Introduction to Astronomy

“Introduction to Astronomy,” taught by Duke University Professor Ronen Plesser, presents a broad survey of what we know about the universe and how we know it. In this class, we will be studying, quite literally, everything in the universe. The course starts with “classical” astronomy, describing the night sky and organizing what we see as was done in ancient times. Participants them embark on a journey, starting here on Earth and progressing outward, to study the Solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the wonderful and strange objects we observe in deep space, such as black holes, quasars, and supernovae.

The course ends with some discussion of what scientists know today about the universe as a whole.  Along the way it introduces some of the methods, theoretical and experimental, that have been used to understand all of this, from Newton’s laws, through our understanding of light and matter, to Einstein’s theory of relativity, and from Galileo’s telescope to WMAP.

“Introduction to Astronomy” was first offered as on open online course on Coursera. In 2016 the course moved to Duke Extend, a Duke-hosted online course platform based on Open edX. It was the first course on Duke Extend to be offered for free to anyone in the world.


  • Created high quality videos of physics lab demos that can be used by other instructors.
  • Used interactive simulators to communicate complicated ideas.
  • Used feedback from students and content experts taking the course to revise course content and assignments.

What Students are Saying:

“I’ve decided to join the #ICannotStopTalkingAboutAstronomy club. Thank you, professor Plesser, and all the patient TAs, whose willingness to help exceeded every expectation. […] this was certainly one of the most educating experiences I’ve ever had.”


Teaching Excellence In and Outside the Classroom – Duke Today, 2013
The making of a massive online courseDuke Today, 2012



  • Physics

Project Use:


Launch Date:

  • November 2012

View the project