ASU to offer the world’s first astronomical and planetary sciences degree online

By

Karin Valentine

Beginning this fall 2020 semester, Arizona State University will be offering a new bachelor’s degree in astronomical and planetary sciences, 100% online. This is the world’s first online accredited undergraduate astronomy degree where students can explore planets, solar systems and galaxies.

Offered by the School of Earth and Space Exploration through ASU Online, this degree will prepare students for K-12 teaching careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. It is also designed for students interested in careers in technology and science journalism and writing, science policy, statistical data analysis and computer programming.

“Our goal is to make the exploration of our solar system and universe accessible and inclusive,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, the school’s director. “This fully online degree will not only offer many more students the opportunity to learn about the latest discoveries in astronomy and planetary sciences from our leading faculty and researchers in this area, it will also help students develop skills in complex problem-solving, critical thinking and communication that will prepare them for a range of careers.”

The degree program includes courses in astronomy, planetary science, engineering systems and astrophysics with a range of electives, allowing students to customize this degree to their interests.

“We also expect that amateur astronomers, who often seek out lifelong learning opportunities, will be especially interested in this degree," said astronomer and astrophysicist Karen Knierman. “Courses like Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy will cover popular topics including the exploration of constellations, phases of the moon, eclipses, our solar system and other solar systems in our galaxy.”

Among other faculty from ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration who will be teaching courses for this degree is astrobiologist and President’s Professor Ariel Anbar. He will be teaching Habitable Worlds, a course that will focus on what makes life on Earth possible and how to look for life on other planets.

“I’m excited to share with students a transformational way to teach science online,” said Anbar. “Students will be formulating hypotheses based on data, testing those hypotheses, and applying what they learn in simulations and virtual field trips.”

Astrophysicist Nat Butler will be teaching a course called Engineering Systems and Experimental Problem Solving in the spring 2021 semester for this degree. This is an applied computer science course that will help students use Python, a high-level general-purpose programming language.

“We’ll use some very cool, highly interactive resources to teach students Python,” said Butler. “And we’ll work together to analyze and interpret astronomical data.”

Another interesting course offered for this degree is taught by astrophysicist Frank Timmes. He will be teaching Energy and Everyday Life, which will explore the different aspects that energy can take and will focus on practicing the art of estimation.

“Students will not only learn about energy, they’ll learn how to take a large-scale problem and break it down into plausible answers,” said Timmes. “When they have completed the course, students will have a polished and professional ability to estimate things that happen in everyday life.”

With these and other courses offered through this degree program, students will have the unique opportunity to acquire scientific knowledge, communication and problem-solving skills and the ability to tackle complex ideas using data analysis techniques taught by experts in their fields using the latest tools and technology.

“We’re excited to offer this degree that will provide students the scientific foundations required to understand and communicate the fundamentals of space exploration and ongoing advances in the field,” said the school’s undergraduate initiatives Associate Director Christopher Groppi.

ASU Online supports the university’s charter to make education available to anyone, anywhere. Through ASU Online, students can choose from more than 200 programs offered 100% online by the nation's most innovative university. ASU Online programs are designed using more than 125 state-of-the-art tools and technologies to provide the best learning experience possible. It empowers students to achieve their goals through a premier suite of services and support, including success coaching, time management tools and technical resources.