Astronomy II: Stars, Galaxies, and the Universe - Online Astronomy Courses | Arts and Science ONLINE

Astronomy II: Stars, Galaxies, & the Universe

ASTR 102/3.0

This course, intended for non-specialist students, will provide an overview of astronomy beyond the Solar System. Topics will include: the formation, nature, and evolution of the stars; stellar deaths, including novae, supernovae, white dwarfs, neutron stars, pulsars, and black holes; the interstellar medium; the Milky Way Galaxy; normal and active galaxies and large scale structure in the universe; and modern ideas in cosmology and the early universe.

Please note: This course is typically offered in the fall or summer term 

Learning Outcomes

 Upon successful completion of this course students will be able to:

  1.  Describe the observable universe and the stars as its building blocks.
  2.  Explain the life-cycle of stars and the sources of energy within them as they evolve from newly-formed objects to their final end-states as white dwarfs, neutron stars, pulsars, novae, supernovae, and black holes.           
  3. Describe the historical developments that led to the understanding that the universe is filled with myriads of galaxies, of which our own Milky Way is just one, and that the entire cosmos is in a state of accelerating expansion.
  4.  Explain the discoveries and observations that led to our current understanding of the origin of the universe in a Hot Big Bang.
  5. Consider the prospects for and the implications of multi-universes or parallel universes, both in astrophysical and philosophical/personal terms.


ASTR 102, Astronomy II: Stars, Galaxies and the Universe is designed to appeal to students from a wide variety of academic programs, whether or not they have science backgrounds.  The discussions will be non-mathematical and non-technical in nature, with the fundamental astronomical understandings provided in descriptive terms – necessarily based in science, but engagingly presented in conversational form.  No specialized knowledge is assumed beyond that provided by the likewise non-technical prerequisite course ASTR 101: Astronomy I: The Solar System -- or, lacking that, some introductory physics course.

Modern astronomers have developed a rich understanding of the observable universe.   That understanding ranges from the lives and often spectacular deaths of the stars themselves, and extends out to the realm of the galaxies. It encompasses the profound question of the origin and nature of the expanding cosmos itself.  Among other things, we have come to understand the origin of the elements that make up the everyday material that surrounds us: essentially, they were formed in stars. In other words, even the atoms in your body were at one time literally within a star! – a profound discovery.  

The course begins with a detailed consideration of the properties of the Sun as a representative star. What internal ‘engine’ provides the energy source that yields its enormous longevity and stability? What recent research, headquartered here at Queen’s University, led to discovery that affirmed the correctness of our understanding of the nature of the solar engine (and was recognized with the awarding of a Nobel Prize in Physics)? What is our eventual fate as the Sun eventually draws towards the end of its life, several billion years hence?

Our attention will next turn to the observable properties of stars of all kinds, with careful attention to the observational tools and techniques that astronomers rely on.  Although the Sun is a single star, very many stars occur in binary (two-star) systems or indeed in rich stellar clusters, some of which contain literally millions of stars.  We will learn how the properties of these associated stars lead us to an understanding of the birth, nature, origin, and evolution of the stars.

Stars are fated eventually to run out of the central hydrogen fuel that powers them.  Lower-mass stars swell to enormous ‘red giant’ size (the Sun, for example, will swallow up the innermost planets in the Solar System); they leave behind colourful gaseous planetary nebulae surrounding a tiny white dwarf star, the size of the Earth but a million times as dense as water.  By contrast, the most massive stars face truly cataclysmic fates: they explode in spectacular supernova events that may leave behind neutron stars, pulsars, and the enigmatic black holes.  The latter topic in particular will prompt us to explore the astonishing nature of gravity in Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

Our investigation will continue on yet larger scales as we explore the nature of our own Milky Way galaxy, the home of our Sun and many hundreds of billions of other stars.  This will lead naturally to the discussion of external galaxies, the discovery of which led, just a century ago, to a profound reconsideration of our place in the perhaps infinite cosmos.

The course will culminate in an overview of current cosmological investigations: the discovery of the expansion of the universe and compelling evidence for its origin from an unimaginably dense and hot state in the so-called ‘Big Bang,’ fourteen billion years ago.  Along the way, we will consider the nature of quasars; the ‘geometry’ of the universe; the evidence for and importance of dark matter and dark energy; and the accelerated expansion of the universe and its eventual fate.  We will end with speculations about the possibility of multi or parallel universes.


