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University of Edinburgh

AstroTech: The Science and Technology behind Astronomical Discovery

University of Edinburgh via Coursera


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"How do they know that?" Modern astronomy has made some astonishing discoveries - how stars burn and how black holes form; galaxies from the edge of the universe and killer rocks right next door; where the elements come from and how the expanding universe is accelerating. But how do we know all that? The truth is that astronomy would be impossible without technology, and every advance in astronomy is really an advance in technology. But the technology by itself is not enough. We have to apply it critically with a knowledge of physics to unlock the secrets of the Universe. Each week we will cover a different aspect of Astronomical technology, matching each piece of technology to a highlight science result. We will explain how the technology works, how it has allowed us to collect astronomical data, and, with some basic physics, how we interpret the data to make scientific discoveries. The class will consist of video lectures, weekly quizzes, and discussion forums. Each week there will be five videos, totalling approximately 40 minutes. They will be in a regular pattern - a short introduction, an example science story, an explanation of the key technology area, a look at how the technology is used in practice, and finally a look at what the future may hold.


  • Science and Technology
    • Introducing the themes of the course, and a first look at the science and technology we will study.
  • Telescopes and Stars
    • How telescopes work, how we use them to make images in different colours, and how we use those measurements to understand how stars work.
  • Space and Black Holes
    • Hunting for black holes, and why we need to get above the atmosphere to do it.
  • Detectors and the First Galaxies
    • Detectors, how they work, and how we use them to catch the light from the very first galaxies.
  • Computers and Killer Rocks
    • Why computers are crucial in astronomy, and how they are used to find rare objects.
  • Spectroscopy and Dark Energy
    • How to break up light into its component parts, how that allows us to do astrophysics, and why we believe the Universe is full of a mysterious dark energy.

Taught by

Andy Lawrence and Catherine Heymans


4.5 rating, based on 11 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 1120 ratings

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  • Although short and simple, it's perfect for a beginner to learn more about the technology used in astronomy.
  • This is the best course to start your hobby or future research in astronomy/astrophysics. The instructors are amazing, and I'm sad I hadn't started with this course a long time ago, instead of self-study. However, even if you're not new to cosmology and astrophysics, it's worthwhile, since the discussion forums go from basic topics to really advanced ones, so it's a great place to drop by and enjoy some awesome discussions with smart people. And a huge plus for instructors participating in these discussions as well!
  • Anonymous
    A very brief and basic introduction to the subject but well presented. Those who have studied physics or astronomy at the university level may find this course insufficiently challenging.
  • Arnaud Dion
    The course is intersting for beginner in astronomy. It explains the bases of this science, and also how to mesure things: light, distance, energy...
  • Warwick Shepherd
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