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Physics 373: Observational Astronomy

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Michael Richmond
Building 76, Office 1274
Office phone: 475-2538

Outline for this course

Class hours

   Tuesday    4:00 -  5:50 pm        76-1230 
   Thursday   4:00 -  5:50 pm        76-1230

Some of our classes will be held in the Imaging Sciences Computer Lab. I'll announce in class when this will occur.

We will also meet several times at night at the RIT Observatory, which is located on John Street, near its intersection with Bailey Road. Look at maps to the Observatory.

This course provides students with the tools they need to plan an observing run for an astronomical target, operate a telescope, acquire digital images with a CCD camera, reduce the images, and analyze the results. At the end of the course, students will carry out a project and write up their results in poster form (and, optionally, make an oral presentation).

Week 1: Basic knowledge of the sky
Astronomical coordinate systems
The many different kinds of time
Lab exercise: use coords and time
Lab exercise: introduction to Unix-like operating systems
Week 2: Magnitudes, filters, photometric systems, the atmosphere
Photometric systems and colors
Ephemerides and tools for making finding charts
Week 3: Planning an observing run
Extinction, seeing and other real-life complications
Adaptive optics
Astronomical catalogs
Week 4: Telescopes and Cameras
The RIT telescopes
Introduction to CCDs
Planetarium programs
Week 5: CCDs and image processing
CCDs: The Dark Side
Those pesky cosmic rays
Using Gosnell lab computers to analyze images
Week 6: Noise properties of CCDs
Sample project ideas (a brief digression)
The advantages of binning
Analyzing dark frames from Sep 25, 2003
Hot pixels and cosmic rays
Week 7: Simple image processing
Median dark frames
Finding the background level
CCD Gain
Week 8: More image processing
Flatfield images
Standard cleaning with darks and flats
Aligning and stacking images
Week 9: Signal and noise
Signal versus Noise (some theory)
Signal versus Noise, with illustrations
Week 10: Observing projects
Simple aperture photometry by hand
Differential photometry
Photometry of supernova 2013ej in M74
Planning an observing run
The Typical Reduction Procedure
Week 11: Photometry
Finding the sky value in an image (and using it)
Placing CCD photometry on a standard system
The Astronomical Literature
Week 12: Advanced techniques
Using Perl scripts to align and coadd many images
End-to-end analysis of a variable star
Some basic astrometry
Measuring proper motion
Week 13: Period analysis
Looking for the period
What if the period isn't quite right?
Week 14: Stuff they don't teach in courses
Poster basics
Writing your own scientific paper

Observing runs

There will be periods during which students will be required to work at the Observatory at night. Each student will devise a scientific project and figure out what sort of images must be acquired to carry it out. Students will perform most of the work at the Observatory to take the data, for themselves and their colleagues.

Take a look at the calendar for the RIT Observatory in order to reserve time for your project. All students enrolled in the course should be able to access this calendar using their RIT E-mail accounts.

For further information on CCDs, telescopes, and observing ...

Other links of interest for this course

Physics Department Home Page
Michael Richmond's Home Page

This page maintained by Michael Richmond. Last modified Jan 27, 2014.

Creative Commons License Copyright © Michael Richmond. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.