I'm looking for a modern astrophysics text. I've had Barbara Ryden's book Foundations of Astrophysics recommended to me and it sounds okay, but the only review of it I've seen slagged off the problem sets as "more complex than they would initially seem, and often don't actually derive from the chapter."

Any other opinions on this or recommendations for other texts?

I have an okay grasp of calculus and I'm currently teaching myself introductory mechanics, so I'm not a complete novice (close, but not quite). I'm definitely looking for a college text, not popsci. I'm looking for an introductory astronomy text that assumes 2 semesters of calculus and 2 semesters of introductory physics - basic mechanics and basic electricity and magnetism, essentially. So nothing too high-powered, but also not too watered down.

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    $\begingroup$ One of the most popular (for good reasons) texts is Carroll and Ostlie's "An Introduction to Modern Astrophysics. It's one that pretty much every undergraduate astrophysics course I've come across uses. $\endgroup$
    – Phiteros
    Commented Jun 20, 2019 at 6:53
  • $\begingroup$ I second Ryden and Carroll & Ostlie. I can also warmly recommend Harrison's "Cosmology: The Science of the Universe", which starts from astro-history/philosophy, working through cosmology and (basic) general relativity at a level that doesn't require much math. There's also Kaufmann & Freedman "Universe", but although it was used at my university, it's probably more at a high school level. $\endgroup$
    – pela
    Commented Jun 27, 2019 at 11:51

2 Answers 2


What about Astronomical Algorithms by Jean Meeus. It's a mathematical discussion of the formulae behind astronomical events such as solar eclipses, occultations and transits. I have read it. It is a wonderful book. The only aspect that might not be satisfactory is the modern aspect. It's somewhat old.

  • $\begingroup$ That's not necessarily a bad thing. Just depends on the topic really. If the topic is well understood and our knowledge hasn't progressed much, it's probably holding up well. Once I get more maths under my belt, I'll check this out. I really like modelling systems with code so this could be fun. Modelling is such a good way to gain understanding of these complex systems. Thanks for the note. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 18:15

I used Foundations of Astrophysics by Ryden and Peterson in my first college astronomy course, which focused on stars, the ISM, and galaxies. The textbook itself goes far beyond those topics, delving into cosmology, planetary science, and more, and we actually use it for another intro-level course for majors covering those topics. I think it could be used well as the text for any such course.

I liked a couple of things about Ryden and Peterson:

  • The style is casual and accessible to a beginning astrophysics student. There's also humor tucked away in footnotes here and there; the book certainly doesn't try to be imposing - and it's not. I think that's important to have from time to time in an introductory text.
  • It covers everything, as I alluded to before. I do wish that the authors provided some resources for going further into particular subtopics, if the reader so desired, but then again, most students would have access to a professor/TA to go to for that.
  • I actually agree with the point that the problems go slightly beyond the scope of each chapter in some cases, but I also don't think that's a bad thing. The extra critical thinking helped me. I don't remember them making me want to bang my head against the wall as much as some other physics textbooks I could mention - maybe because Ryden and Peterson had a habit of breaking each problem into more manageable chunks, if I remember correctly.

I do think Ryden and Peterson satisfies the other requirements quite well; it doesn't use more than single-variable calculus (and even that only sparingly, I think), and it actually doesn't require much mechanics or electricity and magnetism, so in turns of prerequisites, you should be fine. One thing to note is that Ryden and Peterson doesn't include example problems done out in the same way many physics textbooks do - I don't know if that's a turn-off for you.

I should add a disclaimer that my opinion might be slightly skewed because of the textbook used in my seminar this past semester, LeBlanc's An Introduction to Stellar Astrophysics. LeBlanc is comparatively drier, denser, and more specialized (on, of course, stellar astrophysics). I found it substantially less accessible, even though I had much more experience in the subject at that point. This, then, may have affected my hindsight view of Ryden and Peterson. Ironically, we did use Carroll & Ostlie as supplementary reading (as well as Ryden and Peterson) on certain sections, which was much more helpful, and I daresay a refreshing change of pace.

  • $\begingroup$ This is really helpful. I'm going to check this text out. I'm learning calculus based mechanics now. I'm teaching myself now, it's a passion but it's a hobby, so progress is slower than if I were at Uni. If only I had been born an aristocrat. ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 24, 2019 at 18:17

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