Online course in Nature & Environment


Explore the many moons of our Solar System. Find out what makes them special and ask whether we send humans to our Moon again.

  • Duration 8 weeks
  • Weekly study 3 hours
  • Learn Free
  • Extra benefits From $69 Find out more

Discover the amazing diversity of moons in our Solar System

There are lots of moons in our Solar System. The Earth is the only planet with just a single moon. Some are bigger than ours. Many are much smaller. Some moons have ongoing volcanic eruptions. Others have rivers of liquid methane. A small handful may even be home to primitive life.

This online course will allow you to explore the rich diversity of moons in our Solar System. With experts from The Open University, you’ll explore the fundamental processes that have shaped them, and the relationship between our Moon and the Earth.

The course was produced with the kind support of Dangoor Education.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 8 secondsNARRATOR: This course introduces and celebrates the amazing diversity of moons in our Solar System, drawing on the unique teaching and research expertise of the Open University.

Skip to 0 minutes and 19 secondsJOHAN ZARNECKI: Every time I see Titan, I find it incredible to think that something we designed and built is sitting there on the surface. It's there now. It will always be there.

Skip to 0 minutes and 30 secondsNARRATOR: With specially filmed contributions from moon experts from around the world.

Skip to 0 minutes and 35 secondsCHRISTIEN SHUPLA: When you get to the gas giants - the large, bloated planets that go around our Sun - they have immense amounts of gravity, and their wide orbits have enabled them to pick up many moons. Some of them probably formed in orbit around the planets. Others are captured asteroids and comets.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 secondsMICHELE DOUGHERTY: This is the image that we took when went really close to Enceladus, and you can clearly see this large plume of water vapour coming off from the south pole. There are ice crystals, and there are organic compounds, the basic building blocks of life.

Skip to 1 minute and 6 secondsNARRATOR: Having examined a variety of very different moons, their origin, and their past and present activity, the course goes on to investigate the different ways that scientists study moons from highly sophisticated technology used on space probes to the incredible Apollo missions that sent 12 human beings to explore our own Moon.

Skip to 1 minute and 28 secondsSARAH NOBLE: I always remember coming home one night, I had been working late in the lab dealing with lunar samples, and I looked down and saw that my hands were sparkling in the moon light, and I realized that it was moon dust on my hands. And I looked up, and I thought, this dirt came from there.

Skip to 1 minute and 44 secondsNARRATOR: Accessible even if you're new to the subject, the course includes special, interactive elements allowing you to study Moon rocks using a virtual microscope and even to challenge the computer to a game of Moon Trumps. Towards the end of the eight weeks, the course asks some of the big questions about the likelihood of any moons hosting habitable environments as well as exploring the remarkable discovery of water on our own Moon.

Skip to 2 minutes and 14 secondsPAUL SPUDIS: Finding water, it not only enables human life to have a foothold in space, it also permits you to create a space transportation system that's reusable and extensible.

Skip to 2 minutes and 23 secondsNARRATOR: Finishing the course, will leave you with insights into the often dramatic processes that shape the moons of our Solar System and the ingenious ways that scientists can study them.

What topics will you cover?

  • What are moons?
  • Moons and what they are made of; craters and cratering
  • Volcanism on moons, Europa, small moons
  • Our Moon and how it has been explored
  • What we have learned from the Moon
  • Water on the Moon, and the future of lunar exploration
  • Exploring other moons:
  • Moons and the future; how many of them host life?

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Develop an awareness of the nature and diversity of moons in our Solar System, and their significance.
  • Explain and understand the general nature of moons’ orbits and the effects of tides.
  • Describe some of the possible origins of moons.
  • Describe the compositions and nature of the surfaces and interiors of moons.
  • Calculate and understand how impact craters are formed and recognise their significance for dating surfaces.
  • Describe the nature and history of volcanic activity on several moons.
  • Assess and be aware of which moons may have subsurface oceans, and the implications for hosting native life.
  • Classify and become aware of the history of manned and unmanned lunar exploration, and of some of the major discoveries.
  • Identify and recognise aspects of lunar samples seen under the microscope.
  • Describe the different settings in which ‘water’ has been found on the Moon.
  • Describe and be aware of the history of discovery and exploration of moons, and of future prospects.
  • Reflect and suggest ways in which resources from the Moon may help future space exploration.

Who is the course for?

An interest in learning about the moons of our Solar System and the methods used to understand them. Prior knowledge of astronomy is not expected.

Who will you learn with?

David Rothery

David Rothery

Prof of Planetary Geosciences, Open Univ
Moons Educator
Moons (2015) OUP
Planet Mercury (2014) Springer
Planets (2010) OUP

Who developed the course?

The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning, with a mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

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