Astronomy: Certificate of Higher Education

  • 100 hours
  • 2 years
  • 01 October 2019


This part-time evening course aims to provide a comprehensive overview of modern astronomy and astrophysics to people who have little or no formal background or training in physics or astronomy.

With a series of lectures and regular practical classes at UCL's superbly equipped observatory (UCLO) in Mill Hill, it's designed for people who want to go beyond what they can learn from popular literature and the media.

You'll learn about a range of topics in astronomy and astrophysics, from the fundamental issues to current research.

The course is endorsed by the Royal Astronomical Society, and you can obtain a Certificate of Higher Education by completing the full two years.

This course is run by UCL's Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Course content

Lectures will cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • the foundations of astronomy and techniques in astronomy
  • the sun, stars and the solar system
  • interstellar astronomy, extra-solar planets and the search for life
  • high-energy astrophysics, extragalactic astronomy and cosmology

In the practical sessions you'll:

  • learn how to use telescopes, astronomical software and a CCD camera
  • make observations of the moon, planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies by direct viewing and by imaging and spectroscopy
  • take part in laboratory exercises covering topics such as planetary surfaces, pulsars, stellar spectra, interstellar matter, galaxy classification, comets, and the moons of Jupiter

You'll also acquire in-depth knowledge of a specific area of astronomy or astrophysics through completing a dissertation.

Structure and teaching

The course runs over two academic years, starting in late September each year.

In the first and second terms of each year you'll attend a series of lectures, currently held from 6pm to 9pm on Tuesdays each week.

In association with the lecture courses, tutorial sessions and problem classes are arranged as required.

Practical classes are held every three weeks on Wednesday evenings at the department's own observatory in north-west London.

These practical sessions and the work on your dissertation extend over the full academic session (9 months).

Assessment and certificates

Assessment is by:

  • coursework (short essays and simple problems)
  • examination (two exams per year, held in May)
  • practical work completed and submitted during the observatory sessions
  • dissertation (one per year)

If you successfully complete the two years, you can obtain a Certificate of Higher Education in Astronomy, which has complete transferability as equivalent to the first year of a degree course.

If you pass the exams in the first year courses but chooses not to proceed to the second year you may be eligible for a departmental one-year Certificate in Astronomy.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course you'll:

  • be able to use optical telescopes and plan observational programs
  • comprehend the fundamental issues and areas of current research in modern astrophysics
  • have a sound background for pursuing further study

Entry requirements 

The course is intended for people with a variety of backgrounds and experience, and the entry requirements are flexible.

You don't need any previous knowledge of or involvement in astronomy, just a strong interest in the subject.

Use of mathematics is kept to a minimum in the course, but you should have studied maths to about GCSE standard at grade C or equivalent. (This does not have to be particularly recent.)

How to apply

You'll need to:

  • completed an application form by Friday, 26 July 2019
  • complete a short maths test
  • attend a briefing session on 31 July or 1 August 2019


The cost for the two-year course is £3,290, for those starting in October 2019.

You'll need to pay £1,390 for year 1 (2019/20) and £1,900 for year 2 (2020/21).

Higher fees apply for students who don't meet UK or EU residency criteria. More information is available on the Physics and Astronomy Department's website.

Course textbook

The recommended textbook for the course is Universe by R. A. Freedman, R. M. Geller, and W. J. Kaufmann III (Freeman, tenth edition 2014).

Further information

You can find out more about the course and the application process on the Physics and Astronomy Department's website.

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Course team

Course team

  • Professor Jonathan Rawlings (program tutor and lecturer)
  • Professor Giorgio Savini (academic director)
  • Dr Adam Burnley (lecturer)
  • Dr Jo Eberhardt (lecturer)
  • Dr Francisco Diego (lecturer and practicals organiser)
  • Professor Mat Page (lecturer)
  • Dr Ingo Waldmann (dissertation organiser and marker)
  • Dr Mike Dworetsky (dissertation marker)

Student review

“The course was excellent and inspiring. I am very grateful indeed to all involved in running the course.”

“This is a great course and it exceeded all my expectations: fantastic lecturers, very interesting material, very well presented, great opportunities at UCLO..”

“The combination of lectures, homework, dissertation and exams is a great balance and has made me learn a lot more than just from reading books and watching popular science programs. Thank you.”

“Great course, learnt a lot, would strongly recommend it and am delighted I did it.”

“The quality and enthusiasm of the lecturers has been absolutely brilliant.”

Course information last modified: 11 Feb 2019, 14:30