PC 362: Observational Astronomy

Course Information

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." — Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan, Act II

This block, we will be the ones "looking at the stars." The goal of this course is to learn how to observe those twinkling points of light in the night sky and turn the observations into data that can be used 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 astronomy projects. We will only occasionally resort formal lectures, and homework problems to learn.


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.

Observing at WIRO

We will spend third week of the block at the Wyoming Infrared Observatory near Laramie Wyoming. We have been allocated observing time on the nights of October 8 and 9. We'll leave from Colorado Springs on the late morning on Monday October 8 and return on Wednesday October 10. This trip is required. If you can't make this trip, you can't take the course. Each observing group will share each night of observing. We will be staying at the observatory or at a nearby cabin in Woods Landing, Wyoming. The observatory is equipped with a kitchen so we will be cooking our own food.


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