Astronomy Course Review: Courses from James Cook University

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Mark A. Sykes, Dec 17, 2008.

  1. Mark A. Sykes

    Mark A. Sykes Member

    These two courses are from James Cook University, part of their online Master of Astronomy program. This is the online astronomy degree started close to ten years ago by Graeme White while he was at the University of Western Sydney. Dr. White moved to James Cook University with the program several years ago and added a doctorate.

    The Master of Astronomy (so named - not Master of Science in Astronomy) program consists of 36 hours arranged in 6 semester-long courses. Four are coursework, one literature search and the last is a thesis. I know one person teaching at an Illinois community college using the JCU Master of Astronomy as a credential; I would guess there are more.

    Each semester currently runs $2600AUD which as of a week ago was around $1700USD. Incoming students are expected to have a bachelor degree preferably in math or science. I had no trouble being admitted using my TESC degree. JCU lecturer Alex Hons is the instructor for all of the Master's courses.

    Modern Astrophysics

    Modern Astrophysics is the first class of the Master program. This is a leveling course intended to bring everyone less familiar with some of the physics and astronomy up to speed. There is a concurrent, but ungraded, math review through calculus for those who could benefit from review. The format of the class is a weekly tutorial with four to six problems to be submitted the following week. There are also three practicals consisting of some observation or CLEA exercises, and a subsequent three or four page report JCU provides a Blackboard based academic suite for class discussions and submissions of homework; no regular posting is required (but it's quite beneficial to discuss the material with other students). The instructor reads and responds to every thread.

    Course evaluation is based upon eleven graded tutorial assignments, three practical assignments and the final. The final exam is comprehensive, open book and lasts 24 hours. It is fairly difficult but the topics had been well covered in class. The finals for both JCU classes took me ten to twelve hours to finish.

    The pace starts slowly but ramps up rather quickly. The first tutorials were about as difficult as an undergraduate astro 101 class but I was very challenged by the end of the semester. The subjects covered in Modern Astrophysics includes optics and telescopes, blackbody radiation, spectroscopy, Doppler effect, quantum mechanics and relativity, nuclear physics, statistics, spherical astronomy, what I call 'near' (solar system) and 'far" (stars, galaxy, universe) astronomy, and cosmology. Although the math review included calculus only algebra need be used for assignments.

    The textbook for the class is the eight (or seventh) edition of Universe by Freedman and Kaufmann, an undergraduate-level text which serves as a foundation for subjects developed further within the tutorials. There are suggestions for additional readings and links to websites within the tutorials.

    Astronomy Instrumentation

    Like Modern Astrophysics, Astronomy Instrumentation is a 6-hour, 13-week course that is part of James Cook University's online Master of Astronomy program. This course focuses on observation and detectors for all wavelengths of astronomy, radio through gamma-ray. Study is made of ground-based and space telescopes and observatories. Class format is similar to Modern Astrophysics: weekly tutorials with problems for submission, four practicals and a comprehensive final. Class pace is step higher than Modern Astrophysics and I was quite busy by the end of the semester.

    Topics presented include seeing and atmospheric absorption, optical telescopes, properties of film emulsions, photoelectric detectors, radio, IR and other wavelength detectors, astrometry, image processing, more on gamma-ray and X-ray astronomy, advances in ground-based observatories, radio astronomy and space-based observatories. The textbooks use calculus to derive formulas but the tutorials and assignments need only algebra and trigonometry to solve the problems.

    The recommended textbook is Observational Astrophysics by Smith; it is used extensively throughout the course. An optional textbook that I found helpful indeed is Astronomy Principles and Practice by Roy and Clarke. By the time I started these courses I had accumulated a moderately-sized library of astronomy and astrophysics books (and web links) several of which were useful during the semester. Again, the instructor reads the class forum posts and answers questions.

    I will continue the Master's program next semester with the Solar System course; I'll report back once that's completed.
  2. Ian Anderson

    Ian Anderson Active Member

    Thanks for the information.
    A past contributer to degreeinfo (Dr.John R. Wetsch) has the Master Astronomy degree and had signed up to do the Doctor of Astronomy degree.
  3. ebbwvale

    ebbwvale New Member

    JCU is the major university in North Queensland. It also had a degree in medicine that did not require a premed qualification. It is noted for its marine science qualifications due to the research it does on the nearby Great Barrier Reef.

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