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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 of the discipline and the opportunity to experience authentic research with your own observational data.

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.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements to study this module.

However, you’ll need appropriate knowledge of mathematics and physics. You’d normally prepare by having passed:

Plus

Are you ready for S384?

Preparatory work

Both textbooks summarise assumed prior knowledge of astrophysical concepts and facts from OU level 2 modules. You should engage with the preparatory material provided in good time before the module starts.

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 Monterey 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.

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.

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.

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.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination