The Institute of Astronomy of KU Leuven is a section of the Department of Physics and Astronomy of the Faculty of Sciences, within the Group Science and Technology. Its main missions are in the domains of research, education and outreach to the community.
The Institute of Astronomy is an internationally recognised expertise centre in stellar astrophysics. Most of the science topics are related to the study of stellar evolution, in a broad context. Two Leuven expert teams are active in the specific areas of asteroseismology and of evolved low-mass stars. A third team is involved in the development of astronomical instrumentation, both for ground-based facilities and for space science satellites.
Asteroseismology and variability
Observational studies of pulsating and variable stars have been conducted at Leuven University for half a century now, covering all stellar masses and evolutionary stages, but with specific attention to young massive stars, to red giants and to subdwarf stars on the horizontal branch. The Leuven seismic investigations of stars range from instrument development and building, data gathering, data analysis, methodology for data interpretation, to theoretical modeling of stellar structure. Emphasis gradually shifted from stellar pulsation theory, including asymptotic treatments, non-linear oscillations and tidally induced pulsations, to observational asteroseismology, in view of the opportunities created by high-resolution spectrographs and by dedicated space photometers for this field of research. For the ground-based observational studies, extensive use is made of the Mercator telescope at La Palma Observatory (Canary Islands), owned by the institute, and of its twin, the Swiss Euler telescope at La Silla (Chile). The institute is also heavily involved in asteroseismic space missions, such as MOST (Canada), CoRoT (French-led European), Kepler (NASA), and PLATO (ESA), as well as in the study of variable stars with the ESA cornerstone mission Gaia. Specialised methodology for time series analysis and mode identification of non-radial pulsations was developed in Leuven and is continuously being upgraded and made available to the international community.
Evolved low-mass stars
At Leuven University, astronomy and astrophysics is taught at master level, as a full-time follow-up study of two basic courses at bachelor level as well as bachelor project work. Students with a Bachelor Diploma in Physics, Mathematics or Engineering can enter the 2-year Master in Astronomy & Astrophysics, covering 120 study points in the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS). An additional option of a master after master education is the one-year Master in Space Studies, organised together with Ghent University and accessible to students with a master diploma in Science and Technology, in Biomedical Sciences or in Humanities. More information is available through the institute's website.
Quite often, research results obtained by researchers of our institute are the subject of national and international press releases, either through ESO or ESA, through Astronomy Picture of the Day, or through national TV broadcasts and/or magazines and newspapers. Several examples are available through the institute's website.
Realising the special appeal of astronomy as a discipline towards a large audience, the institute takes up several responsibilities in the field of the popularisation of science. In the field of astronomy, this is done in the form of public lectures, intensive contacts with amateur organisations, and encouraging amateur astronomers to participate in the scientific projects of the institute. On a larger scale, the institute takes part in the activities of Leuven University in the framework of the biennial Week of Science of the Flemish Community, where secondary school students visit the universities to have a first contact with research and education at university level, as well as in the yearly fare called the Flemish Space Days.