Centre for Continuing Education

Modern Astronomy Course: Voyage to the Planets

Astronomy. Reach for the stars.

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

This astronomy course looks at what we have learned about the solar system in the era of space exploration. We look at what space missions from Pioneer and Voyager to Galileo and Cassini have taught us about the planets and their moons. We discuss the basics of space flight, including how interplanetary probes use gravitational slingshots to reach the high speeds needed to reach the outer planets. We discuss the prospects for journeys to Mars, and investigate what we know about planets around other stars. An evening of star- and planet-viewing in the Blue Mountains is also planned.


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

  1. Understand the nature of the planets and their satellites.
  2. Appreciate the scale of the solar system and the implication for planetary missions.
  3. Understand the theories for the formation of our solar system, the planets and their satellites.
  4. Use this understanding of our own solar system to put the detection of exoplanets into context.


This astronomy course covers the following topics:

Introduction to the solar system and the earth as a planet

  • We set the scene, showing where we are in the universe, and discuss the Earth as a planet.

The moon, our nearest neighbour; Spaceflight

  • We look at the Moon as the only other solar system body humans have set foot on. Then we discuss the basics of space flight, looking at how we get to other planets.

The inner planets: Mercury and Venus

  • We look at how much we’ve learned about the two hottest planets, including from the Messenger spacecraft which has just arrived in orbit around Mercury.

Mars, the red planet

  • We look at what we’ve learned about Mars, and discuss the prospects and problems of possible manned missions to Mars.


  • We look at Jupiter and its satellite systems, revealed in all their glory by the Voyager missions and Galileo.

Rocks in space: Asteroids; Comets; Meteorites

  • We look at the various smaller bodies in the Solar System, and discuss their effects on the planets.


  • We look at the latest results from Cassini-Huygens and what they tell us about the ringed planet.

The outer solar system: Uranus; Neptune; (minor) planets beyond

  • We look at the little-explored outer reaches of our solar system

Formation of the solar system

  • We look at how the solar system formed from the original cloud of interstellar gas and dust.

Extrasolar planets

  • We discuss the large number of planets now being discovered in other star systems, and discuss how these discoveries affect what we know about our own Solar System.

Intended Audience

This astronomy course is suitable for anyone who wants to know more about our universe. No prior knowledge is assumed.


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

What others say.

  • The presenter is completely ace. The course is full of terrific content – a huge amount of it, that obviously has taken ages to put together. But, it was up-to-date with things discovered, literally, last week. Loved it!

  • Fantastic Images. Great course.

  • Loved the course, I wish there were more like it!

  • The presenter is totally brilliant.