Study Astronomy with our Oxford Summer School 2018 | Students aged 16-18

“Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another.” – Plato

Class Summary

This course gives students the chance to start exploring a fascinating subject that they are unlikely to have had the chance to study at school. The oldest of the natural sciences, astronomy employs physics, maths and chemistry in order to understand celestial objects such as planets and stars, and phenomena such as supernovae. Astronomy is one of the most popular contemporary sciences, with several Physics Nobel Prizes being awarded to astrophysics in recent years.

Students will begin by exploring the chronological development of astronomy as a discipline, through renaissance and modern times looking at the ways in which astronomers have sought to make sense of the Universe and how our knowledge has changed and evolved. They will then start to look at some of the fundamental principles astronomy employs, such as orbital mechanics, and apply this to our own Solar System.

Students will be introduced to contemporary astronomical topics such as the birth and death of stars, exoplanets (planets outside of our Solar System), and the formation and development of galaxies. In discussing these subjects, students will learn the intricacies and scientific methods employed in each field. For example, the thermonuclear reactions that govern the life cycle of stars and the various end stages of the evolution of a star, such as white dwarfs and black holes; radial velocity and transit methods for planet detection and galaxy classification methods such as the Hubble tuning fork.

Students will also have the chance to debate some of the biggest and most popular questions within the discipline, developing their public speaking skills as they address questions such as ‘will humans ever populate Mars?’, ‘is there life beyond Earth?’, ‘what lies beyond the Universe?’ and ‘when and how might the Universe end?’. Students will also consider the practical differences between observational and theoretical astronomy, as well as what’s involved in studying the various sub-branches of astronomy, such as planetary sciences, stella, galactic and extragalactic astronomy and cosmology.

As well as expanding their general knowledge and gaining a deeper understanding of the Universe and Earth’s place in it, students will develop skills that will be of relevance to scientific degrees, such as research and analysis. Transferable skills will also be gained, such as the ability to work effectively with others and to present to a group.

For students who find themselves sufficiently inspired to want to pursue astronomy and astrophysics at university, our expert teachers will be on hand to answer questions about university applications and careers in astronomy.


No knowledge of astronomy will be expected of students embarking on this course, though the course will be of most interest to those with an enthusiasm for the natural sciences.