10 Most Popular Universities to Study Astronomy

Night Sky 2
Image Credit: Andy Holmes

The starry night sky filled with its infinite mysteries and wonders has always represented a constant source of fascination for humankind. At the dawn of civilization, ancient people like the Egyptians and Babylonians believed their gods lived in the sky as constellations and stars, but from 600-130 BCE philosophers and scientists from ancient Greeks started formulating theories based upon mathematical principles, reasoning and logic. This led to the birth of astronomy as a scientific subject.

Nowadays, astronomy is one of the most complex natural sciences to study at university and requires a good knowledge of physics, chemistry, and mathematics. The wide field attempts to explain the science of the physical universe beyond Earth’s atmosphere and if you are a student and you want to educate yourself in the mysteries of the unknown studying astronomy, you should prepare yourself for a long and wonderful journey.

Most Popular Astronomy Universities

Whether your interests lie in observational or theoretical astronomy, studying astronomy and astrophysics in college presents a wonderful opportunity to embark on a fascinating and exciting future career! If you want to attend one of the best astronomy schools in the world, read on to discover some of the most popular universities for studying the rewarding and compelling subject.

University of Manchester

Born in 2004 from the merger of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and the Victoria University of Manchester, the University of Manchester has one of the most active physics and astronomy departments in the world. In fact, many consider it to have the best astronomy program in Europe, with its Physics and Astronomy department having produced 13 Nobel Prize laureates. These include Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr, with current laureates at the department including Professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov. With around 80 members of academic staff and more than 100 research fellows and associates, it’s worth taking into consideration this university when you’re looking for colleges.

University College London

University College London has existed since 1826, and is one of the biggest universities in the UK. It’s the first university in London to be completely secular, and has been admitting students of all religions for the past two centuries. The Physics and Astronomy Department at UCL has around 90 members of staff who also play leadership roles in many international projects, such as the Dark Energy Survey, Hubble Space Telescope, Cassini, e-MERLIN and ALMA, among numerous others. The department of physics and astronomy describe themselves as “concerned with the study of the physical properties of the Universe, from the smallest to the largest scales”, convincing students from all over the world to sign up for their courses.

University of Edinburgh

Being one of the oldest universities from the English speaking world, the University of Edinburgh gave the city the name of the Athens of the North during the Age of Enlightenment (1685-1815). The university is one of the biggest centers of astronomical research in the UK. Based within the School of Physics and Astronomy is the Institute for Astronomy (IfA) research and teaching group, one of the UK’s most important centers of astronomical research across areas such as cosmology, galaxies, and star and planet formation. Needless to say, the University of Edinburgh’s department of physics and astronomy has outstanding alumni and talented professors. This includes the British theoretical physicist Peter Higgs, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on the Higgs boson, an elementary particle supposed to be responsible for giving other particles their masses.

Columbia University

In 1754, Columbia University was founded by the British in New York City. Three years later, astronomy started to be taught in the American university, and is the first university to use modern computing engines for calculations and data reduction in their research facilities and with their students. Nowadays, astrophysics is one of their most advanced departments, with research covering the entire electromagnetic spectrum, and systems of interest including stars, black holes, quasars, supernovae, galaxies, dark matter and cosmic microwave background among others. Since 1901, no less than 27 people associated with Columbia have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, including Martin Lewis Perl, Jack Steinberger and John C. Mather.

Cornell University

If you’ve ever dreamed about having a particle accelerator at your school, Cornell University is the place to go to! Fields of study included in Cornell University’s astronomy department includes exoplanets, galaxies, stars, cosmology and the interstellar medium. Having an outstanding astronomy department, Cornell astronomers have made major contributions to astronomy projects over the years, including NASA missions to explore the solar system and universe, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) mission, and the Cassini mission to Saturn. The Cornell Astronomy Department is also home to the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Research (CCAPS) and the Carl Sagan Institute.

Australian National University

The Australian National University is one of the top astronomy schools because of its outstanding professors and performant research equipment. ANU also has the biggest optical observatory in Australia. It doesn’t get any better than this for any astronomy student.  Located at Coonabarabran at the edge of the Warrumbungle National Park, the research equipment located at the Siding Spring Observatory (SSO) costs more than A$100 million and includes more than 60 telescopes. These include the 3.9m Anglo-Australian telescope, the 2.3m ANU telescope, the ANU 40″ telescope, and the 24 metre Mopra radio telescope.

Tsinghua University

Tsinghua University is one of the best universities in China. In fact, Chinese President Xi Jinping is one of the alumni of the university. Their astrophysics department studies areas like high energy astrophysics, galaxy formation and cosmology, time-domain astronomy, plasma astrophysics, extrasolar planets, and space astronomy. In addition to members of the THCA having access to the TNT telescope located at Xinglong Observatory, the university has a strong background in engineering, and specializes in developing the latest instruments for ground-based and space facilities.

Nanyang Technological University

The Nanyang Technological University in Singapore is considered the best “young university” for the past five years. The university has one of the most beautiful and technologically advanced campuses in the world. So if you want to study at a very performant astrophysics department this should be your choice. A joint honors degree is available to study physics and astronomy, with the course lasting three years. It covers core traditional physics areas of study, such as particle physics, atoms and molecules, quantum mechanics and astrophysics, as well as cosmology, planetary geology and astrobiology. The degree course reinforces the students’ theoretical understanding of physics and astronomy through practical lab sessions, lectures, seminars, and the student being required to complete a substantial research project.

Carnegie-Mellon University

The Astrophysics and Cosmology department at Carnegie-Mellon University is very advanced. Using technologies like digital sky surveys to map nearby galaxies, we understand why this university is so popular. Reasearch carried out by the CMU Astrophysics and Cosmology group covers such diverse fields of study as the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation, evolution of galaxies and large-scale structure formation. The group is also involved in two important surveys, namely the Sloan Digital Sky Survey IV and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).

Sapienza University

Founded in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII, Sapienza University is one of Rome’s most prized academic institutions. Being a university filled with traditions, but also up to date with modern technologies, Sapienza is a wonderful astronomy university to study at. The master’s degrees available at the university includes ones for particle physics, and space and astronautical engineering. Meanwhile, there is a joint research program PhD covering areas such as galactic and extragalactic astrophysics, gravitation and cosmology, and solar and stellar physics. It is a collaboration between the University of Rome (La Sapienza) and the University of Rome Tor Vergata, with assistance from the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF). At the end of the PhD program, students receive a joint degree of the two universities.


If you want to study the great mysteries of the sky, you now know some of the amazing institutions from which to choose. If you do study astronomy, be sure you are prepared in physics, mathematics, and chemistry. Also, students have to be able to adapt to modern and performant technologies. From using a microscope for your research to tracking the progress of your studies, it’s your duty as a student to have the best results with all the means at your disposal.

While not an easy subject to learn, astronomy is a totally worthwhile pursuit for those passionate about the subject. Furthermore, these top universities are wondrous places of learning, and have their own observatories and some even their own particle accelerators! The opportunities you have nowadays work in your favor. Your duty as a student of the exact is to keep up to date with information and keep the community of like-minded people around you connected. Doing so, you will be more than just a student. You will become part of a guild. Part of a group that is searching for the mysteries of the universe.

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