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Astronomy and Astrophysics

World-class research in astronomy and astrophysics in UCLan’s Jeremiah Horrocks Institute underpins undergraduate and postgraduate teaching, as well as an extensive public outreach programme. UCLan Staff and students pursue fundamental research into the physics of the Sun, stars, galaxies and the Universe.



The Jeremiah Horrocks Institute (JHI) was originally established in 1993 as UCLan's Centre for Astrophysics. It builds on a long tradition of astronomy in the Preston area dating back to the early 17th century with the pioneering work of the father of English astronomy, Jeremiah Horrocks, who was the first to predict, and then observe, a transit of Venus. The Institute now brings together over 40 academic staff, research fellows and PhD students from across the world in an intellectually vibrant atmosphere. A steady stream of visitors and seminars links the JHI to the international community.

Our research projects cover:

  • Solar physics: the solar research carried out at the JHI focuses on studying the Sun and how the Sun's activity affects the Earth. This is carried out using data from space-based observatories coupled with state-of-the-art modelling.
  • Stellar astrophysics: investigating stellar structure, formation and evolution, the atmospheres and winds of stars, and asteroseismology, which probes the interiors of stars through the study of their oscillations; this area also encompasses star and planet formation
  • Extragalactic astrophysics: a combination of computational, theoretical and observational studies of galaxy formation and evolution, tackling such diverse subjects as galactic nuclei and jets, galaxy structure, stellar populations, infrared properties and galactic archaeology, as well as the large-scale structure of the Universe and cosmology

All three broad areas are underpinned by a common interest in fundamental physical processes. The work of the JHI is advancing our knowledge and understanding of the Universe through research and education.

To find out more about research in Astronomy and Astrophysics, contact JHI Director, Derek Ward-Thompson.

Impact and International Collaborations

JHI led a Space Act Agreement with NASA that is unique amongst UK universities. This has led to UCLan involvement with the launch of the HiC instrument on a sounding rocket.

UCLan also hosts the UK data hub for the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). The SDO mission monitors the Sun in unprecedented detail.

Other collaborations include partnership in the EU consortium COMESEP, which aims to build an alert system for Space Weather events, and membership of the SPIRE Consortium of the ESA Herschel Space Telescope.

JHI initiated and led the UK involvement in building the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) with non-executive Directorship on its international Board. SALT is the largest single southern-hemisphere optical telescope, and the JHI has privileged access. This work has yielded educational, technological and societal impacts: two South African PhD JHI graduates hold Senior Lectureships in South African universities; SALT staff and South African educators successfully studied on our world-leading distance-learning Astronomy programmes.

JHI researchers participate in a variety of international collaborations, including GAMA, H-ATLAS, MILES, LSST, RAVE and Kepler.

The JHI is a member of COSMOS, the UK National Cosmology Supercomputer collaboration

JHI Professor Don Kurtz co-authored a text book on 'Asteroseismology' (published by Springer, 2010).

JHI Professor Derek Ward-Thompson co-authored a text book on 'Star Formation' (published by Cambridge University Press, 2011).

JHI staff and PhD graduates have impacted on international astrophysics, including: national and international peer-review committees, editorial teams, learned-society councils; and taking up research and management positions at leading institutions on every continent.

Since 1996, the JHI has been offering an exciting distance learning programme of University courses in Astronomy, Cosmology, Astrobiology and a wide range of other fascinating subjects, all endorsed by the Royal Astronomical Society. Our BSc(Hons) in Astronomy is still the only Bachelor of Science honours degree in this subject designed specifically for distance learning students and is recognised by the Institute of Physics. The programme is thriving and attracts over 300 students from every continent except Antarctica. Details of the programme are available on our StudyAstronomy website.

On 21 August 2017 there will be a total eclipse of the Sun across the United States of America.  Professor Robert Walsh is part of a four-hour live online telecast of the eclipse from Carbondale, Illinois via NASA EDGE.  He will take part in interviews as a science expert and will answer live panel questions throughout the duration of the eclipse.  Watch the live stream.

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