PC 362: Observational Astronomy

Course Information

The goal of this course is to learn how to use the scientific method to understand how the Universe works. We will learn the techniques of observing, data reduction and error analysis. We will discuss how to collect data with a CCD camera, how to use computers to calibrate and measure the images, and how to use statistics to report errors and confidence levels of your results. You will learn all this by actively carrying out small observing projects. But, the primary objective of this course is to learn how science is used to understand how the world works.


Shane Burns
e-mail: sburns@coloradocollege.edu
Office: 220 Barnes Science Center
Phone: 6580

Required Stuff


The best way to learn how to do science is to do science. To that end, you will do four observing projects this block. Your project grade for the first two projects will be based on your laboratory notebook. You will write a scientific paper for the last two projects. You will each hand-in your own lab notebook, but the research papers will be group efforts. Each observing group will consist of no more than three people. More information about the format and requirements for the research papers is on the Resources Page.

You will also do a few homework assignments during the block. The assignments sometimes require you to do some data analysis with a computer.

Meeting Times

We will usually meet daily from 1:30-3:30. We will use this regular meeting time to go over new material, or continue to work on projects. Sometimes these classes will evolve into computer tutorials or data reduction sessions. However, most of your time will be spent at the observatory at night. You'll probably have to switch your sleeping schedule a little to survive the course. (I know I will.) We're at the mercy of the weather, so we'll observe whenever we have the opportunity. We will sometimes meet as a group, but since the more complicated projects will take almost the entire night we'll often work in shifts. I'll leave it to you as a group to organize the observing shifts when appropriate. You can count on spending a 3-5 hours at the observatory at least three nights each week. Try to free up your evening schedule as much as possible for the block.


Reading and homework assignments are listed in the course schedule. The problems listed on the schedule are the ones that I consider essential and will be the ones assigned grades. We will spend first part of each class discussing the text and problems assigned the previous day. I suggest that you read the text with a pencil and paper handy to fill-in steps in derivations and jot down questions to ask in class. Work together! I strongly encourage everyone in the class to work together on the homework problems.

Homework will handed in at the beginning of class on the due date specified in the course schedule. I will scan your homework and record the grade and attempt to return it to you the next day.

Homework Grading Scheme

The grading scheme for the homework is designed to encourage you to make a serious attempt at the problems before coming to class, but not to penalize you significantly if you don’t get it the first time. You will be given full credit for each problem correctly finished before class starts and 80% credit for problems attempted before class and corrected by our class meeting the following day. I’ll give 50% credit if you have finished the problem correctly, but didn’t attempt it before class. No credit will be given for late homework without prior approval.

Remote Observing with NURO

We will spend third week of the block using the National Undergraduate Research Observatory telescope. This telescope is currently a 1-meter PlaneWave Instruments telescope that is part of the Navy Precision Optical Interferometer. We will use the telescope in a remote or robotic mode.

Disability Accommodations

If you experience any kind of disability, whether apparent or non-apparent, learning, physical, or cognitive, and you need some accommodations in this course please feel free to speak with me as soon as possible to discuss reasonable accommodations for your access needs. If you have not already done so, please connect with Accessibility Resources (719-227-8285, accessibilityresources@coloradocollege.edu), the office responsible for coordinating accommodations and services for students with disabilities.

Commitment to Inclusion and Equity

Colorado College is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive, and productive learning environment free from any form of harassment or discrimination. We all have responsibility to work toward this type of environment. Expressions or actions that disparage a person’s or group’s race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, gender identity and expression, religion, sexual orientation, age, veteran status, or disability are not welcome in our classroom community. If you witness harassment or discrimination or are made to feel uncomfortable, please notify me so I can respond accordingly.

I expect all of our digital communication, regardless of platform,to be respectful and appropriate.


Project Papers 50%
Notebooks 20%
Homework 20%
Participation 10%