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Astronomy

Further your passion for astronomy and gain a better understanding of our Universe with distance learning courses from some of the world’s leading experts.

We offer an exciting distance-learning programme of University courses and degrees in Astronomy, Cosmology, Astrobiology and a wide range of other fascinating subjects. 

Our entry point certificates are tailored for those with no prior knowledge of Astronomy, whilst our full range of advanced courses all the way up to a degree will suit students looking for a further challenge, with our BSc (Hons) Astronomy recognised by the Institute of Physics.

You will develop the full range of scientific skills through experimental and observational work undertaken at a distance, library research skills and report writing.

Whatever the length and mode of your studies – an Astronomy qualification can pave the way to a range of careers options, from working in education or an observatory to science communication and public outreach.

Why choose us?

This is the first and only distance-learning single subject Astronomy degree available from a UK university. All courses include detailed course notes, self-test exercises and assessments with study and tutorial support is provided via email, telephone and online.

Study at your own pace – choosing how many modules to study each year. At first, you can test the waters with individual modules.

During your studies you will learn from some of the world’s leading experts, and also be invited to an optional weekend course at our Alston Observatory.

Sounds Interesting?

Course types

Our astronomy certificates are an ideal place to begin your studies and astronomy education as they require no prior knowledge of the subject. Each is a free-standing Certificate at HE Level 4 (Year 1 undergraduate level) allowing you to develop your fascination with your chosen subject.

When returning to astronomy education, we normally advise studying only one module in the first year of your astronomy course.

We judge each application on its merits to ensure that students can benefit from our courses. You will require GCSE Grade C in maths and English or equivalent to study these astronomy courses. The courses take a quantitative scientific approach and you will be using maths to solve problems from the outset.

Students who have completed some modules as free-standing Certificates may like to take their astronomy studies further. We offers a range of awards from the Certificate of Higher Education in Astronomy to a full 18-module BSc (Hons) in Astronomy.

All of these awards require you to have studied certain pre-requisite modules first. All are flexible in duration and allow you to choose modules from UCLan or appropriate credit-bearing modules from other institutes by a system of accreditation of prior learning.

Future Careers and Opportunities

While our courses let you explore your passions, they also offer the scientific skills and advanced understanding to enhance careers and open new possibilities such as postgraduate study.

Since our launch, we’ve supported many students through to becoming full graduates. While many studied the subject to indulge a personal interest, it’s also helped enhance their professional prospects. For many of our graduates, this course has been a foundation to build upon with further study at postgraduate level. For example, one of our graduates went on to achieve a master’s degree before working on a PhD in Astronomy in South Africa.

Join us for an Open Day this Autumn

Our Open Days are designed to give you a taste of what it's like to study with us and explore the very facilities you will be making use of during your studies.

book your place

Explore the facilities

The Alston Observatory is the purpose-built teaching and public outreach facility of the Jeremiah Horrocks Institute including a teaching room with Discovery Dome planetarium system. Our centrepiece is the Moses Holden Telescope, a 70 cm diameter state-of-the-art robotic telescope used for both undergraduate teaching and to encourage public engagement in science. On-campus and distance learning students use its observations for final year projects

Meet the team

Frequently asked questions

All the courses run for the full academic year from approximately mid-September to mid-May. We do not offer multiple start dates.

The Certificates in Astronomy and Cosmology run every year. The Certificate in Astrobiology alternates with the Certificate in Sun, Earth and Climate.

A course is the name of the award, such as the Certificate in Cosmology or the BSc (Hons) in Astronomy. Each course must have a prescribed number modules - 1 in the case of a Certificate and 18 for the BSc (Hons). For example, the Certificate in Astronomy consists of the single module AA1051, Introduction to Astronomy.

Each entry-level course is a Certificate consisting of a single 20-credit module. The average student should expect to spend about 200 hours on each module over the duration of the academic year – about 4-6 hours per week.

The fees are set on a per-module basis but do not depend on where you live or your nationality. The module fee increases slightly from year to year, but once you are registered for a particular course, your module fee is fixed for its duration.

In 2021/22 the module fee is £975.

For other years you should check the Fees and Funding section on the Astronomy Certificate course page.

If you take two Certificates in one year, you would pay twice this sum./undergraduate/courses/astronomy-bsc-distance-learning

If you are taking an advanced award, such as the BSc, you can choose to study between 1 and 4 modules per year. In any year, you just pay for the modules that you are studying.

The entry-level courses (such as Certificate in Astronomy) require Maths at GCSE grade C or equivalent qualification. The modules assume general 'high-school maths' such as the ability to use a scientific notation and powers, perform calculations with a scientific calculator, rearrange simple equations, logarithms and simple trigonometry (sines, cosines and tangents). If you have not studied for some time, you may like to refresh your knowledge. If you do not have a formal Maths qualification you should contact ucastro@uclan.ac.uk for advice from the Course Leader.

Applications for all the courses are direct to the university, using UCLan’s online application form. Applications for none of the awards, not even the BSc Astronomy are handled by UCAS as they are part-time distance learning courses. See the page of Guidance for Applicants, before following the Apply Now link.

The distance learning courses are delivered online via the university’s virtual learning environment. Each module has its own space with its learning materials, discussion forums and assessments. You can ask questions to your tutor by posting to the forum, sending an email or attending an online classroom session, run as a Teams meeting.

