About Us


Astronomy at Columbia

Astronomy was first taught at Columbia in 1757 and, during the intervening 263 years, has formed an important part of the University's curriculum, both as a discipline in which new scholars are trained, and as an introduction to the methodologies and perspectives of science for students pursuing other areas of inquiry. Columbia's first telescope was lent to George Washington for use in the Battle of Long Island; both the telescope and the battle were lost. It was thus not until 1857 that the first Professor of Astronomy was appointed. Early research highlights included the first applications of photography to stellar astrometry and spectroscopy (1863), and the first use of "modern" computing engines for calculations and data reduction (1934).

The Astronomy Department is now a community of roughly 15 faculty, 30 graduate students, 25 undergraduate majors, and over 1000 students per year in our core classes, supported by 2 administrative staff, with associated faculty, research scientists, postdoctoral researchers and staff in the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory (CAL). Department members use their expertise to take on many roles in Columbia University, New York City, astronomical, and world communities: as faculty we join our colleagues in defining one of the premier educational and research institutions in the United States; as educators our role is to encourage scientific literacy at all levels, for undergraduate non-majors and majors and graduate students; as researchers our quest is to understand the Universe itself; as citizens our mission is to share that understanding with as broad an audience as possible.