AST 443/ PHY 517 : Project Descriptions

Fall 2020

Introduction and Basics
This is a laboratory course. Observation and Experimentation follow similar protocols. The general guidelines you must follow are mostly identical to those laid out in these old course notes for PHY 515 / 445. This is mandatory reading.

Specifics that are relevant to this course will follow. This is also mandatory reading.

You will work in groups of two to three for the Optical Observing and Archival projects. The data analysis project and the proposals will be done individually. You need not work in the same group for each project.


  1. Project 1: Proposing an investigation
  2. Project 2: Optical Observing
  3. Project 3: Computing Project
  4. Project 4: Archival Data Analysis Project
  5. Project 5: Mock HST Observing Proposal
  6. Reporting your Results

  1. Proposing an investigation
    As an upper class Astronomy major (or as a grad student), you should know enough about astronomical sources to be able to propose an observational test of something. Your first project is to do just that. You will write a proposal to use the 14 inch telescope with the CCD imager to carry out some observation. You must
    • acquaint yourself with the specifications of the telescope and the CCD camera.
    • propose a target or targets that can actually be observed during the Fall semester.
    • prepare a cogent argument why you want to observe this target or targets. What science will you be pursuing?
    • estimate how much observing time you will need.

    For the purposes of this project, and knowing the limitations of the the 14 inch and the Long Island skies, your science need not be novel or ground-breaking. But it must let you answer the question your propose.

    The proposal is free-format, but there is a 4 page limit and please do not use font sizes smaller that 12 point. There should be an introduction that lays out the scientific goals, a discussion of the feasibility of the project, and a discussion of how the data will be analyzed. Given that we have not covered anything yet, I can't expect too much. This will be used partly to judge your preparation, but may be used to plan actual observations using the telescope.

    These proposals are due electronically at or before 1700 EDT Friday 4 September 2020. You will work independently on the proposals.

  2. Optical Observing Project
    You will take on an observing project using the 14 inch telescope on the roof of the ESS building. As you will work in groups of 2-3, this need not be based on the ideas you proposed in yout proposal.

    We currently have 16 students enrolled. the PHY517 students will form one group. The AST 443 students will form into 4 groups of 3 and one of 2. If the enrollment changes, this may change too. Groups will organize, and sign up for telescope time, in class on Sept 9. We plan to schedule the telescope Mondays through Thursdays, Sept 14 through Oct 23. Signup rules will be posted later.

    Special Instructions for Fall 2020
    Because of the threat of the corona virus to the Campus community, it may not be possible to complete this project. If so, this project will be replaced by a project using archival 14" images from previous years.

    Further details about the observing project are available here.

  3. Computing Project
    So that you can show off your computing prowess, an astronomical data set has be posted. You are asked to derive some specific information from the data. Instructions are here.

  4. Archival Data Analysis Project
    Each student will obtain and analyze some publicly available archival data. These data can be obtained over the internet. A short proposal outlining what data are needed, and what will be done with them, is required. Check here for details.

    Links to archival websites are here.

  5. Mock Observing Proposal
    Each student will write a mock observing proposal for the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). These proposals can to use any current capability of the HST. Read the HST proposing page. In particular, read the HST Primer.

    For the last few years, HST proposal preparation has required use of a software package called APT. We will not use this. Rather, we will do this the old-fashioned way, by filling in a file template. The current templates are on the proposal page. However, since the procedure now requires information to be uploaded into APT, we will use the old tex template and style file. You may name the template file anything you like, so long as it has a .tex extension. The name of the LaTeX style file must remain phase1.sty. Read the directions in the proposal template file, and fill in the blanks.

    Check here for a LaTeX primer.

    I have uploaded a sample proposal file and the resulting postscript output. You can download and edit this sample latex file if you wish. For instructions on how to fill out the form, read the comments (lines starting with % in the latex form).

    To process your lATeX file, do the following (or an AST workstation):

    • latex filename where filename is the name of the .tex file, without the .tex extension. This processes the latex file and creates a .dvi (device-independent) binary file.
    • dvips -o filename. This reads the .dvi file and creates the .ps (postscript) file.
    • If you prefer to see a pdf file, type ps2pdf to create the file filename.pdf.

    E-mail the LaTeX or Word file to me by 5:00 PM EDT on October 12. If you wish to include figures, please also e-mail me the .ps file.
    Please do not e-mail the STScI help desk for help.
    I will post the files and the assignments here. Proposals will be distributed to the reviewers, and peer-reviewed in class on October 21.

  6. Reporting your Results Each student must present the results of their data.

    The talk and the poster must be on different projects. Your paper may be on either.

    How do you craft a short talk? Check here.

    Directions for writing the paper in the proper format are given here.

    What makes for a good poster? See here.

    Return to AST 443/PHY 517 main page