Astronomy

Find out more about studying Astronomy at Westminster

Astronomy

  • About
  • Curriculum
  • Enrichment
  • Staff
  • After Westminster
  • About

    Astronomy is arguably the oldest science, an outlet for humankind’s natural curiosity about the cosmos in which it lives. The subject embodies this nature and combines a wide range of disciplines and skills from a number of academic subjects, including Physics, Mathematics, Geography, History, Chemistry, Biology, Product Design, Computer Science and Classics. The School’s Observatory atop the Robert Hooke Centre in Smith Square, contains three high-quality observational instruments, which pupils are encouraged to use and master to complement classroom study. We also possess an inflatable three-metre Planetarium used as a night sky simulator.

    Department Contact Prof. Kevin Walsh
    kevin.walsh@westminster.org.uk
  • Curriculum
    Lower School

    The GCSE course is pursued as an additional subject during an extra-curricular Lower School Activity (LSA) session on a Friday afternoon in the Fifth Form (Year 9) and Lower Shell (Year 10). For the Upper Shell (Year 11), the session moves to Monday.

    The GCSE includes the completion of two practical projects, selected from a list of suggestions that encompasses a large variety of interests including the design and construction of a sundial, the monitoring of sunspots to determine the rotation of the sun and the use of circumpolar photography to measure the length of the sidereal day.

    Inevitably there is overlap with other subjects, especially Physics, where topics appear at both GCSE and A Level, including Gravitation, Cosmology and Orbital Mechanics.

    Syllabus & Code
    Edexcel GCSE 1ASO Astronomy
    Upper School

    There is no A Level in Astronomy; instead pupils can pursue Astronomy through the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). This allows them the freedom to explore in depth their own areas of personal interest. A recent example includes the development and use of a process to explore the possible correlations between notable alignments in ancient structures (such as stone circles and temples) and significant astronomical events (such as sunrise on the summer solstice or the culmination of the star Sirius).

    For those pupils taking the Physics A Level, there is coursework relating to Astronomy and the curriculum includes some ideas and concepts of an astronomical nature (for instance Newton’s law of Universal Gravitation and the use of the Doppler Effect). Pupils in the Upper School can also choose to take a GCSE in Astronomy alongside their A Levels, as an Option, an intense one-year course.

    One of the Physics A Level course internal coursework elements is the C2 project and one available Option is Practical Astronomy for which pupils usually design, construct and use some astronomical apparatus. Recent examples include a sextant, an armillary sphere, a forward-scatter meteor detector and a reproduction of Eratosthenes’ measurement of the size of the Earth.

    Syllabus & Code
    Edexcel Level 3 EPQ Astronomy
    Sixth Form Entry
    Subject requirements for the course
    No specific requirements are necessary, except an engagement with academic exploration and an enthusiasm and passion for your chosen project.

    Entrance Examination

    There is no entrance examination or equivalent for the Astronomy EPQ, though pupils need to make a good case for their project proposal at the outset, whatever they choose to do.

  • Enrichment

    The School is extremely well-resourced for Astronomy. The centrepiece is the state-of-the-art Robert Hooke Observatory, which contains two optical and one solar telescope and a range of photographic and spectroscopic apparatus. Observing sessions take place each week, conditions permitting, and pupils are encouraged to become proficient in the use of the instruments.

    We also possess a three-metre Astrodome, an inflatable planetarium used as a night sky simulator. In addition to the internal applications, presentations are given to outside visitors and pupils are often involved with this work. The ‘Magic Planet’ is a 70-cm dome used to illustrate celestial objects and phenomena such as planets, moons and the constellations, which is also used both for the study of the subject and for visitor demonstrations.

    There are a number of national essay and poster competitions and Upper School pupils are encouraged to enter the British Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad held annually.

  • Staff

    * denotes Head of Department
    † denotes Housemaster

    Prof. Kevin Walsh (KAPW) — Astronomer-in-Residence
  • After Westminster

    Impressive numbers of former pupils leave Westminster to study Physical Sciences or Engineering (as well as Astronomy or Astrophysics). Both of these extensive areas often include Astronomy, from the scrutiny of atomic and sub-atomic dynamics that lead to star formation and evolution to the design and construction of things like telescopes, spectrometers, satellites and space probes. The Astronomical and Aeronautical industries are aligned to numerous research and manufacturing disciplines and the integration of these areas and their influences are far-reaching and manifold.

"Astronomy GCSE allowed us to explore areas of physics far beyond the GCSE curriculum in an exciting and interesting way. For me, it was one of the key factors that made me choose to study Physics at A Level and University."

— Mariam, Former Pupil

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