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Remote experiments in physics and space

This is a practical science module with activities that address astronomy, physics and planetary science topics. It builds on your previous study, adding a vital element of experimental work. The investigations cover aspects as diverse as quantum mechanics; properties of electrons; planetary atmospheres and surface processes; and the structure and contents of the Milky Way. You’ll use remote equipment ranging from an X-ray spectrometer to an optical telescope in Tenerife or a radio telescope in Milton Keynes. You’ll build your experience and expertise in practical investigation, including observation, hypothesising and reporting skills. An exciting project develops team-working skills critical to collaborative scientific enquiry.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module

Module code
SXPS288
Credits

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
30
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
OU SCQF FHEQ
2 9 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

You’ll conduct all the live experimental investigations remotely. This parallels the way many modern scientific investigations are conducted. It’s no longer necessary to travel to a remote mountaintop to use the latest telescope – you can book time and control equipment remotely. The same applies to a particle accelerator or other major scientific installations. Space-based explorations such as a space telescope or Mars rover are operated remotely. The remote experimentation skills you’ll develop are directly relevant to finding employment in the space sector.

Cooperation and group work are also characteristic features of scientific investigations. Large-scale enterprises like the Large Hadron Collider or the Mars Curiosity rover can operate only if many people work together. By working with fellow students and supported by research experts, you’ll achieve more than any one person working alone. You’ll develop vital employability skills in communication, collaboration and professional team working.

There are three main investigations – covering astronomy, physics, and planetary science:

Astronomy: Exploring the Milky Way
In this investigation you’ll use either an optical telescope (PIRATE) or a radio telescope (ARROW) to investigate the structure and content of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

The optical observations concern photometry of open and globular clusters of stars in different wavebands. From this, you’ll compile a colour-magnitude diagram to estimate properties such as the age and distance of the clusters.

The observations at radio wavelengths are of emissions from interstellar hydrogen. From this, you’ll map out the spiral arms and determine the structure of the Galaxy.

The two techniques complement each other. Whichever instrument you use, you’ll be contributing to an investigation into the structure and content of the Galaxy. You’ll typically work in a group with four other students, supported by experts in either optical or radio astronomy.

You must choose from the two options (PIRATE or ARROW) at the start of the module. We’ll provide full descriptions of both projects, together with a discussion forum, to help you choose. Places on each telescope option are limited, so book early to maximise your chances of getting an observing session on your preferred activity.

Physics: Electron–photon interactions
This activity, about charged particles and radiation, is split into two investigations.

In the first investigation, you’ll use an interactive screen experiment (ISE) to measure the deflection of a beam of electrons in a magnetic field. You’ll use this to measure a fundamental property of the electron – its charge to mass ratio.

The second investigation is a live experiment in which you'll use apparatus in a lab at the OU campus using remote control software. You’ll investigate the process of Compton scattering – the interaction of X-ray photons with individual electrons. During your studies of the Compton effect, you’ll be recreating a Nobel Prize-winning experiment and confirming a fundamental result in quantum mechanics.

This activity will develop your skills in conducting practical investigations including calibration of equipment, handling of experimental errors and the presentation and interpretation of results.

Planetary science: Mars atmosphere and surface
This investigation is centred around an imagined space mission to Mars. In the first phase you’ll carry out a live experimental investigation using infrared spectroscopy to determine properties of planetary atmospheres. You’ll be making use of technology designed by researchers at the OU and flown on actual space missions.

The second part of the investigation concerns planetary surface processes. Using genuine Mars data, you’ll learn how to process and extract information from public domain datasets. You’ll use this to model processes such as the production and evolution of the atmosphere and surface features of another planet.

Team project
Towards the end of the module, you’ll complete a short team-based project involving mathematical modelling and analysis of experimental data relating to your Mars investigations. This activity will guide you through the manipulation and interpretation of observational data on planetary atmospheres and surfaces. You’ll learn how differential equations are used to model physical systems. You’ll work collaboratively with your team using a variety of communication methods, including scheduled online forums.

You will learn

The practical skills developed in this module include:

  • experimental technique and experimental design
  • planning and conducting observations and experiments
  • data handling, including computer programming for data analysis
  • data presentation
  • report writing
  • safe working
  • professional team working.

Vocational relevance

Many of the practical skills you’ll develop in this module are highly sought after by employers. These transferable skills can be applied in many different scientific or commercial settings, especially to the rapidly expanding space sector in the UK and further afield.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You’ll have a tutor who will help you with your general progress, and who you can ask for academic advice and guidance.

Assessment

You can find the assessment details for this module in the facts box.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your TMAs.

Future availability

Remote experiments in physics and space (SXPS288) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.

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.

    Course work includes:

    3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school


    Entry requirements

    This module has no formal entry requirements.

    However, you must have the following:

    • an appropriate level of mathematical ability
    • a knowledge of either physics or astronomy/planetary science
    • some experience of computer programming using Python or a similar language.

    Check you’re ready with our interactive self-assessment activity.

    If you’re still not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.

    Preparatory work

    We recommend you’ve passed the following OU Level 1 modules:

    • Essential mathematics 1 (MST124)
    • Questions in science (S111) or its predecessor Exploring science (S104)
    • Physics and space (SM123)

    At OU Level 2, we recommend you’ve successfully completed any one of the following:

    • Physics: from classical to quantum (S217)
    • The physical world (S207) – discontinued
    • Astronomy (S282) and Planetary science and the search for life (S283)

    We’ll provide preparatory reading materials for the OU Level 2 modules on this list that you haven’t studied.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    05 Oct 2019 Jun 2020 £1506.00

    Registration closes 12/09/19 (places subject to availability)

    Register
    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2026.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a computer, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).


    For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time convenient to you.


    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2020. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 23/07/2019.

    What's included

    We’ll deliver all study and assessment materials through the module website and through the OpenScience laboratory. Some of the live interactive experiments and activities will direct you to third-party websites outside of the Open University.

    You will need

    • A scientific calculator
    • A digital camera or scanner to record images of your work (recommended, but not essential)

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SXPS288 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.