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Moons: an introduction

by The Open University

This course material is only available in the iTunes U app on iPhone or iPad.

Course Description

The Earth’s Moon has roughly the same surface area as Africa, so, in the words of scientist Dr Ian Crawford from University College, London: ‘Would you say you'd explored the continent of Africa if you'd had six teams, of two people each, with a tent each and you parachuted them into six parts...and the longest they'd stayed hanging around their tent was three days?’.

The answer is no: just as Africa would not have been comprehensively explored, nor has the Moon been fully explored yet.

But what have we learned from manned and unmanned missions to the Moon, and from remote techniques of analysis? The physical evidence itself may be limited – less than 400 kg (882 lb) of samples were brought back by the US Apollo and Russian Luna missions, but the results have been astounding. The Moon does have an atmosphere of sorts; it shares some of its geology with the Earth; and it has ice at the poles. Could this contain some form of life?

Perhaps not, but research into another moon, Jupiter’s Europa, suggests extraterrestrial life is possible. It’s not science fiction, potentially it’s science fact, as research on Earth demonstrates through exploration of sunless deep-sea ecosystems at hydrothermal vents, and investigation of Lake Vostock, a subglacial lake in the Antarctic that’s capped by ice that’s nearly two miles deep.

With 166 known moons to choose from in our solar system, take the time to visit some lesser known specimens, like Phobos and Deimos – the potato-shaped moons of Mars – before calling in at Titan, the second largest moon in the solar system. You won't be the first; the Cassini-Huygens Saturn mission sent a probe there in 2005. Join a live recording of the touchdown to find out what happened.

This learning pathway requires no prior knowledge of astronomy, only an interest in learning more about the moons of our solar system, and the research methods used to understand them, in the hope that they will, in turn, help us to understand how the universe was formed, and how life on Earth began.

Moons: an introduction has been designed for self-paced study, and should not take more than a week to complete.

Customer Reviews


What a great job putting this material together! Loved it. Excellent video clips are brief and to the point, with good production values. Thank you!

A video is better than a million pictures!

When it comes to space, a video is the best and possibly the only way a person can get hold of (near) reality.
Thanks for making and sharing the videos.


Part of this course requires an iPad. If you don't have one, don't bother with the course.

Moons: an introduction
View in iTunes

Customer Ratings