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Astronomical Relativity


Admission requirements

Knowledge of calculus and linear algebra at the bachelor's level is required, as well as special relativity (although that subject is reviewed at the beginning of the course), and of classical mechanics, including its Lagrangian formulation. In terms of the Leiden curriculum, the student must have succesfully completed the first year, and in addition must have succesfully completed the courses Classical Mechanics B and Lineaire Algebra 2. Without this full set of prerequisites, enrolment will not be allowed.


This course provides an introduction to the Theory of General Relativity, with a particular focus on its astrophysical applications. The course sidesteps the usual mathematical approach to the subject (based on tensor calculus), and instead starts from the metric as the crucial concept. Particular astrophysical applications that are discussed include black holes, the Universe, gravitational lenses and gravitational waves. The Einstein equation, which forms the overarching principle of these phenomena, is only introduced at the end of the course. The course uses a textbook following the same approach.

Course objectives

The course provides an introduction to the principle of General Relativity and its most common astrophysical applications, and serves as an introduction to master's level courses on the subject. Upon completion of this course the student should be familiar with the basic tenets of General Relativity, the concept of spacetime curvature and some of its mathematical tools, and the concept of metrics. The student should be able to handle and utilize the metrics commonly encountered in astrophysical situations, and using this approach, understand and analyze phenomena related to black holes, gravitational lensing, cosmology and gravitational waves.

Soft skills

In this course, students will be trained in the following behaviour-oriented skills:

  • Problem solving (recognizing and analyzing problems, solution-oriented thinking)

  • Analytical skills (analytical thinking, abstraction, evidence)

  • Structured thinking (structure, modulated thinking, computational thinking, programming)

  • Critical thinking (asking questions, check assumptions)

  • Creative thinking (resourcefulness, curiosity, thinking out of the box)


See Schedules bachelor Astronomy 2017-2018

Mode of instruction


Assessment method

Written exam, see Examination schedules bachelor Astronomy 2017-2018


Blackboard is not used for this course.

Reading list

Gravity. An Introduction to Einstein’s General Relativity, Hartle, ISBN 9781292039145 (required)


Register via uSis. More information about signing up for classes and exams can be found here. Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to register. For a la carte and contract registration, please see the dedicated section on the Prospective students website.

Contact information

Lecturer: Prof.dr. P. (Paul) van der Werf
Assistants: Natasha Wijers, Dong-Gang Wang
Course website: Astronomical Relativity