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Detection of Light a


Admission requirements


Part a of this course is aimed at observational astronomers in general, to provide a solid knowledge basis on the generation of their observational data. Detection of Light Part b further extends on Part a and is available as an elective course in the Astronomy master's programme.

In this course you will learn how we detect electromagnetic radiation from the closest planets to the most distant galaxies in the Universe. The course consists of a series of weekly lectures. These will be interspersed with homework, and on at least two occasions, computer practicums, that will reinforce and demonstrate the physical principles involved with the detection of light. There will be an exam at the end of the semester that will form part of the final grade.

In the course we will cover the following topics:

  • Introduction to Solid State physics

  • Photodetectors

  • Bolometers

  • Heterodyne detectors

  • Superconducting detectors, including SQUID, MKIDs devices

  • Sources of noise generation and characteristics

  • Imaging detector artifacts

  • Conversion of detected photons into digital signals

Course objectives

The main objective of this course is that you will be able to:

  • Mention the three different physical principles for detecting electromagnetic radiation from astronomical sources.

  • Calculate the dominant sources of noise for each of the different detectors and assess their impact on the signal to noise for a given astrophysical target.

  • Apply the correct mitigation algorithms to the different artifacts present in imaging arrays.

  • Describe how detected photons are converted into digital measurements.

  • Assess which detector and detection methods are best for a given type of astrophysical observation.

Soft skills

In this course, you will be trained to:

  • Master a new field (astrophysical detectors)

  • Communicate with your fellow students to understand the homeworks and practicums

  • Analyze the different detector systems and make an informed decision

  • Work together in a team

  • Manage your time to hand in practicums and homeworks


See Astronomy master schedules

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Computer practicums

Assessment method

  • Weekly homework assignments (mandatory and accounting for 20% of final grade)

  • Written exam - closed book with formula sheet provided (80%: ~50% calculations, ~30% qualitative explanations, ~20% multiple choice questions), see the Astronomy master examination schedules

The re-take exam will be an oral exam. In this case, the homework assignments still account to the final grade for 20%.


Blackboard is not used for this course.

Reading list

Detection of Light – from the Ultraviolet to the Submillimeter, by George Rieke, 2nd Edition, 2003, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-01710-6.


Via uSis. More information about signing up for your classes can be found here. Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to apply.

Contact information

Lecturer: Dr. M.A. (Matt) Kenworthy
Assistant: Patrick Dorval
Course website: Detection of Light a