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Astronomy & Planetary Science strand

Discover the Universe by studying astronomy and planetary science and earn your qualification through The Open University

Further your understanding of astronomy and planetary science through a mixture of compulsory and optional study modules on our Solar System, planets orbiting other stars, the life cycle of stars, extreme conditions near black holes, and the evolutionary history of the Universe.

Our Natural Sciences degree programme (Q64) allows you to study astronomy and planetary science flexibly - full-time or part-time - at a pace to suit you and your other life commitments. Choose to study our astronomy and planetary science pathway and your specialism will be included in the name of your degree, BSc (Honours) Natural Sciences (Astronomy and Planetary Science).

By achieving a Natural Sciences qualification with The Open University you’ll be an adaptable graduate with a range of transferable skills that are highly valued in the labour market. The logical, reasoned approach needed for science study means science graduates are well placed to enter both scientific and non-scientific jobs. As an OU student you’ll have full access to our Careers Advisory Service to support your study choices and career planning.
 

See where your OU Natural Sciences degree could take you and
how
studying Science with the OU enhances your career prospects

What will I study for my Astronomy and Planetary Science degree?

Here's an outline of what you might study on the astronomy and planetary pathway.

Stage 1 astronomy and planetary science


Your study starts with a wide-ranging introduction to highly topical areas of modern science, through which you’ll begin to acquire the practical, investigative and mathematical skills essential to your development as a scientist.

Your key introduction to studying Natural Sciences will be Questions in science (S111) (60 credits). Following this, Essential Mathematics 1 (MST124) (30 credits) provides a broad and enjoyable foundation for university-level mathematics needed on the path towards advanced physics modules. A further 30 credits can come from one of the following Physics and Space (SM123) (30 credits), which we recommend, or one of the Essential mathematics 2 (MST125) (30 credits), Introducing statistics (M140) (30 credits) or Technologies in practice (TM129) (30 Credits).

Stage 2 astronomy and planetary science

At stage 2 your studies will focus on your subject area. You begin with two 30 credit foundation modules in astronomy and planetary science

Astronomy (S282) (30 credits) considers the structure, origin and evolution of stars, galaxies and the Universe as a whole, asking questions such as: How are stars born, and what happens when they die? How do galaxies form, and how do we know that the universe began in a ‘big bang’? You’ll make use of computer-based resources and can undertake some straightforward project work, based on your observations of the sky.


Planetary science and the search for life (S283) (30 credits) tackles fundamental questions about our Solar System. How did it form and how has it evolved? Why aren’t all the planets like Earth? How and why did life arise on Earth? Has life arisen elsewhere in the Solar System or beyond, and could it be intelligent? You’ll look at the exploration of the Solar System by spacecraft; planetary processes such as volcanism and impacts; the structure of planets and their atmospheres; and asteroids, comets and meteorites.     

The two foundation modules are followed by two 30 credit modules that focus on experimental skills and observational astronomy, and on the mathematical concepts underpinning the advanced stage 3 astronomy modules.


The main activities in Practical science: physics and astronomy (SXPA288) (30 credits) address topics in physics and astronomy as diverse as the properties of electrons and the life cycle of stars. Online – from the comfort of your own home – you’ll have the opportunity to use equipment ranging from a bench-top X-ray spectrometer to an optical telescope in Tenerife or a radio telescope in Milton Keynes. The aim is to build experience and expertise in practical investigation, including the skills of observation, hypothesising and reporting. The module ends with an exciting project on the carbon cycle that develops team-working skills that are critical to collaborative scientific enquiry.
SXPA288 makes use of innovative remote-access and virtual online experiments hosted by the award-winning OpenScience Laboratory.


Mathematical methods (MST224) (30 credits) is designed to teach you about a variety of mathematical methods which are used in modelling through their application to solving real world problems. These methods include differential equations, linear algebra and vector calculus. You will become familiar with new mathematical skills mainly by using pencil and paper and by thinking.

