The role of astrocytes in neuronal function has received increasing recognition, but disagreement remains about their function at the circuit level. Here we use in vivo two-photon calcium imaging of neocortical astrocytes while monitoring the activity state of the local neuronal circuit electrophysiologically and optically. We find that astrocytic calcium activity precedes spontaneous circuit shifts to the slow-oscillation-dominated state, a neocortical rhythm characterized by synchronized neuronal firing and important for sleep and memory. Further, we show that optogenetic activation of astrocytes switches the local neuronal circuit to this slow-oscillation state. Finally, using two-photon imaging of extracellular glutamate, we find that astrocytic transients in glutamate co-occur with shifts to the synchronized state and that optogenetically activated astrocytes can generate these glutamate transients. We conclude that astrocytes can indeed trigger the low-frequency state of a cortical circuit by altering extracellular glutamate, and therefore play a causal role in the control of cortical synchronizations.