PhD Position in 'Modelling, detection and characterization of tidally heated exomoons'

starting from September 2020

Dr Matthew Kenworthy, Leiden University and Dr Dominic Dirkx, TU Delft

Open from: 18 June
Deadline: 31 July

Besides our moon, there are more than 200 known moons in the solar system. Moons around other planets - exomoons - are expected to exist, but so far none have been confirmed with observations. The aim of this project is to observe exomoons directly in far-infrared wavelengths. Specifically, the project will focus on the detectability of Tidally Heated ExoMoons (THEMs), and modelling their detectability and interiors. The aim of these models is twofold: firstly to guide the selection of promising target planets that may harbour detectable exomoons, and secondly to allow for the physical interpretation of upcoming detection of such exomoons. The project will include both the application and extension of existing models, as well as the setup, planning and analysis of astronomical observations.

On Earth, the presence of water is a basic ingredient for life. Deep oceans of liquid water are known to exist under the surface of many of the (icy) moons in our solar system. This makes the study of (exo)moons particularly interesting in the search for conditions for habitats and extraterrestrial life.

This project is part of the NWO Planetary and Exoplanetary Science (PEPSci) programme and ventures on the boundary of astronomy and geosciences.

We offer a funded PhD position for 4 years to be jointly supervised by Dr. Matthew Kenworthy (Leiden Observatory) and Dr. Dominic Dirkx (TU Delft) on the topic of 'Modelling, detection and characterization of tidally heated exomoons'.

As this is a joint project, you will be a member of two dynamic and interdisciplinary research groups located at the Leiden Observatory (LO) and TU Delft (TUD). You will also join the NWO PEPSci network together with the PhD students from other projects within the network.

You will develop thermal(-orbital) models of icy and rocky exomoons undergoing tidal heating at TUD, and plan and execute observational programmes with ground and space-based telescopes at LO. The candidate will build on the models for planetary satellite interiors and evolution that have been developed over the past decade at TUD, transitioning over the 4 years to carrying out observational programmes searching for tidally heated exomoons around the nearest exoplanet systems. By joining this project, you will be helping to bridge the fields of solar system planetary geosciences and exoplanetary sciences. You will analyse and interpret the results, and report your results in peer-reviewed journals, at international conferences and you will be part of a stimulating and challenging environment.

We are looking for a candidate with:

  • A MSc degree in physics, astronomy, geosciences, planetary sciences or related science;
  • good communication skills in oral and written English;
  • ability to collaborate and adapt in an interdisciplinary team.

Experience in computer code writing, testing and development is preferred. Skills in Python and C++ are preferred, but not essential. Affinity with fundamental, interdisciplinary research is helpful. Please contact us if you are unsure.

Our offer
A temporary contract for 38 hours per week starting from September to December 2020 for the duration of 4 years (initial contract will be for a period of 18 months and after satisfactory evaluation it will be extended for a total duration of 4 years) and should lead to a dissertation (PhD thesis). We will draft an educational plan that includes attendance of courses and (international) meetings. We also expect you to assist in teaching undergraduates and master students.

The salary, depending on relevant experience before the beginning of the employment contract, will be € 2,395 to € 3,061 (scale P) gross per month, based on a full-time contract (38 hours a week). There is an exclusive 8% holiday allowance and 8,3% end-of-year bonus. A favourable tax agreement, the '30% ruling', may apply to non-Dutch applicants. The Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities is applicable.

Leiden Observatory
Leiden Observatory ("Sterrewacht Leiden"), founded in 1633, is the oldest university astronomy department in the world with a distinguished history. The work of famous astronomers such as De Sitter, Hertzsprung, Oort, Blaauw, and Van de Hulst made Leiden an internationally renowned center of astronomical research.

PhD students from Leiden succeed exceptionally well on the international job market. One of the most prestigious fellowships in world astronomy is NASA's Hubble fellowship. More astronomers with a doctoral degree from Leiden have won Hubble fellowships than from any other university outside the USA. Many of the faculty members, PhD students, and undergraduates have an international background. English is the common language.

TU Delft - Aerospace Engineering Faculty
The faculty of Aerospace Engineering at Delft University of Technology is one of the world's largest faculties devoted entirely to aerospace engineering. In the Netherlands it is the only research and education institute directly related to the aerospace engineering sector. It covers the whole spectrum of aerospace engineering subjects. The Department of Space Engineering provides premier European education and research in space engineering. The Department consists of two research groups: Astrodynamics and Space Missions, and Space Systems Engineering. It runs an integrated research programme comprising miniaturisation, distributed space systems, mission analysis and orbits, space propulsion, ascent and re-entry, and planetary exploration.

The Department operates a cleanroom facility for the design, integration, and verification of satellite assemblies up to entire satellites. The Astrodynamics and Space Missions (A&S) section is dedicated to the modelling and analysis of satellite orbits, planetary missions and their many planetary applications. For more information, please visit

Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.

You submit an application through the Job Application form. The application form will ask you to upload:

  • A cover letter
  • A CV detailing your experience
  • The names and email addresses of two academic referees who can provide a letter of reference
  • Your academic transcript (grades)
  • BSc degree subject and certificate, MSc degree subject and certificate (or expected graduation date)
If you have any further questions please email Matthew Kenworthy .