What you will study
Have you ever gazed up into the sky and wondered what lies in the distant reaches of space? This module 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 module 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 the 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.
If you are a beginner in science, you will find that the study book introduces new scientific ideas as you need them, progressively developing more sophisticated concepts and skills. If you are an amateur astronomer, or have read popular books on astronomy, you will find that the module develops your understanding and introduces areas of astronomy that you have not met before.
The module is based on a specially written Open University (OU) study book and a website. The website gives you access to astronomical images from some of the biggest telescopes on Earth and in space. The study book provides questions and some activities to help you to test your understanding. You can also use these for self-assessment as you progress through the module. A number of activities will only be presented online via the website.