Stage 3 astronomy and planetary science

At Stage 3 you will study more advanced astonomy modules which draw on your understanding of the fundamental concepts of astronomy and planetary science and on the mathematical skills you developed at Stage 2. You will begin to use more independent study skills which will culminate in a module in which you will carry out a research project on a topic linked to one of your Level 3 modules.

You will start with two compulsory modules: Astrophysics and The relativistic Universe.

The document An introduction to astrophysics and cosmology was produced to help students about to study S382 or S383 brush up on their Stage 2 astronomy, physics and mathematics. It is unlikely you will need to read the whole book (which we estimate would require about 40–60 hours of study) but it should serve to fill any gaps in your knowledge.

Astrophysics (S382) (30credits) uses quantitative physical methods and techniques of observational astronomy to study topics in stellar astrophysics. The module comprises three parts; the first part presents the life cycle of stars and the production of the chemical elements, the second considers the fast moving field of exoplanets and presents the methods used in their detection and characterisation, and discusses their physical properties. The third part is a practical component that you study at home, linked via the internet with a small group of students with whom you will work collaboratively on a project involving astrophysical data analysis and interpretation.

The relativistic Universe (S383) (30 credits) uses quantitative physical methods to understand relativistic and high-energy processes in the Universe. This module comprises three parts that present, in turn, the theoretical basis for modern cosmology, described by Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity; cosmological observations of the local and distant Universe that are used to understand its structure and evolution; and high-energy phenomena in the Universe including interacting binary stars, active galactic nuclei and gamma-ray bursts.

A further 30 credits can come from a number of modules in physics or applied mathematics. These include The quantum world (SM358) (30 credits), Electromagnetism (SMT359) (30 credits), Deterministic and stochastic dynamics (MS327) (30 credits) and Mathematical methods and fluid mechanics (MST326) (30 credits).

The culmination of your stage 3 studies is the project module Science project course: radiation and matter (SXP390) (30 credits). You’ll undertake individual investigations within defined topics in the general area of radiation and matter: quantum entanglement, bioelectromagnetism, gravitational lensing, astrophysical jets and exoplanets. There is also a physics education research topic. You’ll need access to scientific literature, probably from electronic library sources. The study materials provide a guide to planning and conducting project work; help with searching and using the literature; and writing a report, but ultimately this is a chance for you to plan and execute a piece of work for yourself.

Learning underpinned by research


The Open University doesn’t just teach: it’s a global leader in research and innovation too, with OU research and development ranking in the top third of UK universities. The Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) has a long and distinguished record of conducting high quality, internationally leading research. Our researchers also contribute to our state of the art curriculum material. Find out more about our astronomy research.

What's OU study like?

Our long established, quality distance-learning methods use innovative technologies to provide a modern, blended learning experience. We’re designing our new Science modules with on-screen delivery in mind, taking advantage of year-on-year developments in new technologies to make your studies with us even more engaging and flexible - on computer, mobile and tablet devices.

You will be immersed in interactive activities during your astronomy and planetary science studies, using a mix of high quality text, graphics, audios and videos to support your learning.

Find out more about what it's like to study science at the Open University here.

How much will it cost?

Studying astronomy and planetary science with The Open University is not just flexible but great value for money, whether you live at home or away.
Take a look at funding in more detail 

Are there any formal entry requirements?

No - most of our undergraduate courses (including Natural Sciences) have no formal entry requirements.

Most people start off their science studies with our introductory module S111 Questions in science. To get the best from it you’ll need some knowledge of science concepts and mathematical skills, and the ability to read and write to a good standard of English. Our Access module is great preparation if you need it.

Can I try some study first before committing to a degree?

Absolutely. We’ve got a number of different options available:
• Our Science access module lets you try out the OU’s style of learning. You’ll get your own personal tutor and you may even be able to study for free.
• If you want to try online study without direct tutor support, have a look at our Science: online short courses.

Next steps

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