What Is Skynet University?

Star trails, including the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, over Skynet’s 32-inch diameter PROMPT-C7 telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the Chilean Andes.

Skynet is a global network of fully automated, or robotic, telescopes serving professional astronomers, students of all ages — graduate through elementary school — and the public over the internet.

Headquartered at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and private donations, Skynet’s telescopes span four continents. They have taken over 16 million images for tens of thousands of users.

For the most part, access to Skynet is limited to the institutions that have contributed the telescopes (each ~$100K or more).  However, Skynet is also open to anyone who takes our tuition-free, self-paced Astronomy with Skynet courses through Skynet University!

Skynet University offers the same introductory astronomy courses that we have developed for our students at UNC to everyone everywhere.  These courses are taken by both science and non-science students, and are now offered at other institutions as well.

They include:

  • Our Astronomy with Skynet courses, in which students learn how to use our telescopes in the Chilean Andes and around the world, and then use these telescopes to learn astronomy.
  • Our Astronomy 101/102 sequence, which does not use telescopes, but is a complete introduction to the solar system, stars, galaxies, and cosmology.

Skynet University offers these courses online.  They are self-paced and can be taken at minimal or no expense:

  • Tuition is free (vs. over $1000 per credit hour for out-of-state students at UNC).
  • Telescope time — enough to complete the Astronomy with Skynet courses — is also free (vs. about $100 per hour at similar-quality commercial telescopes).
  • We have partnered with a benefit corporationWebAssign, to produce and administer our interactive assignments, as well as package these with supplementary materials. They charge $35 for the Astronomy 101/102 courses and $65 for the Astronomy with Skynet courses.
  • Graduates receive either a Certificate of Completion or a Certificate of Mastery, depending on performance, from UNC’s Skynet University.  The certificate is also free.

The Astronomy 101/102 courses can also be taken for free without completing the assignments by watching the lectures on Skynet University’s YouTube Channel, as well as here and here.

For more information about our telescopes, our courses, and our professors, click on the links above and to the right, or email us at introastro at unc dot edu.  Educators interested in offering our courses at their institutions can also reach us at this address.

Background Image:  Sculptor Galaxy.  By SSRO/PROMPT.