Fall 2022
Course Dates: 
Sept. 6 - Dec. 5, 2022
Exam Dates: 
Dec. 8 - 22, 2022


25% - Virtual Labs
25% - Quizzes (x5)
15% - Discussion Forums (x3)
35% - Final Proctored Exam

Please note: the assessment structure is subject to change.

Live Sessions

This course has optional live sessions (e.g. webinars, synchronous activities).

Proctored Exams

  • Students who have on-campus courses (or course sections) will write their final exams in-person and on-campus. These final exams will be administered through the central Exams Office.
  • Students who have courses (or course sections) that are remote or online, but who have other on-campus courses (or course sections) in their timetable, will write all of their final exams in-person and on-campus. These final exams will be administered through the central Exams Office.
  • Students who have only remote or online courses (or course sections) in their timetable, and who require remote proctoring, will have their exams proctored using Examity.

Location and Timing of Final Examinations

Once the exam schedule has been finalized the exam date will be posted on your SOLUS account. The exam dates for each Term are listed on the Faculty of Arts and Science webpage under "Important Dates." Student exam schedules for the Fall Term are posted via SOLUS immediately prior to the Thanksgiving holiday; for the Winter Term they are posted on the Friday before Reading Week, and for the Summer Term they are individually noted on the Arts and Science Online syllabi. Students should delay finalizing any travel plans until after the examination schedule has been posted. Exams will not be moved or deferred to accommodate employment, travel/holiday plans or flight reservations.


Professor David Hanes (

Time Commitment

Students can expect to spend approximately 10 hours a week (120 hours per term equivalent) in study/reading and online activity for ASTR102.

Course Resources


SOLUS is Queen’s Student On-Line University System. You’ll have access to a SOLUS account once you become a Queen’s student. You’ll use SOLUS to register for courses, add and drop courses, update your contact information, view financial and academic information, and pay your tuition.

About OnQ

onQ is Queen's online learning platform. You'll log into onQ to access your course. All materials related to your course—notes, readings, videos, recordings, discussion forums, assignments, quizzes, groupwork, tutorials, and help—will be on the onQ site.

About Credit Units

Queen’s courses are weighted in credit units. A typical one-term course is worth 3.0 units, and a typical two-term course is worth 6.0 units. You combine these units to create your degree. A general (three-year) BA or BSc requires a total of 90 credit units.

Computer Requirements

To take an online course, you’ll need a high speed internet connection as well as a microphone and speakers to be able to watch videos, hear sounds, and participate in interactive online activities. A webcam is recommended but not necessary.

System Requirements:

Computer Specifications

  • Windows 8.1 or newer
  • OSX 10.13 (High Sierra) or newer
  • Dual Core 2 GHz processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Soundcard
  • USB Headset
  • Webcam

Supported Browsers

  • Chrome (preferred - latest version)
  • Firefox (latest version)
  • Safari is not recommended as it causes several known issues in onQ
  • Edge is not recommended as it causes several known issues in onQ

Internet Connection

  • Wired high speed access: Cable or better
  • Wifi is not recommended


  • Latest version

Media Player

  • Flash (latest version)

Adobe Reader

  • Latest Version


The deadlines for new applications to Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are in our Upcoming Application Dates section.

Grading Scheme

The information below is intended for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts and Science. Academic Regulations in other Faculties may differ.

Letter Grade Grade Point

GPA Calculators
Have your SOLUS grade report handy and then follow the link to the Arts and Science GPA calculators.

How does this affect my academics?
See the GPA and Academic Standing page.

Follow the link above for an explanation of how the GPA system affects such things as the Dean’s Honour List, requirements to graduate, and academic progression.

Frequently Asked Questions on the Grading Scheme
Please follow this link to the FAQ's

Tuition Fees

Tuition fees vary depending when you start, your year, faculty, and program. Fees for Summer Term 2018 first-year Distance Career Arts & Science Domestic students are as follows: for a 3.0-unit course, $685.90; for a 6.0-unit course, $1371.80 See also Tuition and Fees.

Campus Bookstore

All textbooks can be purchased at Queen’s Campus Bookstore.

Non-Queen’s Students

All Queen’s Arts and Science Online courses are open to students at other universities. Before applying as a visiting student, request a Letter of Permission from your home university that states that you have permission to take the course and apply it to your degree. See also Apply.

Academic Integrity

Please see Queen’s policy statement on academic integrity for information on how to complete an online course honestly.