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Radio Astronomy


Admission requirements

Leiden Astronomy bachelor’s courses Analyse 3NA (Fourier transforms) and Radiative Processes, knowledge of Linux/Unix and Python.


In this course you learn critical aspects of radio astronomy, allowing you to relate radio observations to the astrophysical sources they probe. We thus deal with both the electromagnetic processes in the Universe that produce radio emission, as well as the workings of the telescopes that measure this radio emission.

The course consists of collaboration- and discussion sessions and the construction and use of a working radio telescope, leading up to writing and assessing observing proposals for our own "radio observatory of every radio telescope ever". The course covers the whole spectrum from Mega-Hertz to sub-millimeter radiation and from the cosmic dawn to galactic star formation, focusing on how to interpret data with different frequency- and spatial resolution.

Some testimonials from former students: This is the most fun I’ve had in any university course ever", “I’ve learned so many things that cannot be expressed in a grade", “That was a LOT of work".

In particular, the following aspects are covered:

  • Detection of radio waves, telescope and receiver characteristics

  • The mathematical principles underlying interferometers

  • Design and data flow characteristics of practical interferometers like LOFAR, VLBI, ALMA, SKA

  • Data processing techniques, such as image deconvolution, calibration, background subtraction

  • Astrophysics of Active Galactic Nuclei, radio properties of the interstellar medium, pulsars, masers.

  • Spectral line observation of molecules and HI throughout the universe

Course objectives

After this course, you are ready to engage in scientific discussions, proposals, and reviews that concern radio observations of astrophysical phenomena. You can compare how various radio telescopes and observing modes can be used to investigate the astrophysical processes that generate long wavelength emission.

In particular, you can:
1. Write a clear and concise observing proposal for an appropriate radio telescope to answer a scientific question;
2. Write a clear, concise report describing a radio-interferometric data reduction and subsequent data analysis;
3. Design and execute actual radio-astronomical experiments;
4. Develop a data reduction process from raw radio interferometric data to science-quality figures;
5. Analyse quantitatively how radio interferometric concepts affect a specific scientific result;
6. Describe (the function of) common components involved in a telescope’s signal processing;
7. Explain if and why certain radio data features are astrophysical or not;
8. Perform basic Fourier-analyses, such as deriving a SINC function and qualitatively predicting the telescope’s response to a small collection of elementary shapes;


See Astronomy master schedules

You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have successfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go to the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

  • Literature study

  • Group projects

  • System design

  • Practical experimentation

  • Written exercises

  • Data processing tutorials

  • Data analysis and scientific reporting

  • A field trip to ASTRON, JIVE, LOFAR, Westerbork and Dwingeloo

  • Peer-review

Assessment method

There will not be a traditional final exam. Instead, you are assessed based on various assignments. Deadlines:

  • 15%, Group report (up to 8 groups, chosen randomly by teachers). Galactic hydrogen detection experiment: instrument and experiment design (including expected results). Peer-assessed by "design review panel" composed of members of other teams. Teachers review and confirm grade & provide feedback.

  • 15%, Group report (same 8 groups as previous assignment): Analysis of actual observations of Galactic hydrogen with your own previously designed instrument. Peer-assessed by "scientific review panel" composed of members of other teams. Teachers review and confirm grade & provide feedback.

  • 15% ,** Group report** (groups randomly chosen by teachers): Radio interferometer design document, where each group is responsible for a particular aspect of the system design. Peer-assessed by "design review panel" composed of members of other teams. Teachers review and confirm grade & provide feedback.

  • 20% , Group report (groups randomly chosen by teachers): Interferometer data analysis report. Peer-assessed by "referee panel" composed of members of other teams. Teachers review and confirm grade & provide feedback.

  • 10%, Individual report. "Open questions in Radio Astronomy". Teachers review and grade.

  • 25%, Individual report. Observing proposal. Peer-assessed by "time allocation committee" composed of other students. Teachers review and confirm grade & provide feedback.

All assessments will be done using rubrics published on BrightSpace.

Reading list


As a student, you are responsible for registering on time, i.e. 14 days before the start of the course. This can be done via Mystudymap. You do this twice a year: once for the courses you want to take in semester 1 and once for the courses you want to take in semester 2. Please note: late registration is not possible.

Registration for courses in the first semester is possible from July; registration for courses in the second semester is possible from December. First-year bachelor students are registered for semester 1 by the faculty student administration; they do not have to do this themselves. For more information, see this page

In addition, it is mandatory for all students, including first-year bachelor students, to register for exams. This can be done up to and including 10 calendar days prior to the exam or up to five calendar days in case of a retake exam. You cannot participate in the exam or retake without a valid registration in My Studymap.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Lecturers: Dr. M.A. (Michiel) Brentjens and Dr. T.W. (Tim) Shimwell


Soft skills
During this course, you will also learn about:

  • Assessing each other’s work

  • Giving effective feedback

  • Elementary systems engineering

  • Managing (Python) source code

  • Reproducible data analysis

  • Working as part of a large collaboration

  • Finding and reviewing relevant literature

  • Scientific writing

  • Proposal writing

  • Dealing with disappointments and setbacks in a relaxed, constructive way