The University Certificate in Astrobiology is a first year undergraduate course designed for people with little or no prior knowledge of the subject but who have a desire to learn about concepts in astrobiology. The course covers both observational and theoretical aspects, including subjects such as chemistry and biology in space, how the universe provides the basic chemical elements and where the universe might provide sites that enable biochemistry to occur. Astrobiology discusses the problems of how life first originated and how we can extrapolate back from our current position as an advanced life form on Earth.

You will learn about the extremes of life on the Earth and how these provide clues as to where to search for other sites in our solar system and beyond.


This course runs from October to May following the normal academic year for campus-based students.

Study Mode

Part-time by distance learning only

Learning materials are supplied on-line via the Course Website, which also provides a noticeboard and web-based discussion groups where students can interact with one another and with staff. Tutorial support is available by email, web-based discussion or telephone. The university library's Distance Learning Service is available to students enrolled on this course.

Students are recommended to have access to a PC with internet connections to obtain maximum benefit from the course. Students are responsible for printing out their own paper copies of the learning materials if required.

This course consists of a standard University module (200 hours of study per module) and students should expect to devote 4 - 5 hours per week averaged over the duration of the course.

Admissions Criteria

The course allows non-specialists access to astronomical concepts. Hence it is available to applicants with a minimum level of academic qualifications.

Candidates who can demonstrate that they have a strong interest in the subject and who will benefit in terms of their personal development and enjoyment, will be given preference. No prior knowledge of the subject is necessary but we normally expect GCSE mathematics or equivalent high school qualification. Students will also find a science background useful. Applicants who have not been involved in academic study for a number of years should discuss their application with the Course Leader.

Course Content

The University Certificate in Astrobiology consists of a single standard module of 20 national credits at Level 1: Introduction to Astrobiology. The module presents a broad introduction to the subjects of astronomy, biology and chemistry. It covers the following broad topics that are delivered in 12 sections:

  • Life on Earth
  • Solar System Sites supporting life
  • The search for terrestrial planets
  • Extraterrestrial biochemistry
  • Space origins of life
  • Human factors for space exploration
  • Environmental influences on life

The learning materials consist of an Astrobiology Workbook and Course Notes, in twelve sections. These are complemented by the recommended textbook, An Introduction to Astrobiology  by Iain Gilmour and Mark A Sephton, Open University (ISBN-13: 9780521546218, ISBN-10: 0521546214). Students are strongly encouraged to obtain a copy.

The Astrobiology Workbook contains all the experimental activities and assessments, together with background material required to complete the assessments. All activities are intended for distance learning and are therefore self-contained, requiring a minimum of resources.

Experiments aim to illustrate and elucidate syllabus material, giving students the opportunity to gain experience in the acquisition and handling of scientific data, and writing up their investigations in the form of an experimental report. Question Sheets test understanding of the Course Notes and contain a mixture of descriptive and numerical questions which are part of the assessment of the course as a whole.


The assessment for the University Certificate in Astrobiology consists of four items of coursework (typically two question sheets and two experimental reports). Assessments are normally submitted by post, according to a Course Schedule. It is not necessary to pass each item of coursework individually provided that at least one question sheet and one experimental report have been attempted and the overall module mark is 40% or more. There is no examination.

Further Courses

The Department offers Level 1 University Certificate courses in related topics which are structured in a similar way. These courses can be studied separately or combined to obtain a Certificate of Higher Education in Astronomy. Please see the relevant factsheets for these courses.

Students who successfully complete the University Certificate in Astronomy  can progress to the University Advanced Certificates (at Level 2). See separate factsheet for details of the Diploma of Higher Education in Astronomy and BSc (Hons) in Astronomy.

In addition, students who fulfil the A-level requirements can study the full-time on-campus degree programmes in Physics or Astrophysics. Prior completion of University Certificate in Astronomy will count towards the degree, by means of accreditation of prior learning. Please see the UCLan Prospectus for Full-time Students for details of the entry requirements. 

International Students

International Students are welcome to apply but should note that the course is only available in the English language.


The tuition fee for a standard module of 20 national credits is set each year. Please visit the Module Fees page on our website for details of this year's fees:

Application Procedure and Further Information

For further information and on-line application form visit the website.

Alternatively,  contact the Programme Administrator at the following address:

The Programme Administrator
Study Astronomy
School of Computing, Engineering and Physical Sciences
University of Central Lancashire
Preston PR1 2HE

Tel:  +44 (0) 1772 893541 (direct line)
Fax: +44 (0) 1772 892996


(This information is correct at the time of going to press but may be subject to change.)

Last updated: 13 July 2010 sd