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Looking to the stars: Data-driven Astronomy MOOC

22 February 2017
The first online astronomy course of its kind

The University of Sydney’s new MOOC centres on the development of practical skills and their application to real astronomy examples.

Associate Professor Tara Murphy

Associate Professor Tara Murphy

Part of the University of Sydney's rollout of open online courses, Data-Driven Astronomy has been developed by Associate Professor Tara Murphy, an ARC Future Fellow in the School of Physics.

Science is undergoing a data explosion, and astronomy is leading the way, according to A/Prof Murphy. “Modern telescopes produce terabytes of data per observation, and the simulations required to model our observable Universe push supercomputers to their limits. To analyse this data scientists need to be able to think computationally to solve problems.”

This unique open online course offers students the chance to investigate the challenges of working with large datasets: how to implement algorithms that work; how to use databases to manage data; and how to learn from data with machine learning tools. 

Students will be able to use real astronomy data to answer scientific questions like: how many earth-like planets are in our universe?
Virginia Frey
Student working on a latpop

“The focus will be on practical skills - all the activities will be done in Python 3, a modern programming language used throughout astronomy. Regardless of whether you’re already a scientist, studying to become one, or just interested in how modern astronomy works ‘under the bonnet’, this course will help you explore the topic in a new, interesting way” A/Prof Murphy said.

This course is aimed at science students with an interest in computational approaches to problem solving, people with an interest in astronomy who would like to learn current research methods, or people who would like to improve their programming by applying it to astronomy examples.

One of the developers, physics PhD student Virginia Frey says that the course offers a unique combination of programming techniques, data science and real-world astronomy examples. “Computational skills are required in the vast majority of research areas and learning them in front of an astronomy background is fun and interesting - students will be able to use real astronomy data to answer scientific questions like: how many earth-like planets are in our universe?”

Each of the six sessions covers a practical programming skill such as data management and machine learning and applies it to a specific area of astronomy such as the life-cycle of stars, or the habitability of exoplanets.

In partnership with Coursera, the University of Sydney has already released MOOCS on music educationeHealth, social media and a specialization on academic skills for University success. In addition to the launch of Data Driven Astronomy, this month sees the release of the Cultural Competence-Aboriginal Sydney MOOC.

Registration for the course is now open.



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