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Research degrees
Research areas
Image of a galaxy


We have international programmes of observational, theoretical, laboratory-based and mission-based astronomy research, focusing on all four of the key science questions of European astronomy and aligned with the Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) science challenges:

  • Do we understand the extremes of the Universe?
  • How do galaxies form and evolve?
  • What is the origin and evolution of stars and planets?
  • How do we fit in?

Each year we advertise typically 10 defined research projects and expect to recruit full-time postgraduate students to typically 3-5 of those projects, on fully funded studentships (providing fees and stipend). Part-time, self-funded postgraduate students on self-defined projects are only appointed in exceptional circumstances, where the projects closely match the interests and activities of staff members.

Astronomy is one of five research disciplines within the School of Physical Sciences, and has close links with Planetary and Space Sciences and with The Centre for Electronic Imaging.

Key facts

  • Astronomy is a highly productive, internationally excellent and expanding discipline within the OU, producing typically over 150 research papers a year and financially supported by STFC, UKSA, the European Commission and other funding bodies.
  • Research students in Astronomy at the OU have opportunities to travel to our own telescopes abroad, to International Observatories and to International Conferences.
  • We were part of the Unit of Assessment 7 submission from The Open University, which achieved 6th in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework power ranking (reflecting the quality and cohort size), with 77 per cent of our outputs achieving 3*/4* grades. We expect to be submitted to Unit of Assessment 9 for REF 2020+.
  • As part of the Physical Sciences, postgraduate students in astronomy benefit from specific research skills training related to their subject areas (e.g. astronomical computing, statistics) in addition to their individual research project supervision, as well as general research training at faculty and University level.
  •  The OU Astronomers gather for a weekly Journal Club, which is an informal and informative gathering, discussing up to the minute developments in astronomy from the our own work, the journals and reports from International Conferences.
  • Astronomy is a priority area for OU-funded broadcasting, and there are often opportunities to become involved in BBC television or radio series. We regularly consult on BBC television series funded by the OU including Stargazing Live and Bang Goes The Theory.
  • We also teach more astronomy undergraduates than the rest of the UK higher education sector put together, with over 40 years' experience specialising in distance education, taking students from no previous knowledge to undergraduate degrees and beyond.


We have leading roles in many major international projects and facilities, including JCMT Legacy Surveys, Herschel and Planck and LSST. We run the OpenScience Observatories, a collection of telescopes and other instruments on Mount Teide, Tenerife.

The Astronomy Discipline is also a member of the UK SALT Consortium, which owns a 5 per cent share in the 11-metre Southern African Large Telescope. We are a partner in the SuperWASP consortium that operates two robotic sky-patrol camera systems (one in La Palma, one at Sutherland Observatory, South Africa), We are a member of the UK LOFAR consortium, and have important roles on the UK LSST board.  We are co-investigators on the forthcoming ESA Euclid space telescope and have involvement with the forthcoming ESA PLATO and ESA ARIEL space telescopes.

We use many international facilities, from ground-based observatories (e.g. ALMA, AAO, ESO) to space telescopes (HST, Spitzer, STEREO), and are involved in the planning and preparation for future international facilities and proposals (e.g. FLARE, SPICA, E-ELT, POLLUX).

Observational studies are complemented by state-of-the-art laboratories in astrochemistry which are integrated with European and US astrochemistry and planetary science laboratory networks. We lead the EuroPLANET consortium, a €10 million European research infrastructure. We are also a partner institution in the South East Physics Network (SEPNet), ensuring both a coordinated training plan for postgraduate students and rapid dissemination of their research findings to a very broad community.

All this research exploits the University’s IMPACT computing cluster for data analysis and modelling.



Research topics

Explore specific areas of research, current and prospective projects, entry requirements, available supervisors and contact details for advice.


Astronomy education

Exoplanets and planetary physics

Extragalactic astronomy

Interplanetary dust

Stellar astrophysics


Related topics

Consider linked topics from other research areas.

Astrobiology and habitats for life

Comets and asteroids

Laboratory astrophysics

Physics education