Explore awesome space and physics courses from MasterClass and The Great Courses

With most of us cooped up at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, we've rounded up some educational courses from MasterClass and The Great Courses to dive in-depth into space topics. We hope this will provide some distraction in between the activities you need to do to stay safe.


MasterClass was co-founded by David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen in 2014, and released publicly the following year. On the website, dozens of well-known celebrities offer information on their field of expertise, ranging from cooking to creative arts. The streaming service offers a few ways of viewing content. If you want a full buffet experience, you can get unlimited access for U.S. $15 a month or $180 a year (pricing will vary by country). Or if you prefer to hold on to one class forever, that will cost $90. Here are some of its classes about space and space-related topics:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Teaches Scientific Thinking and Communication

American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City, offers a new course on scientific thinking and communication. Topics included are how to think skeptically, elements of scientific literacy, understanding data, and overcoming bias to seek objective truth. Additionally, deGrasse Tyson offers tips for communicating your ideas to different audiences.

Chris Hadfield Teaches Space Exploration

Canadian retired astronaut Chris Hadfield, who is now an independent consultant and public speaker, has a course on space exploration. This not only covers the usual topics such as rockets, the International Space Station, spacewalking and training, but also a segment on leadership that allows you to learn how to think like an astronaut. Space.com previously covered the class in detail, with the top 15 lessons learned.

Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling

Acclaimed science fiction author Neil Gaiman explores the art of storytelling, which he has deployed in numerous space books – such as his Interworld trilogy or "Stardust" (HarperCollins Publishers, 1997) His course goes in-depth into developing characters, finding an author's voice, developing the study, and seeking the truth in fictional works. He also deals with the usual writers' worries, including the editing process and overcoming writer's block.

Malcolm Gladwell Teaches Writing

Malcolm Gladwell, whose numerous bestsellers explore the intersection between science and culture, offers an in-depth course on storytelling in journalism. The author of "Blink" (Back Bay Books, 2007) and "The Tipping Point" (Little, Brown and Company, 2000) explores topics ranging from interviewing, to structuring language, to dealing with technical matters such as jargon, case studies and tone. He also goes through the writing process, including how to make the most of drafts and revisions.

Annie Leibovitz Teaches Photography

"Rolling Stone" photographer Annie Leibovitz, who has tackled space subjects (such as this portrait of astronaut Eileen Collins) and famous cultural icons such as the Beatles' John Lennon over the decades, has a course on portrait photography. Her perspectives include making the best use of light, deciding between studio or location shots, ways of interacting with people, and her photographic influences.

Ron Howard Teaches Directing

Ron Howard, director of space film "Apollo 13" (1995, Universal Pictures) and co-producer of HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" miniseries (1998), discusses the art of direction. This walks you step-by-step through how to get a movie from concept to screen, including choosing a story, readying a script, the importance of choosing collaborators, doing your research and finessing the result with editing.

Jodie Foster Teaches Filmmaking

Jodie Foster, who starred in the 1997 movie "Contact" about seeking out alien civilizations, shows her work from behind the camera in a series of classes about filmmaking. This will explore the process all the way from storyboarding, to casting, to ways to deploy your cameras. The series also features a few short films by Foster.

The Great Courses

The Great Courses, which was founded by The Teaching Company in 1990, features short university-style lectures from award-winning professors. Course lengths range from miniseries to many dozens of lectures. There are two separate websites to access The Great Courses content, with different selections on each site. 

You can access the back catalog online at TheGreatCourses.com, buying individual courses. The price varies considerably, but some courses are advertised on the front page as being below $75; others will be much more in price. If you prefer unlimited streaming, a selection of content is available at TheGreatCoursesPlus.com. While the content on the "Plus" site is more limited, there is plenty of stuff to keep you entertained. You can view as many courses as you want within that selection, for prices as low as U.S. $14.99 monthly if you buy a year at at time. Prices will vary by country.

Here's a look at some fun courses to satisfy your thirst for space.

Understanding the Universe: An Intro to Astronomy 

Taught by Alex Filippenko, astronomy professor and the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor in the Physical Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, this massive, 96-lecture course will keep you occupied with nearly 50 hours of content going through the science step by step. Starting with a grand tour of the cosmos, students will learn about the basics of the night sky, then quickly move to more advanced topics such as eclipses, astronomy history, the planets, alien life, stars, and even the structure of the universe.

The Remarkable Science of Ancient Astronomy

Taught by Bradley E. Schaefer, Distinguished Professor and Alumni Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Louisiana State University, this course begins with one of the most famous sites of ancient astronomy (Stonehenge, in the United Kingdom) and moves through the worldviews and viewing sites of many cultures – whether it be New Mexico, Egypt, China and the Middle East. You will also learn the roots of many aspects of modern astronomy, including timekeeping, eclipse-tracking and figuring out planet positions.

Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Images of the Universe

This course is taught by David M. Meyer, professor of physics and astronomy at Northwestern University, where he is also Director of the Dearborn Observatory. The 12-lecture course highlights the scientific contributions of the Hubble Space Telescope, including why it was launched, its spectacular observations of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9's collision with Jupiter, and famous targets such as the Crab Nebula or the Cat's Eye Nebula. 

A Visual Guide to the Universe with the Smithsonian

This course, also taught by Meyer, brings viewers across the solar system and the universe to show more about the cosmos. This visually illustrated 18-lecture series looks at topics such as how auroras are formed, the search for water on Mars, the significance of icy moons such as Europa and Enceladus, and the search for other Earths.

Radio Astronomy: Observing the Invisible Universe

The 25-lecture course, taught by Felix J. Lockman, the Green Bank Telescope principal scientist at the Green Bank Observatory. Here, viewers will learn how astronomers find planets, how radio astronomy started as a science, how radio telescopes work, and common observation topics such as pulsars, galaxies and stars.

Sci-Phi: Science Fiction as Philosophy

This course is taught by David K. Johnson, associate professor of Philosophy at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Several space movies and series are covered in this content, including "Contact" (1997), "Arrival" (2015), "Interstellar" (2014) and the popular franchises "Doctor Who" and "Star Trek." The 24-lecture series promises an "intellectual journey" through time and space.

A Field Guide to the Planets 

This course is taught by Sabine Stanley, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Morton K. Blaustein Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. The 24-lecture course takes an in-depth look at each of the solar system's planets, starting with searing Mercury and then moving out to the solar system to Neptune. The lecture also discusses the little worlds at the edge of the solar system – Pluto, Kuiper Belt objects, comets and more. Exoplanets, planetary research and human exploration are also discussed.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace