MSc Observational Astrophysics

Study mode

Distance learning

Full-time (1 year)

Part-time (2 years)

Start date(s)

September 2020

Tuition fees 20/21
Home (per credit): £47.22
International (per credit): To be confirmed

General enquiries:

0151 231 5090

Faculty of Engineering and Technology:

0151 231 2777

International admissions

+44 (0)151 904 6499

Got a question? Fill out our form

Apply direct Event registration

About this course

LJMU's innovative MSc in Observational Astrophysics is delivered by world-leading academics and provides access to the research class robotic Liverpool Telescope.

  • Benefit from high-quality, innovative teaching
  • Gain a qualification designed to facilitate continued study at PhD level
  • Learn from world-leading researchers 

An ideal choice if you have a strong background in mathematics and a good knowledge of basic physics at degree level, this programme does not require any specific knowledge of astrophysics.

In these scientific fields, entry to top-level research is almost always via the PhD route, and it is anticipated that most students taking this MSc will be interested in further study at PhD level and beyond. 

The programme offers the flexibility of studying remotely and gaining a Masters qualification by distance learning. All learning materials are delivered by LJMU's Virtual Learning Environment. You will have access to all the major


 astrophysical research journals and a carefully selected range of e-books to support your studies and extend your reading.

Fees and funding

There are many ways to fund postgraduate study for home and international students


The fees quoted at the top of this page cover registration, tuition, supervision, assessment and examinations as well as:

  • Library membership with access to printed, multimedia and digital resources
  • Access to programme-appropriate software
  • Library and student IT support
  • Free on-campus wifi via eduroam

Additional costs

Although not all of the following are compulsory/relevant, you should keep in mind the costs of:

  • accommodation and living expenditure
  • books (should you wish to have your own copies)
  • printing, photocopying and stationery
  • PC/laptop (should you prefer to use your own)
  • mobile phone/tablet (to access online services)
  • field trips (travel and activity costs)

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  • placements (travel expenses and living costs)
  • student visas (international students only)
  • study abroad opportunities (travel costs, accommodation, visas and immunisations)
  • academic conferences (travel costs)
  • professional-body membership
  • graduation (gown hire etc)


There are many ways to fund postgraduate study for home and international students. From loans to International Scholarships and subject-specific funding, you’ll find all of the information you need on our specialist postgraduate funding pages.


Further your career prospects

LJMU has an excellent employability record with 96% (HESA 2017) of our postgraduates in work or further study six months after graduation. Our applied learning techniques and strong industry connections ensure our students are fully prepared for the workplace on graduation and understand how to apply their knowledge in a real world context.

This Observational Astrophysics masters prepares you for a research career in astronomy, astrophysics, space science or related disciplines. It provides the opportunity for you to plan and complete a substantial programme of original research at the highest level. We expect that all projects should provide the potential for you to publish papers in refereed journals.

The MSc also provides key transferable high-level skills in computing, accessing and manipulating complex data from large databases, assimilating 

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information from the research literature, and scientific writing; all of which are vital for a broad range of careers in academic and industrial research.

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Course modules

Discover the building blocks of your programme

Your programme is made up of a number of core modules which are part of the course framework. Some programmes also have optional modules that can be selected to enhance your learning in certain areas and many feature a dissertation, extended report or research project to demonstrate your advanced learning.

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Core Modules

Astrophysical Concepts
30 credits

This module develops your understanding of concepts in astrophysics. It:

  • develops your knowledge of grounding in orbital mechanics and the formation and evolution of planetary systems
  • provides an understanding of the physical processes which determine all aspects of the structure and evolution of the interstellar medium and stars (ISM)
  • provides a firm physical framework for this appreciation by investigating the mechanisms which govern the structure and appearance of the ISM
  • introduces you to the diversity of galaxy morphologies, dynamics evolution and components
  • allows you to illustrate the importance of multi-wavelength observational approaches to the study of galaxies
  • provides an introduction to modern observational cosmology and various cosmological models

Astronomical Techniques
30 credits

This module provides students with an in-depth understanding of the fundamental concepts underlying observational astrophysics, including performing detailed procedures of research in observational astrophysics such as:

  • astronomical data reduction
  • data analysis
  • error inference
  • interpretation of results
  • the write up of a scientific report in the format of a journal paper

There will be particular emphasis on developing independent learning skills and undertaking practical exercises. Please note that the assessment of this module will include a recorded viva examination to assess competency.

