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Unit of study_

OLET1638: Astronomy: from Stars to Black Holes

Intensive April, 2022 [Block mode] - Remote

This unit of study explores the lives of the stars, leading some to explosive ends and the formation of a black hole. You will learn about the life cycle of a star from its birth in the interstellar medium to its fate as a stellar remnant - as a white dwarf, neutron star or perhaps a black hole. You will work with simulations to gain an appreciation and understanding of the methodology and techniques of modern astronomy, especially astronomical spectroscopy that allows us to measure the composition, physical state and motion of the stars. These measurements also reveal the extreme properties of stellar remnants. More recently, observations of gravitational waves have opened a new window on the universe, allowing us to study the merger of neutron stars. Our study of spectroscopic and gravitational wave observations of extreme environments will clearly illustrate how modern astronomy depends on advancing technology leading to new instrumentation and observational capabilities. The unit also includes opportunities for day and night observing sessions.

Unit details and rules

Unit code OLET1638
Academic unit Physics Academic Operations
Credit points 2
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator John O'Byrne,
Lecturer(s) Tim White,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Final exam (Record+) Type B final exam hurdle task Final online examination
Written short answer online exam.
50% Week 06
Due date: 29 Apr 2022 at 16:00
1 hour
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
Assignment Night Sky worksheet
Report on night sky objects related to the topic of the unit
10% Week 06
Due date: 29 Apr 2022 at 23:59

Closing date: 06 May 2022
4 pages
Outcomes assessed: LO7
Tutorial quiz Mini-quizzes
Mini-Quizzes embedded in online material
5% Weekly 5 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO3 LO2
Tutorial quiz Mastering Astronomy quizzes
Longer quizzes to build understanding
10% Weekly 30 minutes
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO6 LO5 LO3 LO2
Assignment Tutorials
Results from astronomical data exercise
25% Weekly 2 hours
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6
hurdle task = hurdle task ?
Type B final exam = Type B final exam ?

Assessment summary

  • Embedded quizzes: Comprehension of the online material will be tested by brief, automatically marked, multiple choice mini-quizzes. These are used to help you step systematically through the Canvas pages.
  • Mastering Astronomy quizzes: MA quizzes at the end of each week are designed to build your understanding of aspects of the material with more complex questions incorporating hints, feedback and multiple, automatically marked attempts.
  • Tutorials: Students individually submit results from the weekly tutorial exercise, many of which use real astronomical data.
  • Night Sky worksheet: This worksheet aims to show how and where the astronomical objects described in this unit are visible in the night sky. It is intended to sit in parallel with the optional Night Sky observing session.
  • Final examination: Understanding of key concepts of the unit is tested in an online exam comprised of short answer questions. See the Sample Exam papers in the Canvas pages for this unit for an accurate indication of the exam structure.

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas.

Note that attempting the final examination is required for a pass in this unit.

If you miss the final exam for any reason you should submit an application for Special Consideration to request a replacement exam in the same format.

If a second replacement exam is required, this exam may be delivered via an alternative assessment method, such as a viva voce (oral exam). The alternative assessment will meet the same learning outcomes as the original exam. The format of the alternative assessment will be determined by the unit coordinator.

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014(Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a high distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100

Excellent understanding demonstarted in quizzes and the final exam; thorough understanding of tutorial materials; on-time completion of all aspects of the unit.


75 - 84

Good understanding demonstarted in quizzes and the final exam; good understanding of tutorial materials; on-time completion of all aspects of the unit.


65 - 74

Acceptable understanding demonstarted in quizzes and the final exam; usually a good understanding of tutorial materials; sometimes combined with a lower standard of results in some other aspects of the unit.


50 - 64

Basic understanding demonstarted in quizzes and the final exam; often combined with poor results or lack of completion of some other aspects of the unit, particularly tutorials.


