PHY 517 / AST 443 - Observational Techniques
The documentation on this webpage contains the material from previous instances of this class. It will stay here for reference, but note that the class deviates in some details. For example, the starter code we will distribute will be in python, not IDL.
ESS 450, Mondays and Wednesdays 6:00pm - 9:00pm.
Usually only Mondays for lectures. Labs need to be scheduled with the TAs and/or instructor; expect to schedule 2 - 6 night-time observing sessions, and 1-3 day-time sessions. You need to be flexible for the weather!
General Information |
Course Description |
Course Schedule |
Observing Calendar |
Computing Resources |
- Credits: 3 (PHY 517) or 4 (AST 443)
- Instructor: Anja von der Linden (anja.vonderlinden 'at' stony brook.edu, ESS 453)
- Drew Jamieson (andrew.jamieson 'at' stony brook.edu)
- Lucie Baumont (lucie.baumont 'at' stony brook.edu)
- Office hours: Tuesday 2-3pm & Thursday 3-4pm
- Suggested texts:
- Prerequisites: AST 203 ; some programming experience
Astronomers explore the universe by detecting and analyzing light from
all over the elecromagnetic spectrum. We concentrate on a subset of
techniques for detection of photons at visible and at radio wavelengths.
This is a three-quarters lab and one-quarter lecture course. The
laboratory component entails obtaining and analyzing astronomical data with
optical and radio telescopes. Three distinct observational experiments
will be conducted, focussing on optical photometry/time-series analysis,
optical spectroscopy, and radio interferometry. The students will be
responsible for setting up and calibrating their telescope equipment,
obtaining their own data, and analyzing the data.
The lecture component is intimately intertwined with the experimental
aspects of the course. The students will learn the basics of practical
observational astronomy, such as determining the observability of select
targets, telescope and detector technology, the
use of photometric, spectroscopic, and interferometric techniques, and
methods of error, statistical, and time-series analysis.
For one of the projects, the students will write a
telescope observing proposal, and conduct a peer-review of all proposals.
proposal will emphasize the need for generating a testable hypothesis and
justifying it through expected signal-to-noise or other appropriate statistical
arguments. The peer evaluations will serve to assess the evaluator's ability
to critically assess
the quality of the other proposals.
The students will prepare journal-style written reports on each of their
observational projects and a final oral or poster presentation on one of the
- General guidelines:
- The guidelines are mostly identical to those laid out in the course notes for PHY 515 / 445.
This is mandatory reading.
- The following notes are specific
to PHY 517 / AST 443. (Also mandatory.)
- Experiment 1: Imaging and Photometry
- Transiting extrasolar planets.
Perform time-series photometry of stars with known transitng
planets. Multiple measurements are needed to attain precision
at the 0.1% level, needed for detecting planet transits. This
is an exercise in obtaining high-precision measurements and in
- Experiment 2: Spectroscopy
- Elemental abundances in gaseous nebulae.
The determination of heavy element abundances in emission-line
nebulae provides an opportunity to study the gaseous environment
in star-forming regions. Measure
emission line strengths for different species. Infer
gas temperatures and electron densities.
- Experiment 3: Radio astronomy
- Angular diameter of the Sun.
Michelson interferometry is a technique with broad applications
in both physics and astronomy, and is used to date to directly
measure stellar diameters. The Sun is a marginally resolved
source for our home-built Stony Brook radio telescope when
viewed in single-dish mode, but is well resolved when observed
inteferometrically. Compare an intensity scan of the
Sun to that of a known point source (a geostationary TV
satellite) in single-dish mode and infer the Sun's angular
diameter. Then repeat the experiment with the interferometer,
recording the Sun's and the satellite's visibility amplitudes as a
function of baseline for several different interferometer
baselines. Your interferometrix measurents should yield a much
more accurate solar diameter.
- Test data:
- Log sheets for:
- Write a telescope observing proposal for one of the laboratory
experiments, or a research topic of your own choosing
- 4 pages maximum, including 2 pages for figures, tables, and object
list. Use a 12-pt font, 1-inch margins, and single spacing.
- Mandatory proposal cover sheet
- LaTeX proposal template
- Example proposal
- Proposal review instructions
and grade sheet
- Mt. Stony Brook 14-inch telescope.
