Skynet University

Skynet University offers self-paced online versions of the introductory astronomy courses taught at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. While taking the courses you have access to UNC’s Skynet network of robotic telescopes in Chile, Australia, and North Carolina so you can make your own observations of planets, nebulae, and galaxies.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill built the Skynet network of robotic observatories to study gamma-ray bursts - the intense blasts of energy from supernova explosions beyond our galaxy. When Nasa’s Swift space telescope or other gamma ray observatories discover a gamma-ray burst, Skynet’s automated systems order small research telescopes in Chile, Australia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin as well as the 20-meter radio telescope at the Green Bank Observatory to capture observations of the explosion’s aftermath. You can learn more about Skynet in the following paper:

Reichart, D.E. “UNC-Chapel Hill's Gamma-Ray Burst Follow-up Program” The Society for Astronomical Sciences 25th Annual Symposium on Telescope Science. Held May 23-25, 2006, at Big Bear, CA. Published by the Society for Astronomical Sciences., p.39

But gamma-ray bursts only appear once every few days. That leaves a lot of down-time on the network that can be used for other research. Most of the free time is divided among the Skynet partner institutions, but a big chunk goes to support public outreach and education. 

Skynet University lets you take UNC’s introductory astronomy courses and use the Skynet telescopes. Astro with Skynet: Our Place in Space introduces you to Skynet’s control and image analysis software and gives you up to 30 minutes of exposure time on the Skynet telescopes. Depending on how well you do with the interactive assignments you can earn a Certificate of Completion or a Certificate of Mastery. The online course materials and interactive assignments require a registration fee, but the $45-$65 cost pales in comparison to the $1000 cost of taking the course at the university. If you want to check things out before committing to the fee, the Skynet University YouTube channel has all of the video lectures.

In the Fall of 2014, Skynet University will add a second course, Astro 101: The Solar System. It doesn’t include use of the telescopes but gives the same introduction to astronomy that UNC students receive in the classroom. You can see previews of the video lectures on YouTube now. Over the next two years Skynet University will add Astro 102: Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology and Astro with Skynet: Astrophotography to its courses.