Time-Domain Astrophysics
30 credits

This module aims to develop your understanding of the variable/transient Universe, and the techniques and facilities used to investigate this realm. It provides a sound understanding of the physical processes driving phenomena such as explosive transients. It:

  • introduces the concepts of time domain astrophysics and the techniques used to analyse and understand it
  • develops your independent learning skills and IT capability to access and extract relevant scientific information

Observational Astrophysics Project
60 credits

This module aims to develop the skills required to be involved in real scientific research. It:

  • enables you to work independently on an original problem
  • helps you to display qualities and skills such as initiative, ingenuity and communication

Optional Modules

30 credits

This module provides the theoretical background required to understand various cosmological models including the favoured CDM model. It:

  • gives an understanding of modern observational cosmology
  • enables you to make detailed cosmological measurements from galaxy or cluster survey data

Numerical Methods in Astrophysics
30 credits

This module aims to give students an understanding of programming basics and provide students with practical experience of using computational techniques extensively employed by researchers in astronomy and astrophysics.

There will be particular emphasis on developing independent learning skills and IT capability to access and extract relevant scientific information via the Virtual Learning Environment and databases available from LJMU.


An insight into teaching on your course

Study hours

As this is a distance learning programme, you will be in control of your own specific study hours.

Teaching methods

The programme emphasises independent student learning and each module provides you with the opportunity to explore current literature, with support from experienced tutors, all of whom are engaged in cutting-edge astrophysical research.

Applied learning

Access to The Liverpool Telescope means you can put your learning into practice.

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Person sat using laptop


How learning is monitored on your programme

To cater for the wide-ranging content of our courses and the varied learning preferences of our students, we offer a range of assessment methods on each programme. Assessment techniques vary from module to module to reflect relevant assessment approaches and the key learning points of each topic.

Assessment methods on this course are designed to support learning and reward progression during the course of the module. 

Most taught modules on this course include a written examination, with other assignments including quizzes, short essays, and critiques of scientific papers. 

The research project and dissertation exam includes a written report and an oral presentation/interview. In most cases the oral interviews will be done via video link, although you may opt to come to Liverpool to do these in person.

Course tutors

Our staff are committed to the highest standards of teaching and learning

Philip James

Philip James

Featured tutors job title

With a PhD in Astrophysics from Imperial College London and research postings at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, Professor Philip James has spent more than a year observing the night skies at mountain-top observatories in the Canaries, Hawaii and South Africa. Specialising initially in spiral and dwarf galaxies and latterly in supernovae, Phil has written and contributed to a large number of publications.  He considers one of the most enjoyable aspects of his role to be supervising MSc and PhD project students as they begin their research. 

I encourage students to ask questions, no matter how basic or naïve they may seem. Every so often a question from a student will contain or point to an important truth.

School facilities

What you can expect from your School

Although this is a distance learning programme, you will be able to access the Liverpool Telescope, one of the world's largest robotic telescopes, which was designed, built and is now owned and operated by LJMU.

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Entry requirements

You will need:

  • a minimum 2:2 in the physical sciences or a STEM discipline (e.g. science, technology, engineering, mathematics, etc.) 
  • a good knowledge of basic physics at degree level, and competence in mathematical techniques including calculus, differential equations and complex numbers
  • a satisfactory reference from your employer or line manager

Additional Information

  • As this is a Distance Learning programme the usual rules in terms of UK Visas and Immigration restrictions to full-time study do not apply 
  • IELTS 6.5 (minimum of 5.5 in each component)
  • Pearson 58-64 (minimum 51 in each component for UKVI Purposes)
  • RPL is accepted on this programme

If you have any specific queries, please contact

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Please note: All international qualifications are subject to a qualification equivalency check via NARIC.

View country specific entry requirements

Contact LJMU's International Admissions Team for guidance on visa information. Further information is also available from our international web pages.

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Application and selection

Securing your place at LJMU

You will apply for the majority of postgraduate courses using our online application form. You should complete the form thoroughly and provide a detailed personal statement which reflects your suitability and aptitude for the programme.

The application and selection process for each programme depends on its exact requirements and how these requirements are most effectively assessed. You’ll find the specific information you need for this course below.

Applicants who do not hold a degree in a relevant subject will be considered on their individual merits in relation to the programme. Professional experience, publications, CPD activities and other suitable evidence of accomplishment will be taken into account. 

To discuss the programme please contact:

Professor Phil James - email:, tel: 0151 231 2916

The University reserves the right to withdraw or make alterations to a course and facilities if necessary; this may be because such changes are deemed to be beneficial to students, are minor in nature and unlikely to impact negatively upon students or become necessary due to circumstances beyond the control of the University. Where this does happen, the University operates a policy of consultation, advice and support to all enrolled students affected by the proposed change to their course or module.
Further information on the terms and conditions of any offer made, our admissions policy and the complaints and appeals process.