What you will study
A background in science and a modest amount of mathematics is required for this module. It is divided into two parts, each consisting of a full-colour book and web-based material. Project work and web-based activities support and extend these two parts.
The sun and stars
We start with the sun – our star – and then explore the properties of other stars. You will see that there is an astonishing range of stellar types, and that our sun, though essential for our existence, is an unremarkable member of the stellar menagerie that encompasses massive blue stars, brown dwarfs, red giants, supergiants and white dwarfs. You will learn how the various types of star are born, how they live powered by nuclear reactions, and how they die, including the spectacular death of supergiants in supernovae – perhaps leaving behind a pulsar, perhaps even a black hole. Throughout this first part the relationship between stars and the interstellar medium is explored and you will see how the stars and interstellar gas are linked together in a process of cosmic recycling.
The activities supporting this first part include practical project work, mostly based on observations of celestial objects that you will make. All the projects are straightforward – no experience is required – and all can be done in an urban environment with the naked eye. There are also extensive computer and web-based activities. So, for example, you will retrieve and analyse astronomical data from sources on the internet, and use computer spreadsheets to investigate some of the theoretical ideas that are presented in the module. You will also use the internet as a source of up-to-date information about astronomical observatories, space missions and experiments.
Galaxies and cosmology
The sun is one of a hundred thousand million stars that inhabit our galaxy – the Milky Way. You will find out how astronomers study the structure and content of our galaxy before moving on to consider other types of galaxy. You will see that some of the most luminous objects in the Universe are active galaxies which probably contain supermassive black holes at their centres. You will consider current ideas about the formation and evolution of galaxies and the module discusses how such ideas will be tested by observations from new, space-based observatories. Moving on from individual galaxies, the module looks at large-scale structure and considers the evolution of the universe as a whole. You will review the evidence that supports the idea that the Universe began in a ‘big bang’, and you will see how ideas about the early universe are at the forefront of research in physics and cosmology. As in the first part, there is a range of associated activities.