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Galaxies: structure, dynamics and evolution


Admission requirements

Astronomy bachelor's courses Galaxies and Cosmology and Radiative Processes.


In this course we will study the evolution of galaxies. Fundamental astronomical processes such as star formation, recycling and enrichment of gas, formation of planets, etc. all take place in galaxies. Besides that, galaxies are the basic building blocks of the universe, and we use them to trace the evolution of the universe. This broad scope is why galaxy research is in the forefront of astronomy.

This course covers the structure of the galaxies, including dark matter, stars and gas as well as the large scale structure in which galaxies are embedded. It discusses ongoing surveys of the nearby and distant universe. A special focus will be on the evolution of galaxies. The course builds on the bachelor course Galaxies and Cosmology and assumes that the material in this course is known to the student. A very brief recapitulation will be given of the most important material.

Course work consists of exercises, a presentation, and an oral exam. The presentation is on a paper or current research project; the oral exam focuses on the discussion of a research paper.

Topics covered:

  • Techniques how the mass distributions of galaxies are measured

  • Modeling the equilibrium of a gravitational system with a very large number of point sources

  • Structure of nearby and distant galaxies

  • Observational programs to study these galaxies

  • Observations that have been used to understand the evolution of galaxies

  • The role of dark matter in galaxy evolution and formation

  • Advanced models for stellar populations and their application to the study of galaxy evolution

Course objectives

At the end of this course, you:

  • Will be able to analyze recent research papers in the general area of galaxy structure and evolution, and summarize their content and list their implications

  • Can describe the structure and evolution of galaxies and can list the observables of galaxies underlying this knowledge

  • Can explain the main mechanisms responsible for galaxy formation


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. 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

  • Lectures

  • Exercise classes

Assessment method

  • Homework assignments: 40% of final grade (average >= 6 as requirement to take part in paper presentations)

  • Paper presentation: 20% of final grade

  • Paper discussion + general questions: 40% of final grade

Reading list

The course is not based on any book in particular. Useful reference books concerning galaxies include:

  • ‘Galaxy Formation and Evolution’ by Houjun Mo, Frank van den Bosch, and Simon White, ISBN13: 978-0521857932’

  • ‘Galactic Dynamics, Princeton Series in Astrophysics’ by James Binney and Scott Tremaine, ISBN13: 978-0-691-13027-9

  • ‘Galactic Astronomy, Princeton Series in Astrophysics’ by James Binney and Michael Merrifield, ISBN13: 978-0-691-02565-0

These books are of excellent quality and deal with a lot of material in great detail. They will be useful throughout the career of an astronomer. However, their level is generally above that of the course, and they do not discuss large scale structure or galaxy evolution in much detail.


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: Prof.dr. M. (Marijn) Franx


Soft skills
During this course, you will be trained to:

  • Plan and execute your home exercises on time

  • Report the solutions to your exercises clearly

  • Present a paper or research project

  • Verbally describe topics covered by this course