The University Certificate in Astronomy 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 modern concepts in astronomy. The course covers both observational and theoretical aspects, including such topics as getting to know the night sky, telescopes, stellar evolution and energy sources and cosmology.  Astronomy is discussed in terms of the underlying physics which sometimes involves the use of equations, but does not require any more than basic high school mathematical ability.

You do not need to have your own telescope or binoculars to complete this course. However, you are encouraged to use them if you do have them. There is an optional weekend course at the University's Alston Observatory, which may be of particular interest to students who do not normally have access to a telescope and photographic equipment. 


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

This enables students in the northern hemisphere to take advantage of the longer winter nights for observing.

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.

Materials are supplied on CD-ROM, so students are required to have access to a PC. An internet connection would enable them 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 Astronomy consists of a single standard module of 20 national credits at Level 1: Introduction to Astronomy. The module presents a broad introduction to the subject of astronomy including laboratory techniques and observation. It covers the following 12 topics:

  • The Celestial Sphere
  • Stellar Magnitude Scale
  • Radiation From Stars
  • The Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram
  • Stellar Spectroscopy
  • Telescopes
  • Binary Star Orbits
  • Stellar Structure
  • Stellar Lifetimes and Energy Sources
  • Stellar Evolution
  • Galaxies-Cities of Stars
  • Relativity and Cosmology

The learning materials consist of an Astronomy Workbook and Course Notes, in twelve sections, covering each of the topics outlined above. They are complemented by the recommended textbook, Universe 9th edition by R.A.Freedman, W.J. Kaufmann III and R. Geller; W H Freeman, 2010; ISBN-13: 978-1-429-23153-4; ISBN: 1-4292-3153-X. Students are strongly encouraged to obtain a copy.

The Astronomy Workbook contains all the experimental activities and assessments, together with background material connected with observational astronomy, information and techniques. 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 Astronomy 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.

Optional Weekend Course at Alston Observatory

An optional weekend course is held at our Alston Observatory near Preston on a number of dates throughout the course. These weekends allow students to meet fellow students and members of academic staff. They include tutorial sessions based on the Course Notes and Workbook, practical work and observing sessions (weather permitting). The cost of these weekends (about 98) is additional to the course fee. 

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