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Prof David Kipping




Astronomers live in era of “big data”. Whilst astronomers of a century ago collected a handful of photographic plates each night, modern astronomers collect thousands of images encoded by millions of pixels in the same time. Both the volume of data and the ever present desire to dig deeper into data sets has led to a growing interest in the use of statistical methods to interpret observations. This class will provide an introduction to the methods commonly used in understanding astronomical data sets, both in terms of theory and application.

The class has a strong focus on project-based work, features no mid-term or final written exams, but rather grades of a series of mini-projects completed by students during group hack sessions and outside of class hours. Astrostatistics was developed by Prof David Kipping starting in 2016 and is now taught once year, typically taking ~15-20 junior/senior undergraduates.


Over the last two decades, astronomers have discovered thousands of extrasolar planets, planets which orbit stars others than our Sun. This wave of discovery has led to innovation in observational techniques, revealed a diverse range of planet formation and evolution mechanisms, and provided the first clues as to how unique our pale blue dot truly is. The search for life beyond our own cosmic shore represents the ultimate goal of exoplanetary science. By searching for the products of life’s various activities, ranging from simple respiration to engineering mega-structures, astronomers are now equipped to answer one of the most ancient questions - are we alone?

This class will teach students about the various methods astronomers are tackling these questions, focussing on the how. The diverse range of methods for finding and characterizing planets and related phenomena will be covered. The implications of several key results will be explored, with a view towards astrobiological questions. Tackling concepts such as habitability, the statistics of abiogenesis and the possible activities of advanced civilizations, the class will encourage the students to think in unfamiliar, extreme ways with a view towards leaving students with malleable, open-minded and creative approaches to problem solving.

The class has strong focus on in-class presentations and an outreach component, where students are required to create a unique YouTube video explaining a concept explored from the class (example shown here). Typical class in take is ~15-20 students at the junior/senior level.