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Astronomical Spectroscopy


Admission requirements

Knowledge of calculus and linear algebra at the bachelor level is required. In terms of the Leiden curriculum, the Astronomy bachelor's courses Quantum Mechanics 1 and Quantum Mechanics 2 are a prerequisite for enrolling in the course and the bachelor's course Radiative processes is strongly recommended.


Astronomical observation is a subject combining astronomy, quantum mechanics, and experimental spectroscopy. To accurately interpret and optimize the knowledge and societal impact of the obtained telescope data in various spectral ranges, it is crucial to have a rigorous understanding of the principles of theoretical and laboratory works.
In this course, you will learn to understand and apply atomic and molecular spectroscopy in an astronomical context. The course covers the basics of absorption spectroscopy and the history of astronomical spectroscopy. You will learn how to interpret spectra and what is needed to simulate molecular spectra for electronic, vibrational, and rotational transitions. The course highlights the synergy between observational and laboratory spectroscopy in astronomical research.
This course starts with general principles of quantum mechanics, and from these derives the principles behind atomic and molecular spectroscopy of molecules commonly found in the interstellar medium. You will apply the newly learned theory to the spectral simulation using the Pgopher software and compare them with observational data. Finally, general laboratory spectroscopy will be introduced to demonstrate how a typical molecular spectrum is measured in fully controlled experimental conditions.

Course objectives

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:
1. Read spectroscopic notation, and interpret and simulate (interstellar) spectra
2. Explain the origin of atomic and molecular spectra
3. Reproduce and simulate the typical shape of molecular spectra
4. Calculate/explain physical parameters from spectra
5. Read and summarize the literature on spectroscopy with astronomical applications
6. Explain solid state and gas phase spectra obtained in the laboratory


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 sucessfully 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 the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Pleas 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

  • Lectures

  • Exercise class

Assessment method

  • A written report about simulations performed in the exercise class and comparing with astronomical observations in literature (80%)

  • Oral presentation based on the written report (20%)

Reading list

  • Astronomical spectroscopy: An Introduction to the Atomic and Molecular Physics of Astronomical Spectra (J. Tennyson), ISBN 1860945139 (optional)

  • Modern Spectroscopy (J. Michael Hollas), ISBN 0470844159 (optional)


From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.

Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


Lecturer: Dr. K. Chuang


Soft skills
During this course you will be trained in:

  • Finding, reading and summarizing modern astronomical literature

  • Writing a structured report on simulated spectra