M51, the Whirlpool Nebula
M51, the Whirlpool Nebula
Image from the SEDS Messier database.


This is the online version of the Year Guide for First Year Astronomy. Look here for information about modules, teaching and learning resources, assessment details, deadlines for handing in assessed work, contact information for teaching, technical and secretarial staff, etc. We expect you to know everything contained in this guide, so check back regularly (especially the news) to see if anything has changed!

about the department

General information about the Department of Physics and Astronomy can be found in the Departmental web pages. We are a medium-sized department with a Grade 5 research rating and an excellent score in the teaching quality assessment exercise. The Astronomy research group includes nine staff members, and several members of the Particle Physics and Particle Astrophysics group also work on topics relevant to astrophysics, such as gravitational waves and dark matter.

about the course

The first year astronomy course consists of five 10-credit modules:
PHY111 Our Evolving Universe (Semester 1)
An overview of astronomy, ranging from the Big Bang to life on other worlds. A non-mathematical course suitable for everyone with an interest in astrophysics.
PHY115 Professional Skills in Physics and Astronomy I (Semester 1)
A lab-based course which aims to develop your skills in the more practical aspects of physics and astrophysics, including experimental errors and data analysis, problem-solving, and positional astronomy.
PHY104 Introduction to Astrophysics (Semester 2)
Expands on PHY111 to provide a more quantitative approach to key aspects of astrophysics: thermal radiation, the formation of spectral lines, and applications of Newtonian gravity to astrophysical systems such as binary stars.
PHY106 The Solar System (Semester 2)
An introduction to the planets of the solar system, covering of the origin and evolution of the solar system, general aspects of planets such as atmospheres, surfaces and interiors, and a detailed discussionion of each of the major planets.
PHY116 Professional Skills in Physics and Astronomy II (Semester 2)
A lab-based module building on the skills you have developed in PHY115, this module is very similar to the equivalent physics module PHY114, except that you will spend 3 weeks in the Astronomy Laboratory doing specifically astronomy-related exercises.

First year Dual Honours Astronomy students must take and pass all five modules (as well as the physics taught modules PHY101 and PHY102) to progress to second year. Other students are welcome to take one or more of the lecture-based modules PHY111, PHY104 and PHY106, with the caveat that PHY104 assumes that you have A level maths and physics. If you have not done A level maths, or if you hated it, PHY111 is your best bet. The maths content of PHY106 is also fairly limited and students who are not keen on maths should be OK there too.

The astronomy lab module PHY115 is not open to non-Dual Astronomy students, owing to space limitations. If you are a Single Honours Physics student who would like to transfer to Dual Physics and Astrophysics, you will have to cover the positional astronomy course in PHY115 in your own time. A web-based self-study version of the course is provided for this purpose, and the astronomy teaching staff will be happy to help if you get stuck. This course, which equips you with the necessary knowledge and skills to plan and carry out astronomical observations using a telescope, is essential preparation for the observational work you will undertake in years 2 and 3 of your degree programme. PHY116 is also open to Dual Astronomy students only, but the differences between this and PHY114 are fairly minor, and you do not need to do any extra work if you transfer either way.

Dual Honours students must also take 30 credits of mathematics (PHY120) in their first year. Mathematics is the language of the physical sciences, and it is essential that you acquire the necessary mathematical skills to tackle astronomical problems and applications.

Physics and astrophysics are highly international subjects which often involve working in other countries. The University is keen to encourage undergraduates to learn a foreign language, and the Languages for All programme is designed to allow you to do this even if – as is the case for Physics and Astrophysics dual honours – you do not have any free space in your 120 credit allowance. Such "not for credit" language modules will not be incorporated in your first year grade average or count towards progression requirements, but can be included on your HEAR. Command of a foreign language is a potentially useful skill and an asset to your CV – but bear in mind that taking advantage of this programme will add to your workload compared to your fellow students, so don't do it unless you are confident that you can cope!

Hicks Building, Hounsfield Road, Sheffield S3 7RH, UK