Fundamentals of Radio Astronomy: Observational Methods, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Fundamentals of Radio Astronomy

Observational Methods, 1st Edition

By Jonathan M. Marr, Ronald L. Snell, Stanley E. Kurtz

CRC Press

332 pages | 7 Color Illus. | 144 B/W Illus.

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As evidenced by five Nobel Prizes in physics, radio astronomy in its 80-year history has contributed greatly to our understanding of the universe. Yet for too long, there has been no suitable textbook on radio astronomy for undergraduate students.

Fundamentals of Radio Astronomy: Observational Methods is the first undergraduate-level textbook exclusively devoted to radio astronomy telescopes and observation methods. This book, the first of two volumes, explains the instrumentation and techniques needed to make successful observations in radio astronomy. With examples interspersed throughout and problems at the end of each chapter, it prepares students to contribute to a radio astronomy research team.

Requiring no prior knowledge of astronomy, the text begins with a review of pertinent astronomy basics. It then discusses radiation physics, the collection and detection of astronomical radio signals using radio telescopes, the functioning of various components of radio telescopes, and the processes involved in making successful radio observations. The book also provides a conceptual understanding of the fundamental principles of aperture synthesis and a more advanced undergraduate-level discussion of real-world interferometry observations.

Web Resource

A set of laboratory exercises is available for download on the book’s CRC Press web page. These labs use the Small Radio Telescope (SRT) and the Very Small Radio Telescope (VSRT) developed for educational use by MIT’s Haystack Observatory. The web page also includes a Java package that demonstrates the principles of Fourier transforms, which are needed for the analysis of interferometric data.


"This is an excellent introduction for students wanting to get into the exciting world of radio astronomy. It starts at the basics and builds up nicely to provide readers with the understanding they will need for both single dish observing and radio interferometry. The separation of the more mathematically challenging aspects means that it can be used at a variety of levels, including for advanced undergraduate or postgraduate students. Given the wealth of radio research facilities, such as the JVLA, ALMA, and the upcoming SKA, this is also a very timely textbook. I will start using it immediately in my training programs."

—Melvin Hoare, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Leeds

Table of Contents

Introductory Material

Brief History of Radio Astronomy

Some Fundamentals of Radio Waves

Finding Our Way in the Sky

Basic Structure of a Traditional Radio Telescope

Radio Maps

Introduction to Radiation Physics

Measures of the Amount of Radiation

Blackbody Radiation

Rayleigh–Jeans Approximation

Brightness Temperature

Coherent Radiation

Interference of Light

Polarization of Radiation

Radio Telescopes

Radio Telescope Reflectors, Antennas, and Feeds

Heterodyne Receivers

Noise, Noise Temperature, and Antenna Temperature

Bolometer Detectors


Very Low-Frequency Radio Astronomy

Single-Dish Radio Telescope Observations

Basic Measurements with a Single-Dish Telescope

Antenna Beam

Observing Resolved versus Unresolved Sources

Spectral-Line Observations

Obtaining Radio Images

Calibration of a Radio Telescope

Telescope Sensitivity Considerations in Planning an Observation

Polarization Calibration

Aperture Synthesis Basics: Two-Element Interferometers

Why Aperture Synthesis?

Two-Element Interferometer

Observations of a Single Point Source

Fringe Function

Visibility Function

Observations of a Pair of Unresolved Sources

Observations of a Single Extended Source

Coherence and the Effects of Finite Bandwidth and Integration Time

Basic Principles of Interferometry

Aperture Synthesis: Advanced Discussion

Cross-Correlation of Received Signals

Complex-Valued Cross Correlation

Complex Correlation of a Point Source at a Single Frequency

Extended Sources and the Fourier Transform

Fourier Transforms for Some Common Source Shapes

Three Dimensions, the Earth's Rotation, and the Complex Fringe Function

Nonzero Bandwidth and Finite Integration Time

Source Structure and the Visibility Function

The Earth's Rotation and uv Tracks

Interferometers as Spatial Filters

Sensitivity and Detection Limits


Image Formation

Very Long Baseline Interferometry


Questions and Problems appear at the end of each chapter.

About the Authors

Jonathan M. Marr is a senior lecturer of physics and astronomy at Union College. His research involves high-resolution, radio-wavelength observations of radio galaxies and the Galactic center. He earned a PhD in astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley.

Ronald L. Snell is a professor of astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His research interests include the physical and chemical properties of molecular clouds, star formation, and molecular outflows; he also has extensive experience observing at radio wavelengths. He earned a PhD in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin.

Stanley E. Kurtz is a professor of radio astronomy and astrophysics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. His research interests include massive star formation, the interstellar medium, and radio astronomy instrumentation and techniques. He earned a PhD in physics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

About the Series

Series in Astronomy and Astrophysics

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SCIENCE / Astrophysics & Space Science
SCIENCE / Physics