What you will study
Have you ever gazed up into the sky and wondered what lies in the distant reaches of space? This course explores the fascinating science behind the galaxies, stars and planets of the Universe. It will develop your understanding of a wide range of topics in astronomy, with sections on the Sun, planets, stars, extraterrestrial life, galaxies and the origin and evolution of the Universe.
This course explains how the Sun gets its energy and how astronomers are able to observe the Sun, even into its interior. You will be introduced to the planets, their satellites and the minor bodies of the Solar System. You will also meet exoplanets, i.e. planets around other stars. The latest ideas about the life cycle of stars, from birth to death, and the cosmic re-cycling of their components are also explored.
You will also meet ideas about the expanding Universe, dark matter, dark energy, the large-scale structure of the Universe and what we know about the very early Universe, shortly after the 'Big Bang'. Many of these topics are at the cutting edge of our understanding but are dealt with in an approachable and (largely) non-mathematical way.
Finally, life beyond Earth is considered, including its requirements and possible habitats, and the likelihood of alien life – including intelligent life.
Through a series of structured activities you will learn to use the Aladin Sky Atlas (Aladin) program on a PC for interpreting and manipulating astronomical images from space telescopes and ground-based telescopes. Aladin is a leading astronomical software package that is used by professional astronomers and will help you make the transition from just appreciating beautiful astronomical images to also doing quantitative science.
By the end of this course you should be able to:
Demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of some of the basic facts, concepts, principles, theories and language relating to the study of astronomy. In particular:
- the electromagnetic spectrum and how it is used to infer properties of sources of radiation
- the range of sizes, distances and motions of objects in the Universe and how they can be measured
- the classification and distribution of galaxies in space
- the structure and history of the Universe
- stars: their structure, evolution, and the main processes operating in them
- the cycling of material through stellar death and birth
- the properties of our Solar System and exoplanetary systems
- where and how life might be found beyond Earth.
This course will require around 80–100 hours of your time in total, which can be spread over at least 6 months.
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The course features the distinctive strengths of The Open University (OU) from its years of expertise in distance learning:
- The convenience of accessing its clearly presented and sequenced materials, activities and support whenever suits you and wherever you have access to the protected course website – if you prefer, you can print key materials to work on them offline.
- The support of an expert learning adviser who can clarify study materials, answer questions and help you relate the course to your specific needs.
- An online interactive quiz that you can attempt as many times as you wish to help you test your own learning.
- A statement of participation from the OU which you can use to demonstrate your engagement with the course. (N.B. The course does not carry academic credit points.)
Some of the pages within the course contain links to external sites. Accessing these sites is part of the allocated study time for the course. You may also wish to undertake additional background study or reading if some of the concepts introduced are completely unfamiliar to you.
Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a learning adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, library, dedicated website and computing helpdesk.