Explore the night sky, discover how stars are formed and find out about exoplanets, all through the constellation of Orion.

48,370 enrolled on this course

Image of the Orion star in the night sky
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

From the basics of astronomy to the science behind the birth of a star, this course will change the way you see the night sky.

Starting with Orion’s famous nebula, where new stars and planets are formed, you’ll take a look at the seven brightest stars that make up this constellation using high-quality images from telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope.

You’ll find out about exoplanets, which may hold the secrets to life outside of the solar system, the galaxy Milky Way, of which our solar system is but one small part and the history of the universe from the Big Bang to the present.

All Open University Science short courses presented on FutureLearn are produced with the kind support of Dangoor Education.

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  • Week 1

    Beginning the journey

    • Meet Orion

      Begin your journey by finding the constellation of Orion in the night sky and learning about the legend of Orion.

    • What are constellations?

      Discover more about patterns in the night sky, how they were used for navigation and contribute by constructing your own constellation.

    • Mapping the stars

      The Open University are involved in a project to map the stars, find out more about their involvement.

  • Week 2

    Travelling from star birth to star death

    • Birth of a star

      Discover the amazing process, happening over thousands of years, that causes stars to form. Find out what makes up a star and study the Orion nebula.

    • Life of a star

      Stars need a power source, since they are constantly radiating away energy into space as light and heat – if they didn’t have one, they would gradually fade away and cool.

    • Death of a star

      What happens when a star runs out of fuel? Stars take different journeys based on their mass. Some form material for planets, some explode as beautiful supernovae, some gradually fade as white dwarfs.

  • Week 3

    From the beginning

    • The Big Bang

      The galaxies in the Universe appear to be moving away from each other. The origin of the Universe is described by the Big Bang theory. Find out what the night sky can reveal about how it all began.

    • Galaxies (including the Milky Way)

      Galaxies are categorised according to their shape. Our Galaxy, the Milky Way, is thought to be a barred spiral galaxy. Get involved with classifying galaxies yourself.

    • Observing the stars

      Light travels at different wavelengths. Find out how this affects what we see in the night sky and how instruments help us to see more of the beauty of space.

  • Week 4

    Our place in the universe

    • The habitable zone

      Is where we are (half way along a spiral arm in an undistinguished galaxy) particularly special? Has the origin of life on Earth been enabled because of the type of star our planet orbits, and where that star sits in the galaxy?

    • Planet formation

      Use the Orion nebula to discover how stars and planets formed.

    • Exoplanets

      Planets that orbit other stars could be similar to any of the planets in our Solar System, including Earth.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

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Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

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

  • Apply facts, concepts, principles, theories, classification systems and language used in astronomy
  • Develop the knowledge and understanding of the range of sizes, distances and motions of objects in the night sky
  • Develop the knowledge and understanding of the structure, evolution and the main processes operating in stars
  • Develop the knowledge and understanding of the properties of planets in our Solar System and exoplanetary systems
  • Demonstrate the knowledge and understanding of the history of the Universe

Who is the course for?

You do not need a professional telescope for this course, but you may find at least a pair of binoculars extremely useful.

No prior experience of the subject is required.

Who will you learn with?

I have been teaching, and learning, astronomy for over 40 years, half of them at the OU.
I research asteroids, comets and interplanetary dust with space missions telescopes and laboratory experiments.

I am a researcher in planetary & space sciences at the OU, interested in comets, asteroids and meteorites, and what they can tell us about the Solar System. Asteroid 4731 is named Monicagrady.

Who developed the course?

The Open University

As the UK’s largest university, The Open University (OU) supports thousands of students to achieve their goals and ambitions via supported distance learning, helping to fit learning around professional and personal life commitments.

  • Established

  • Location

    Milton Keynes, UK
  • World ranking

    Top 510Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020

Endorsers and supporters

supported by

Dangoor Education logo

Learning on FutureLearn

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  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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