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Physics 445: Observational Astronomy

During finals week, I'll be in Gosnell classroom 08-1335
Monday, May 17 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Tuesday, May 18 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
Posters must be turned in by Wednesday, May 19, at 5 PM.

This material can be found online at URL


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

Syllabus for the quarter

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
Photometric systems and colors
Extinction, seeing and other real-life complications
Week 2: Planning an observing run
Ephemerides and tools for making finding charts
Astronomical catalogs
Planetarium programs
Week 3: Telescopes and Cameras
The RIT telescopes
Introduction to CCDs
CCDs: The Dark Side
Using Windows lab computers to analyze images
Week 4: Noise properties of CCDs
Sample project ideas (a brief digression)
Analyzing dark frames from Sep 25, 2003
Hot pixels and cosmic rays
Median dark frames
Finding the background level
Week 5: Image analysis
Flatfield images
Aligning and stacking images
Weeks 6: Putting it all together
Signal versus Noise (some theory)
Planning an observing run
Signal versus Noise, with illustrations
CCD Gain
Week 7: Data Analysis (and observing)
Simple aperture photometry by hand
The Typical Reduction Procedure
Using Perl scripts to align and coadd many images
Placing CCD photometry on a standard system
Some basic astrometry
Measuring proper motion
Week 8: Period analysis and working outside the optical
Looking for the period
What if the period isn't quite right?
Week 9: Stuff they don't teach in any courses (and observing)
The Astronomical Literature
Poster basics
Writing your own scientific paper
Week 10: Doing your project

Observing runs

There will be periods during which students will be required to work at the Observatory at night.

April 18 - May 8
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 Mar 8, 2010.

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