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Science: galaxies, stars and planets

Develop your understanding of a wide range of topics in astronomy by exploring the fascinating science behind the galaxies, stars and planets of the Universe.

Science: galaxies, stars and planets is one of a series of 100-hour flexible online courses introducing fascinating topics in science. It covers the exploration of our Solar System; the discovery of planets orbiting other stars; the birth, life and violent death of stars; and the creation of the Universe itself. It allows you to learn about this topic just for interest and enables you to try out an area of study before you commit yourself to further study. You can register and begin this course at any time and will have at least 6 months to complete it.

Standalone study only

You will not be awarded credits for studying this course. It is available for standalone study only and cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.

Short course

Short course code
SG077
Credits
This is a non-credit bearing course.
Study method
Distance Learning
Short course cost
See Registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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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.

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.

Learner support

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, dedicated website and computing helpdesk.

If you have a disability

The course is delivered online and makes use of a variety of online resources. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs.

Course length

This course will require around 100 hours to complete.

Teaching and assessment

Assessment

There is no formal assessment on the course but you will be able to assess yourself on your factual knowledge through an online quiz that gives detailed feedback to help your learning.

Future availability

This page describes the course that opened in February 2021. You can register and start this course at any time up until 31 January 2022, and study at your own pace. Future availability of this course is confirmed each year.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations, which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.


    Entry requirements

    This course is for people who are new to the subject area. You need little more than an interest in astronomy and the motivation to discover more about it.

    Mathematically, you need only to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide simple numbers. The structured teaching will take you to a level at which you are happy to use maths as a tool in a range of scientific contexts. A maths skills ebook is provided to help you with, for example, fractions, percentages, reading graphs and tables, and scientific units as required by the course.

    To cope with the written material you should be able to read and understand written English of a style and complexity characteristic of a professional magazine or quality newspaper.

    You can study at your own pace and attempt the online quiz at any date before the end date for the course. Information about the end date is available when you register and will be at least six months after registration.

    If you want to see if this material is suitable for you, try a sample of the study material.

    Course length

    This course will require around 100 hours to complete.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    At anytime Flexible - see Entry requirements for more detail £170.00 Register

    Ways to pay

    Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron.

    Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

    The fee information provided here is valid for short courses starting in the 2021/22 academic year. Fees for short courses starting in the 2022/23 academic year or later may increase in line with the University’s strategic approach to fees.

    What's included

    All learning materials, activities and study support are delivered entirely online.

    Computing requirements

    You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    To join in spoken conversations in tutorials we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

    Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported, versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

    It's also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook, however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you'll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.