0 - 49

Poor understanding demonstarted in quizzes and the final exam; usually combined with lack of completion of some other aspects of the unit, particularly tutorials. i.e. Not meeting the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

This unit has an exception to the standard University policy or supplementary information has been provided by the unit coordinator. This information is displayed below:

Standard University late penalties apply. As an example, on a Tutorial submission given a mark of 4/5, the penalty would be 0.25 marks if submitted up to 24 hours late, resulting in a final mark of 3.75/5. If the assignment is submitted 6 days late, the penalty would be 1.5 marks and the final mark would be 2.5/5. If you have difficulty submitting an assessment on time, you should submit an application for Special Consideration. A Simple Extension of up to two working days negotiated with the unit coordinator is occasionally an alternative. However, in this unit, Simple Extensions will only rarely be granted since justifiable reasons for extension should usually be eligible for Special Consideration.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Multiple weeks Observing - Optional single session Practical (2 hr) LO7
Week 01 Stellar Properties and Evolution - Canvas pages Online class (5 hr) LO1 LO2 LO6
Stellar Properties and Evolution - tutorial Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO4 LO6
Stellar Properties and Evolution - lecture Lecture (1 hr) LO1 LO2 LO6
Week 02 Late Stage Evolution and Supernovae - Canvas pages Online class (5 hr) LO2 LO5
Late Stage Evolution and Supernovae - tutorial Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO2 LO4 LO5
Late Stage Evolution and Supernovae - lecture Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO5
Week 03 Neutron Stars - Canvas pages Online class (5 hr) LO2 LO5 LO6
Neutron Stars - tutorial Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO2 LO4 LO5 LO6
Neutron Stars - lecture Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO5 LO6
Week 04 Black Holes and Gravitational Waves - Canvas pages Online class (5 hr) LO2 LO5 LO6
Black Holes and Gravitational Waves - tutorial Computer laboratory (1 hr) LO2 LO4 LO5 LO6
Black Holes and Gravitational Waves - lecture Lecture (1 hr) LO2 LO5 LO6
Week 06 Revision and Preparation for final exam Individual study (5 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3 LO4 LO5 LO6

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 2 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 40-50 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

All readings for this unit can be accessed on the Canvas site for this unit.

Other resources

Extensive and reliable astronomy information is available on-line, beyond the materials and links presented on the Canvas pages.  Introductory astronomy textbooks at a suitable level (similar to the online text linked in the canvas pages) are available in the SciTech library. For example, a book we have used in the past is The Cosmic Perspective, Jeffrey O. Bennett (various editions).

Be aware that astronomy is a rapidly advancing field and, while all the basic information will be correct in older books and give you a good background, the latest information and perspectives that we embed in this unit may be missing.

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. Compare and contrast the basic observable properties of stars and how they are measured
  • LO2. Summarise the birth and evolutionary history of stars of various masses
  • LO3. Discuss the indigenous astronomy context for modern stellar astronomy
  • LO4. Carry out simulations to illustrate how spectra are used to determine properties of stars
  • LO5. Compare and contrast the characteristics of exotic stellar remnants - white dwarfs, neutron stars or black holes
  • LO6. Outline the significance of changing technology, in particular spectroscopy and gravitational wave observations, in observation of stars and stellar remnants
  • LO7. Carry out simple observations of the planets and stars using an optical telescope to illustrate the central role of observation in astronomy.

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

We welcome comments on all aspects of this unit. You should feel free to talk to your lecturers, tutors or the Unit Coordinator A/Prof. John O’Byrne at any time. There is also a formal opportunity for feedback via the USS questionnaire for this unit, available online towards the end of semester. As a result of student feedback and other initiatives there have been a number of changes in this unit recent years. This year: - one set of quizzes has been dropped to reduce the assessment load - the Night Sky worksheet has been formalised in parallel with making the Observing session optional. Changes carried on from last year include: - Times for submission of quizzes and tutorials reduced to encourage students to 'keep up' - and allow timely emails when they don't. - The exam date moved to shortly after the face-to-face component of the unit finishes, allowing students to sit the exam when the content is fresh in their minds.

Equity, Access and Diversity statement

The School of Physics recognises that biases, bullying and discrimination, including but not limited to those based on gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion and age, continue to impact parts of our community disproportionately. Consequently, the School is strongly committed to taking effective steps to make our environment supportive and inclusive and one that provides equity of access and opportunity for everyone.

The School has Equity Officers as a point of contact for students who may have a query or concern about any issues relating to equity, access and diversity. If you feel you have been treated unfairly, discriminated against, bullied or disadvantaged in any way, you are encouraged to talk to one of the Equity Officers or any member of the Physics staff.

More information can be found at

Any student who feels they may need a special accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact Disability
Services ( ) who can help arrange support.

Work, health and safety

We are governed by the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 and Codes of Practice. Penalties for non-compliance have increased. Everyone has a responsibility for health and safety at work. The University’s Work Health and Safety policy explains the responsibilities and expectations of workers and others, and the procedures for managing WHS risks associated with University activities.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.