Astronomy @ MIT

MIT hosts a vibrant interdisciplinary program of research and education in Astronomy and Astrophysics. These activities span multiple departments, including the Astrophysics Division of MIT Physics, the Planetary Division of MIT Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro).

The MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI) brings these communities together via joint appointments for faculty in all three departments, hosting weekly Astrophysics colloiquiua, journal clubs, and other subject-specific seminars. Together we number approximately 180 faculty, students, and researchers focused on furthering our understanding of the universe.

Prospective graduate students in astronomy may apply to any of the three departments listed above. The Astrophysics Division hosts students in all astronomical disciplines. Exoplanetary students sit in both Astrophysics and EAPS, with the choice dependent upon their specific research interests and faculty advisors. Research on planets, asteroids and other objects in our Solar System is concentrated within EAPS. AeroAstro trains students on development of spaceflight hardware, but all three departments engage in astronomy research using satellite payloads, leveraging the common resources of the Kavli Institute.

Undergraduates interested in an astronomy focus can major in either Physics or EAPS, each of which offer multiple courses, including the undergraduate observing lab. Many students choose an astronomy focus as part of the Physics flexible major option. Students completing certain astronomy courses are eligible for an astronomy minor certificate.

MIT helped to build, and currently operates (or collaborates in) multiple observatories spanning the electromagnetic and gravitational spectrum, both around the globe and in orbit. These include:

  • The Magellan Telescopes: a pair of 6.5-meter optical telescopes in the Chilean Andes
  • The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory (LIGO): the world's premier gravitational wave detector
  • The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS): A NASA-led experiment to detect exoplanets around the nearest and brightest stars
  • The Hydrogen Epoch of Reionization Array (HERA): A radio telescope in the South African Karoo Wilderness
  • The Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER): An X-ray telescope on the International Space Station
  • The Chandra X-ray Observatory: NASA's Great Observatory for High-Energy Astrophysics
  • The George R. Wallace Observatory: A local facility dedicated to undergraduate teaching and research
  • Haystack Observatory: an interdisciplinary research center focused on radio astronomy, geodesy, and atmospheric science
Additionally MIT hosts a world-leading computer science department and many researchers work at the interface of high performance computing and astrophysics and data science.