Centre for Continuing Education

Modern Astronomy Course: The Lives of Stars

Astronomy. Reach for the stars.

Learn Astronomy the smart way with Astronomy courses at the University of Sydney.

This astronomy course will provide participants with the context to understand current astronomical research, such as the recent exciting announcement of the detection of gravitational waves from coalescing black holes. Through a series of lectures, demonstrations and the extraordinary images flowing from telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope, this astronomy course builds a picture of each stage in the life cycle of a star. Born in the interstellar gas clouds, stars enjoy a long maturity controlled by the mysteries of quantum mechanics, before dying, sometimes quietly and sometimes with unbelievable violence.


Upon successful completion of this course, participants should be able to:

  1. Describe the nature of stars and how they work.
  2. Appreciate how quantum mechanics governs the behaviour of stars.
  3. Describe the theories for the formation of stars and their solar systems, and the life cycle of stars.
  4. Decribe the origin of the elements.
  5. Identify how astronomers use observations to construct theories of the universe.
  6. Put new discoveries such as gravitational waves into the context of current astronomical knowledge.


This course covers the following topics:

Star types: a guided tour

We begin with a review of some basic concepts, then take a tour around the various types of stars.

Atoms and quantum mechanics: a gentle introduction

We take a look at the smallest constituents of matter; as we will see, the strange realm of quantum mechanics and subatomic particles governs the behaviour of stars

What makes a star?

We look at how stars work, and what keeps them shining

The Sun, a typical star

We compare what we’ve learned so far with observations of the star we can study best: our own Sun.

Star formation

We look at how stars form out of the giant interstellar gas clouds.

Stellar evolution

We look at what happens when stars run out of fuel, and examine the massive changes stars go through at the end of their lives.


We look at the violent ways that (some) stars end their lives; along the way, we discover the answer to how the heaviest elements are formed.

Stellar graveyards: white dwarfs, neutron stars and black holes

We look at the end products of stellar evolution: the remnants which are left behind.


Most stars have at least one companion; we look at how binary star systems work.

Late breaking news

We cover some topics of recent interest.

Star viewing at the Blue Mountains

Participants will have the opportunity to take part in a trainer lead evening of star viewing in the Blue Mountains. This visit to the Blue Mountains is optional and will be held on a Saturday, with the trainer to facilitate a discussion with participants in-class on the possible date(s). Travel and accommodation expenses, should participants choose to stay the evening, are not included in the price of this course.

Intended Audience

This course is suitable for students, professionals or active retirees who have an interest in astronomy, stars or want to know more about our universe. No prior knowledge is assumed.

Delivery Style

This course will be delivered through lectures, demonstrations, detailed course notes, and plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Small class sizes
  • Free, expert advice
  • Student materials – yours to keep
  • Statement of completion