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Radio Astronomy Course and Class Information

Radio astronomy focuses on the use of radio waves and radio telescopes for cosmic observation. In undergraduate programs, it's either included in the broad category of observatory methods or offered as a 1-semester course at the advanced level of an astronomy program. Students often specialize in radio astronomy at the graduate level.

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Essential Information

Radio astronomy is an advanced method of stellar observation. The topic is generally covered under advanced observatory methods, if not given its own course. Students in an undergraduate astronomy program generally take basic courses, such as observatory methods and astrophysics, before taking radio astronomy. These courses may include a hands-on training component.

Here are some common concepts taught in radio astronomy courses:

  • Telescopes
  • Electromagnetic spectrum
  • Radiation
  • Celestial bodies
  • Quantum mechanics
  • Gravity
  • Cosmic evolution

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List of Common Courses

Observatory Methods Course

While the basic observatory methods course does not usually cover radio astronomy, it is relevant here as a prerequisite to the advanced course that does include radio astronomy. Students learn about celestial coordinates, star charts, magnitudes and color indices, along with certain elements of basic astronomy. Other topics include time, telescopes, astronomical optics and electromagnetic radiation. Atomic physics also forms a key aspect of the curriculum for this course, making the completion of various physics classes a common prerequisite.

Advanced Observation Methods Course

A follow-up to a basic observatory methods course, this advanced class provides a more in-depth overview of multi-wavelength observational astronomy. As such, it includes radio astronomy, and techniques used in its application, as a large part of its curriculum. Previous subjects, such as coordinates, telescopes and time, are explored in greater detail, and several new subjects besides radio astronomy are introduced. These can include photometry, x-ray astronomy, gamma rays and optical spectroscopy.

Astrophysics Course

This subject is a broad one and is often broken up into many different courses. However, at least an introductory knowledge of astrophysics usually is required before students can take a specific class in radio astronomy. Topics covered include the formation of the solar system; radiation and the physical laws that govern it; the age, mass and distance of stars; and stellar evolution. Physics topics such as gravity, orbital mechanics, quantum mechanics and the kinetic theory of gases are introduced, as are the basic concepts behind galaxies and cosmology.

Radio Astronomy Course

In this course, students learn about the mechanics and techniques behind radio telescopes and ways that astronomers use them to map the cosmos. In addition to the properties of radio waves and the emission mechanisms that produce them, the curriculum covers antenna theory, interferometry and aperture synthesis. It also usually explores the history of radio astronomy, from Karl Jansky's original experiments in 1932 to modern discoveries of astrophysical phenomena that would not have been possible without the application of radio waves. Hands-on experimentation usually is a large part of this course, with students carrying out their own observations using radio telescopes and calculating and analyzing their data.

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