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This module covers fundamental astronomy with a modern observational approach. It encompasses two broad themes of ‘Stars and Galaxies’ and ‘Multiwavelength Astronomy’. Starting from cosmic length scales, learn how astronomers measure the Universe – through spectroscopy, imaging and time-variability. You’ll learn about the constituents of stars and galaxies and study their formation, evolution and rebirth through energetic processes. To finish, revisit the Universe from the perspective of cosmic time scales. Throughout, alongside astronomy, you’ll develop your computing, maths and physics skills.

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Module code




  • 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.

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.
Level of Study
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

First, you’ll look at some astronomy fundamentals. You’ll learn how modern astronomers measure the universe, considering spectroscopy, imaging and time-variability as observational tools.

Topic 1: Cosmic length scales
Starting with the sizes of things, this topic explains astrometry – how we measure positions of astronomical objects. Then photometry – how we measure the brightness of such objects. Eventually, we’ll combine both concepts to see how we can measure distances in the Universe.

Topic 2: The spectral Universe
You’ll begin by understanding how continuum emission or black body radiation enables astronomers to determine stellar temperatures, radii and luminosities. And learn about energetic processes in evolving galaxies. You’ll move on to understand absorption and emission spectroscopy, in particular, how astronomers use stellar spectroscopy to classify stars. Leading to the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram, a vital tool for understanding stars and stellar evolution. Finally, you’ll see how astronomers can exploit spectroscopy to look at how astronomical objects move through space relative to each other. And to look at motions within objects, focusing on the interior of stars, rotation of a spiral galaxy, or gas-turbulence in molecular clouds.

Topic 3: Mapping and classifying the Universe
You’ll exploit the multiwavelength view modern astronomy has of stars and galaxies. You’ll reach beyond pretty pictures to learn how we can quantitatively describe astronomical objects using measurements from images. See how we construct all-sky images from detailed telescopic surveys. And build a systematic understanding of the constituents of a galaxy, and where in a galaxy we find them. But we know we cannot see all the Universe, even with electromagnetic images – by the end of Topic 3, you’ll understand how we hunt for dark matter and black holes.
Having got the astronomy essentials under your belt, topics 4–6 focus on how we use mapping, imaging and spectroscopy tools to reveal the lifecycles of stars and galaxies.

Topic 4: Birth and life
This topic concentrates on how the action of a single force – gravity – can generate structure on all scales. From star formation, through stellar orbits, and onwards in scale, to galaxies and even the vast web-like structures that interconnect galaxies themselves. You’ll learn more about stars by studying the nearest star to us, the Sun. And understand the nuclear processes that fuel all stars at their core.

Topic 5: Evolution and death
This topic highlights what happens to nuclear processes in the final stages of stellar lifecycles. And the interplay between the lives of individual stars and the evolution of populations of stars within galaxies. You’ll see how the initial mass of a star plays a profound role in its eventual fate. Discover supernovae explosions, the formation of white dwarfs, neutron stars and red giants. Revise the Hertzsprung­–Russell diagram and trace the evolutionary track of stars. Delving into stellar archaeology, you’ll see how stellar populations reveal how galaxies change with time. And see how the abundance of chemical elements is linked to star-formation histories.

Topic 6: Extreme Universe
By ‘extreme Universe’, we mean environments that are extremely dense, extremely hot or have extremely high gravitational or magnetic fields. This leads to some of the most extreme events that happen in our Universe: from the impact of supermassive black holes that power active galaxies to binary star systems to pulsars. You’ll explore jets, outbursts and accretion processes. The topic finishes by describing the first detections of gravitational waves from merging pairs of black holes and neutron stars. And the emergence of multi-messenger astronomy – where gravitational and electromagnetic detections of astrophysical events are combined.

Topic 7: Cosmic timescales
Finally, in Topic 7 we synergise everything you’ve learned in S284 – looking from the perspective of cosmic timescales, rather than cosmic length scales. You’ll see how time-variability and time-domain astronomy is as important in understanding astrophysical processes as length scales and measurement techniques. You’ll identify how the Universe has evolved to its current state, and how it will evolve in the future. Having seen the importance of large-scale observational facilities to modern astronomy, and the need for multiwavelength and even multi-messenger telescopes, we close considering the impact of modern astronomy on the world at large. Whilst our quest for knowledge is unabated, what impact can the cost, building and situation of international observatories have on the local environment, customs or economy? What kinds of responsibilities must astronomers consider in their quest for ‘eyes on the Universe’?

You will learn

You’ll understand key ideas, concepts and principles in astronomy, across themes of time and distance, applied to stars and galaxies, including multiwavelength observational methods.

You’ll have gained skills that enable you to:

  • use appropriate searching, graphical, and mathematical methods to gather, analyse and interpret astronomical data and information
  • combine astronomical concepts with basic physics and mathematics, to solve unfamiliar problems
  • to understand limitations and ambiguity of astronomical measurements
  • produce coherent and clear written arguments in appropriate scientific language
  • use software and other tools to analyse and present data and models
  • acquire and analyse scientific information from a wide range of sources
  • carry out investigative science; make and accurately record observations; and use these to draw informed conclusions.

You’ll actively engage with the module community through contribution and participation, plan your learning, reflect on your development, and use these reflections to inform your future work.

Vocational relevance

This course will not equip you to be a professional astronomer – but offers a good first step. Studying astronomy builds several transferable skills. In particular, this module will highlight seven employability skills through the topic activities, which could form examples on your future CV:

  • problem solving
  • communication skills
  • numeracy
  • digital literacy
  • self-management and resilience
  • self-awareness
  • global citizenship.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Note that recordings of these online tutorials will be not be available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

This module has six Tutor-Marked Assignments (TMAs). Expect each TMA to take you up to three hours to complete. Each is worth 8% of your overall assessment score for the module. They are evenly spaced, approximately one a month, throughout the module. The TMAs are shorter than those you may have met on other modules, and you can often partially complete them by simply working through the preceding module materials.

Online exam
There is also an online exam. You’ll take it in two parts, one in January (study week 14) and one in May (study week 31). Each part must be taken within the specified week, but at a time of your choice, in your own place of study, using your own computer to submit your answers. The first part is worth 12% and the second part is worth 40% of your overall assessment score. You can’t pass this module without attempting at least one part of the exam.

Future availability

Astronomy (S284) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027.


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:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need appropriate knowledge of physical sciences obtained through:

  • OU level 1 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for S284?

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:

Or have:

  • GCSE Physics and
  • GCSE Mathematics.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £1818.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2027.

Additional Costs

Study costs

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

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, 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).

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 fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 16/04/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

S284 is mostly online. We’ll provide the study materials, study guide, activities, assignments, forums, online tutorial rooms and other resources, via a dedicated website. It contains many multimedia materials including audio tracks, videos and animations, as well as interactive activities, all of which help aid your understanding.

Where possible, the materials are also available in other formats – which may include PDF, EPUB, interactive ebook (EPUB3), Kindle ebook and Microsoft Word – to enable you to study on the move.

You’ll also receive a printed booklet for S284 – including extended summaries of the topics, plus the key equations.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11). Any macOS is unsuitable with this module.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S284 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 pages.