Engineers and technicians on Merseyside are among the first students to enrol on a new astronomy course offered by Liverpool John Moores University.
By day, the staff build a robotic telescope for Telescope Technologies Limited, a spin-off company from the university. By night, they study topics ranging from ancient astronomy to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Those who pass the course get credits towards qualifications from John Moores and other universities.
Next month, the course will be launched as a distance-learning programme. The course director, Hugh Jones, hopes to attract older learners who do not live in university towns. "There is a broad spectrum of interest from professionals and other people with a lifelong interest in astronomy," said Dr Jones.
Other students include teachers and "fast-track" school pupils. The course is the country's first multimedia astronomy distance-learning programme and uses interactive CD-Roms and videos. Access to the Internet is not required at present but it will be in future as the university hopes to include virtual tutorials.
Dr Jones thought of launching the course after placing material on the web for first-year astrophysics undergraduates.
The robotic telescope is being built on Merseyside before being shipped to the Canary Islands. It will be operated remotely from Liverpool and is due to start up in September 1999.