HET608 Introductory Radio Astronomy and SETI

Course/s with Unit:
A unit of study in the Graduate Certificate of Science (Astronomy), Graduate Diploma of Science (Astronomy) and Master of Science (Astronomy).

Credit Points:
12.5 Credit Points

One semester

Contact Hours:
Equivalent to 60 hours




Learning and Teaching Structure:
Online delivery mode, contact via newsgroups & email.

Assessable newsgroup contributions (30%), online tests (20%) and project (50%).

This Unit will provide an overview of both single- and multiple-dish radio astronomy and their applications, plus a study of the history, principles, techniques and societal issues of an area where radio astronomy plays a key part of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

After successfully completing this Unit, students should be able to:

  • understand the basic principles and techniques of single- and multi-dish astronomy;
  • describe common sources of astronomical radio emission and have an awareness of the major areas of radio astronomy research;
  • understand the historical background and societal context of the search for extra-terrestrial life, and, in particular, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence (SETI);
  • appreciate both general principles and key technical issues involved in SETI;
  • discuss the basic principles and concepts underlying both radio astronomy in general and SETI in particular in a non-technical way understandable to the wider public;
  • recognise the social and scientific implications of the search for extra-terrestrial life in general and SETI in particular, and also of campaigns to build new generations of radio astronomy facilities.
  • research an astronomy topic in depth, using dependable sources of astronomical information on the internet.


  • The electromagnetic spectrum and radio waves; the sky at radio wavelengths; a brief history of radio astronomy
  • Radio emission: line emission & continuum emission; thermal and non-thermal emission: Blackbody radiation, synchrotron and maser emission
  • Sources of radio emission: radio sources in the Solar System and the Milky Way; radio emission in the local and distance Universe; radio surveys and case-study HIPASS, an HI all-sky survey
  • Single-dish radio astronomy: optical versus radio astronomy, properties of single-dish telescopes: beams, mounts, drives, receivers, amplifiers; sidelobes, flux density, bandwidth, sensitivity
  • Fourier transforms and digitising radio signals; backends, feeds, amplifiers, correlators
  • Multi-dish radio astronomy: interferometry, arrays and aperture synthesis; resolving power, signal-to-noise, array design, source visibility and the u-v plane; VLBI and space VLBI
  • Imaging and analysis: single-dish data & multi-dish analysis and image reconstruction; raw data, calibration, imaging, deconvolution, mosaicing
  • Radio astronomy case studies: VLBI and pulsar astronomy; interference; amateur radio astronomy
  • The future of radio astronomy: millimetre astronomy; SKA
  • Introduction to SETI: what is SETI? Are we alone and where to look? The Drake equation, habitable zones, intelligence versus technology, lifetimes, extrasolar planets
  • How to look: planning a SETI search: all-sky versus targeted searches; where to look and at what wavelength; examples of past, present and future SETI searches; technical aspects of SETI signals: differential Doppler, waterfall plots, interference and how to avoid it

Prescribed Textbook & Reading Materials:
For information about the textbook, follow this link.

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