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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. Detectors are the crucial link between the astronomical target and the observer. Apart from the telescope, their performance is arguably the single most important component – and often weakest link – in the chain of observational optical devices. As astronomers are increasingly aiming at fainter targets, the quality and calibration of the detector systems have become increasingly important. Detector types that will be discussed include intrinsic and extrinsic photo-conductors, CCDs, BIB detectors, photodiodes, bolometers, and submillimeter- and millimeterwave heterodyne receivers. The course covers their physical principles and discusses performance aspects like linearity and dynamical range, spectral response, bandwidth, quantum efficiency and noise. In addition, this course covers practical aspects of general relevance to observational astronomers, including readout schemes, cosmetic quality of array detectors and the mitigation of artefacts.

Course objectives

The main objectives of this course are to provide an overview of:

  • Technologies and underlying physics used to detect electromagnetic radiation from UV to sub-millimeter wavelengths;

  • The most common devices to be found in astronomical instruments;

  • Performance aspects, mitigation of artefacts and calibration strategies relevant to the data analysis.

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)

  • Motivation – commitment, pro-active attitude, initiative

  • Self-regulation – independence, self-esteem, aware of own goals, motives and capacities

  • Verbal communication – presenting, speaking, listening

  • Written communication (writing skills, reporting, summarizing)

  • Critical thinking (asking questions, check assumptions)

  • Creative thinking – resourcefulness, curiosity, thinking out of the box


See Astronomy master schedules

Mode of instruction


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, which then counts for 100% of the final grade.


Blackboard will be used to communicate with students and to share lecture slides, homework assignments, and any extra materials. You must enroll on Blackboard before the first lecture. To have access, you need a student ULCN account.

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. Required


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: Prof.dr. B.R. (Bernhard) Brandl
Assistant: Patrick Dorval