Each module has its own detailed schedule for when you should be studying particular sections of the materials, when the optional online classrooms are and when the assessments are to be submitted. Otherwise, you manage your own time to study when it bests suits you.

The typical module has 3 assessments paced over the year. You are given at least 6 weeks to prepare your work on your computer and then upload it online by the deadline. The entry-level modules have two question sheets containing a mixture of maths-based problems and discursive questions. The third assessment may be an experimental report based on data supplied by the university, or a researched essay. Higher-level modules tend to have more challenging assessments that may be more open-ended or involve collaborating with other students. The BSc culminates in the Dissertation module where students explore an astronomy topic in depth under the individual supervision of a member of staff.

None of the modules requires you to own a telescope. However, we run an optional observatory weekend at our Alston Observatory, subject to demand (and covid restrictions permitting). Weather permitting, this includes the opportunity to use our telescopes. There is a separate fee for the Alston weekend.

Apart from the online forums and online classrooms, we offer an optional observatory weekend at Alston Observatory to students on the Certificate courses. This includes opportunities to talk to the staff about the learning materials and to discuss astronomy in general with our staff and other students. In addition, we attend science fairs, such as Astrofest in Kensington, and are delighted to see our current students.

In August new students are given access to induction materials in the Blackboard Module Spaces, with links to the module reading list, module handbook etc. You can start looking around, meeting other students on the welcome forums and doing the suggested preliminary reading from the recommended textbook. At the beginning of Welcome Week, all students receive a welcome email and the learning materials are released. Teaching starts the following week – usually the last full week of September.

In most modules, the learning materials are supplemented by a recommended textbook. Wherever possible, the recommended textbook is an ebook, available free online via the UCLan library. Otherwise, you are encouraged to buy the recommended textbook yourself. Details are included in the Induction information emailed to you in September.

If you want to defer your offer to the following academic year, you should inform Admissions as soon as possible after receiving your offer.

If you need to interrupt or withdraw after the course starts (defined as the beginning of Welcome week), you can do so, but the proportion of the module fee that is charged depends on when you interrupt or withdraw. See the Fees Policy for details.

Most of our distance learning astronomy students are many years post full-time education, so that entry based on A-level results is not appropriate. You should start by studying the compulsory module AA1051 Introduction to Astronomy as a single module Certificate. This will enable you to check that the level and style of study are suitable for you before making a long-term commitment. When you have completed 2 individual Certificates, you can enrol on the 6-module award the Certificate of Higher Education. When that is complete you can enrol on the BSc. All modules that you study will be carried forward to your new award. This process allows you maximum flexibility before making a long-term commitment to enrol on the BSc.

If you are within 2 years of having completed your A-levels, then you should check the A-level entry requirements on the BSc (Hons) Astronomy course page and can apply directly for the distance learning undergraduate course.

This depends on how many modules you choose to study each year. If you average 3 modules a year, you will complete the 18 modules of the BSc within 6 years, but most students take considerably longer, typically 8-10 years. Most modules run alternate years according to a schedule, so you will need to plan your studies carefully with the advice of the course team as you progress from year to year.

The degree is designed to maximise the amount of astronomy studied, especially in the early years. Topics in physics are covered within astronomy modules as they are needed, except for one module at level 4 and another at level 6 which have a strong physics content. Similarly, topics in maths (and statistics) are introduced in the modules as needed. The approach taken in the BSc Astronomy contrasts with that of a traditional on-campus Astrophysics degree which may consist of at least two-thirds physics and mathematics.

The BSc Astronomy and Cert HE Astronomy are on Student Finance England’s list of approved awards. The loan company, not UCLan, sets the criteria and decides whether an individual loan application is approved. However, to be eligible, you must be studying at least 25% full-time equivalent, ie 30 credits, within the same award. In practice, you need to be studying at least two 20-credit modules per year to qualify. Students on Certificate courses are therefore NOT eligible. If you are reliant on receiving a student loan you are advised to discuss it with the course leader during the application process.

We normally recommend that students start with one or possibly two modules. Experience has shown that this is what people with a normal level of work and domestic commitments can manage comfortably. As you demonstrate your ability to complete modules successfully, you may like to increase your workload. The Courses are defined as part-time courses, setting an absolute limit of 4 modules per year.

The module Introduction to Astronomy is a level 4 undergraduate course. The syllabus is wider than the GCSE, and while many of the subjects will be familiar, you will study them in much greater depth. In addition, the assessment questions we ask and the tasks we set are much more demanding than GCSE level.

This module covers the Maths and Physics necessary for higher-level study and is a core component of the DipHE and BSc in Astronomy. It is not necessary to take this module before starting on level 5 modules but must be completed before doing any level 6 modules. If you only intend to take the Cert HE, the module Energy, Matter and the Universe is optional.

We have a process of Accreditation of Prior Learning (APL) that allows you to incorporate prior study at Levels 4 and 5 into our awards. APL is possible for the CertHE, DipHE or BSc Astronomy, but not for single module Certificate courses. Study at other Universities (eg Open University and University College London) will be considered on a case-by-case basis, to ensure suitable module match and suitability to your overall profile. APL can only be applied once you are enrolled on an appropriate course, typically in November or December each year. If you would like an estimate of what APL you would be offered, you should contact the Course Leader sending details of your prior study.

There is no body accrediting courses of this sort in Astronomy. The BSc is recognised by the UK's Institute of Physics.