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Astrophysics of stars and exoplanets

In this module, you’ll learn to quantitatively describe the physics of stars and exoplanets. It introduces the physical concepts underpinning our understanding of these objects and the astronomical techniques used to explore them. Building on these foundations, you’ll get a flavour of cutting-edge findings in selected areas and the opportunity to experience authentic research with your own observational data.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards an honours degree.

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Module

Module code

S384

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.
Level of Study
OU SCQF FHEQ
3 10 6

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

The module comprises four elements which interlink to provide the astrophysical foundations of the discipline and examples of how astrophysical research advances.

Two self-contained texts provide a quantitative account of the physics of stars and exoplanets and the astronomical techniques used to study them.

The text Stars investigates the properties of stars at different stages of evolution – how they form, what happens to them as they age, and what becomes of them when they die. You’ll explore physical processes that sustain stars’ energy output during each stage of evolution and drive the progression from one stage to the next, as well as the relationship between stages of stellar evolution and the production of chemical elements. In addition, you’ll develop your understanding of the basic concepts of hydrodynamics, thermodynamics, plasma physics, quantum physics and nuclear physics.

Exoplanet research saw rapid advances over the last decade, demonstrating that planets around stars other than the Sun are ubiquitous and diverse. Exoplanets explores the photometric and spectroscopic methods used in exoplanet detection and how the physical properties of star/planet systems are derived. The text concludes with an account of how the growing population of planets with known parameters informs our understanding of planet formation.

Alongside studying the two texts, you’ll engage with an observational astronomy project on transiting exoplanets. You’ll have observing time on the OpenScience Observatories’ Tenerife facilities and schedule observations of an exoplanet transit. You’ll obtain transit light curves and analyse the exoplanet’s characteristics.

The module concludes with three case studies that relate to more recent research findings in stellar and exoplanetary astrophysics, conveyed through a series of activities that use standard professional astronomy tools.

You will learn

You’ll build on your mathematical, physics and astronomy knowledge to further develop your understanding of fundamental concepts in physics and astronomy in the specific context of stars and exoplanets.

Vocational relevance

You’ll develop the key skills of quantitative problem-solving and processing, interpreting and presenting data to investigate and support arguments and ideas in astrophysics. You’ll also further develop group working skills.

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. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.

Assessment

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

Future availability

Astrophysics of stars and exoplanets (S384) 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 2030.

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:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination


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 an appropriate knowledge of mathematics and physics obtained through:

  • OU level 1 and 2 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for S384?

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:

Plus:

The S384 textbooks summarise assumed prior knowledge of astrophysical concepts and facts from OU level 2 modules. You should engage with this material before the module starts.

Register

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

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

Register
This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2030.

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In the meantime, explore our overview of Fees and funding.

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

We provide two printed module books.

You’ll also have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • access to the OpenScience Observatories Tenerife facilities, PIRATE and COAST
  • links and instructions to download and install astrophysical software
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

You will need

A scientific calculator or equivalent capability.

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) or macOS Ventura or higher.

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 S384 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.