techniques - 6CP

Syllabus: The course covers basic techniques required to obtain and analyse astronomical observations: including photometric systems, measurement errors, optics, telescope and instrument optics and detector systems, spectroscopy and imaging systems.

Planetary science - EMSC3022 (6CP)

Syllabus: This course provides an introduction to planetary geology with a view to understanding what makes planet Earth so special in a galactic context. We will explore the solar system and humans' place in it. We will examine the essential ingredients for life on planets and how the planets come by them. We will step back in time to examine the earliest solar system, going back to the origin of the elements themselves and the processes that have occurred in carrying matter from where it formed to where it can build new solar systems. The conditions on individual planets appears to be the result of many stochastic processes and it can be concluded that our solar system is the end-product of many accidental and chance events, leading to a philosophical discussion of whether planets similar to Earth will be discovered elsewhere in the universe.

Utility courses

These short (2-8 lectures) courses are not part of the honours/graduate program but will help students with Unix, LaTeX, BibTex, literature review, writing, etc. They are regularly offered by the Graduate Information Literacy Program at ANU. Please see their webpages for more information.

How to apply

Applications from students not already enrolled at ANU are due by 30th November, for admission in 1st semester of the following year. However, students can start the program at the beginning of either semester.

The application form and further information about the ANU honours program can be found on the CHM-COS honours pages.


The honours program in astronomy and astrophysics includes a research project that accounts for 50% of the assessment. Students work with a supervisor from among the research staff at the RSAA on a topic from any area of astronomy. Students are encouraged to discuss possible projects with staff when they arrive at the school to find a project in which they are interested. 

You can browse the research interests of our astronomers and view the list of current and recent student projects for more information about the type of research that our staff and students are doing.

The RSAA honours convenor is also able to assist with project selection and connecting students with potential supervisors.

How to apply

Applications from students not already enrolled at ANU are due by 30 November each year, for admission in 1st semester of the following year. However, students can start the program at the beginning of either semester.  Students interested in 2nd semester admission need to apply by 30 June each year.  
The application form and further information about the ANU honours program can be found on the CHM-COS honours pages.
Prior to submitting an application students are advised to contact the Honours Convenor to identify a research project.

Prospective student enquiries

Research highlights

Movie of a 3-D galactic jet simulation

3-D relativistic galactic jet simulation

This is a movie rendered in three dimensions of a supercomputer simulation of a powerful relativistic jet interacting with dense clouds surrounding...

Student profiles

Joshua Rich

PhD candidate, 2008
Astronomy is a science which cannot be done without good quality observations.  It is therefore imperative that the process of taking observations is...

Updated:  19 January 2018/Responsible Officer:  RSAA Director/Page Contact:  Webmaster