Our Department operates the Mt. Stony Brook observatory, housing a
14-inch Meade LX200-ACF telescope. This will be the workhorse
telescope for the imaging and spectroscopic components of the
course. Telescope manual and
Note that the current telescope manual refers to using the CCDOps
software for CCD imaging observations, while you will be using
CCDSoft, which allows more flexibility with guiding.
- Visible-light CCD camera.
Imaging observations with the 14-inch telescope will be taken with
the SBIG STL-1001E CCD camera. The CCD camera is mounted on the back end
of the telescope and is controlled through a laptop computer. A set
of standard broad-band BVRI and a narrow-band H-alpha filters are
information sheet; specifications; operations
manual, CCDSoft quick-start
guide, or CCDSoft v.5 manual.
- Visible-light spectrograph.
Spectroscopic observations will be obtained with a spectrograph that
offers moderate (500-5000) resolution between 3500 - 9500 angstroms.
website (in German) with a sketch of the optical path, step-by-step instructions.
- Radio telescope and interferometer.
Our two-element radio interferometer employs 1-meter aluminum
mirrors to combine
light onto a single 1 meter commercial satellite dish. The interferometer
has an adjustable 2-10 meter baseline and the reflective elements
are well suited for observations at centimeter wavelengths.
Single-dish radio observations can also be taken by
flipping the satellite dish by 180 degrees and pointing it away from
the aluminum mirrors. Step-by-step
- Math/Physics SINC site computers:
- These will be available to you during open SINC site hours.
Make sure that you have an account on them.
- If you need to login remotely, make sure that you have
an Xserver installed on your computer.
- On Mac OS X, you will need X11, which can be
downloaded freely from the Apple site
or you can use the open-source variant XQuartz.
Once you have X11 installed, create an X11 window, and from
the command line type
- On Windows, you will need an Xserver like X-Win32, a licensed
version of which can be found on the Stony Brook DoIT site.
When configuring a new connection, make sure that you
specify 'ssh' as Type and click on 'Linux' for the Command
- If you need extra disk storage space (as you will for the
transit planet lab), log in specifically to compute.mathlab.sunysb.edu and use
one of the two local storage disks linked specifically to
this computer: /space1 or /space2. Make a subdirectory for
yourself on one of the two disks and transfer your files to
your subdirectory. The local storage disks are not backed
up, so make sure to have all important information saved in your
- Unix tutorials:
- IDL tutorials and resources:
- Example IDL code. You will need to
tailor these scripts to your files and data, but the programs here can
be used as a strating point.
- Basic CCD image reduction:
- A full sequence of photometry on a transiting planet field,
the coordinates of the individual stars are known. Assumes
that images are well-aligned, as would be obtained from
- Simulates and plots single-dish profiles of the Sun and of a
- Astronomical FITS image viewing programs:
- SAOImage DS9
an interactive display tool for IDL
- Literature search:
NASA ADS: virtually all literature of astronomical interest
can be found here.
- astro-ph: the
most up-to-date resource (updated daily), but incomplete.
- Typesetting in LaTeX:
- You are required to typeset your lab write-ups in the format
of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) journals. Here is a
sample. The LaTeX set of files
needed to produce this are archived here.
You are welcome to use any text editor to produce this result.
Should you choose LaTeX, AASTeX v5.2
(LaTeX 2e) is installed on the Math/Physics SINC computers.
- Refer to the AASTeX package
page for examples and hints on using AASTeX.
- You are encouraged to use Natbib and
AstroNat (a BibTeX package) to manage your
citations. A copy of the Natbib style file is included with the AASTeX
package, but AstroNat
will require your own installation.
- Other tools:
- Stellarium: a free
open source planetarium for Windows/MacOSX/Linux. You may find it
useful for finding your targets on the sky.
calculator: for your observation planning
The course grades will be assigned on the basis of the following:
- 75% projects and written reports (25% each)
- 10% observing proposal
- 10% final presentation
- 5% evaluation of peers' proposals and presentations
- Lecture notes: Select slides will be available after each lecture on the course website.
- Late work: Assignments up to
one week old will be accepted with a 25% penalty. More than one week
overdue assignments will not be accepted.
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