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Astronomical Observing Techniques


Admission requirements



This course introduces students to the observational approaches and instruments of modern astronomy. The first part of the course is focused on the theoretical background including Fourier transforms, radiation, the Earth’s atmosphere, and optics. The second part introduces the most important observational techniques including optical and radio telescopes, detectors, spectrometers, and adaptive optics. Students will write their own codes to apply their knowledge.

The lectures and exercises cover the following topics:

  • Properties of radiation

  • Atmospheric properties

  • Fourier transform

  • Geometrical and diffraction optics

  • Telescopes

  • Measurement properties

  • Radio techniques

  • Interferometry

  • Detectors

  • Spectrometers

  • Imagers

  • Adaptive optics

Course objectives

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to select the most appropriate technique to observe a given astronomical phenomena.

In particular, students will be able to:

  • Calculate the properties of radiation received from black bodies

  • Explain the different influences of the Earth’s atmosphere on astronomical observations

  • Perform analytical and numerical Fourier transforms

  • Explain the working principles of optical and radio telescopes

  • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different detector types

  • Calculate the expected performance of a given instrument

  • Select an appropriate instrument to observe a given astronomical phenomena

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)

  • Critical thinking (asking questions, check assumptions)


See Schedules bachelor Astronomy

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

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures

  • Exercise classes

Assessment method

  • Written exam, see Examination schedules bachelor Astronomy.

  • It is possible to gain up to 1 bonus grade point on top of your exam grade by completing the homework sets. An average grade of 6 or higher is required to be able to gain the bonus.

Reading list

Materials in class.


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.


Teacher: Dr. N. van der Marel