Astrophysical and planetary sciences address some of the most fundamental scientific questions, from the structure of the early Universe, through the evolution of galaxies and planetary extra solar planetsystems, to the origin of life. At UC Santa Cruz, four departments are engaged in answering these questions: Applied Math & Statistics, Astronomy (including University of California Observatories),  Earth & Planetary Sciences, and Physics.

Various interdisciplinary centers foster collaboration between researchers, including the Center for Adaptive Optics (CfAO), the Center for the Origin, Dynamics and Evolution of Planets (CODEP), Next Generation Telescopes Science Institute (NEXSI), the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP), and Theoretical Astrophysics Santa Cruz (TASC). Many of the faculty play key roles in existing telescopes and spacecraft, or in developing  the next generation of instruments and missions. Others use cutting-edge computational resources to investigate phenomena such as cosmological structure formation, galaxy evolution,  exploding stars,  turbulence and magnetic fields, star and planet formation, asteroid impacts, and many other areas of current interest

In total, about 30 faculty are involved in astrophysical and planetary research, resulting in a world-class academic environment. In recent years, the Physics department was ranked number 1 in the country for research impact and the scientific papers published by the Astronomy department have been cited more often than any other in the nation.