ASTR 481 A: Introduction to Astronomical Observation

Summer 2022 Full-term
MW 3:00pm - 5:10pm / PAA A210
Section Type:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):

Introduction and Objectives

In this class you will learn how to do every step involved in a successful observing run at the UW's Manastash Ridge Observatory (MRO). You will:

  • Write and evaluate observing proposals
  • Learn the best practices for reducing and working with CCD data
  • Handle larger volumes of data in Python
  • Perform standard star photometry
  • Analyze photometric time-series
  • Work with spectroscopy (stretch goal!)

Just like in previous years, we will split the class into three teams, each of whom will be assigned a TA. Teamwork is essential in this course, and working with your team and your TA throughout the summer forms the core of 481.

You should ensure your summer plans will not conflict with a 1-night orientation visit and your team's two 4-night observing runs. Driving to MRO takes at least three hours, so observatory visits are always overnight trips. The dates for 2022 are:

Orientation (leave Friday and return Saturday, or leave Saturday and return Sunday):

  • Overnight June 24th or overnight June 25th.

Observing runs leave Thursday and return the following Monday, in time for class.

  • Team 1 and Rain: June 30th - July 4th
  • Team 2 and Anika: July 7th - July 11th
  • Team 3 and Debby: July 14th -  July 18th
  • Team 1 solo: July 21st -  July 25th
  • Team 2 solo: July 28th - August 1st
  • Team 3 solo: August 4th - August 8th

Your TA will help you prepare for your observations, come along for your entire first observing run, and remain on-call for your second observing run. Materials necessary for using MRO (e.g. a 4x4 vehicle for negotiating the Observatory Road, etc.) will be provided, but students are responsible for their own meals for the duration of each observing run, as well as upkeep  of facility while they are there.

Things to Know

  • Textbooks: We will use the same texts you used in 480--which are both available for free! online! with your UW NetID (thanks UW Libraries!):
  • Computing Resources: We will use a UW hosted JupyterHub for computing, just like in 480. Please note that UW-IT will save your workspace for up to one quarter after the end of class, but not forever.
  • Late assignments:  In general I expect your work will be turned in so we can grade it in a timely fashion. If you miss a due date due to a family emergency, sickness, or other short term situation, please get in touch with me when you are again able to participate in school.
  • Academic honesty: I hope and expect that you will work closely with other people while completing the assignments for this class. However, I expect that you will use your own words when writing up your work. The examples of academic misconduct in the statement of Student Academic Responsibility are useful for understanding how to avoid plagiarism.
  • The University of Washington Department of Astronomy does not tolerate harassment of any kind: Harassment is any behavior by an individual or group that contributes to a hostile, intimidating, unwelcoming, and/or inaccessible work environment. Anyone can experience harassment. If you believe that you are being harassed, please reach out to your instructor and/or SafeCampus.
  • We Follow UW Policies: We follow the UW's guidelines for faculty, including not requiring notes from doctors. For a full list, see UW Syllabus Guidelines and Resources.

Assignments and Grading

The majority of your grade is based on the two observing projects. In both cases, your Interpretation is more important than the actual results, but interpretation is easier when results are clear.

Observing Project I (30%): Characterize the ccd camera at MRO, observe standard stars, and determine extinction and transformation coefficients. You will each be required to prepare an individually written report on your results.

Observing Project II (40%): Variable stars; prepare a report on your results.

Skill building exercises (10%): Activities and/or homework designed to help you meet the course goals.

Observing Proposal/Time Allocation Committee (10%): Each student will make a 15-minute presentation on the facilities, equipment, and opportunities for research at an existing or planned astronomical observatory. Precise topics will be determined following the week 6 lectures.

Observing Run Prep/Execution (10%): This portion of your grade will be determined by your TA’s assessment of your efforts in preparing for your observations (both in and out of class), managing your time at the telescope itself, and stewarding the facility itself.

Accommodations & Support

This class provides accommodations for temporary health conditions and permanent disabilities through UW DRS. Support is available to discuss safety and well-being 24 hours / 7 days a week through SafeCampus.

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.

Catalog Description:
Theory and practice of obtaining optical data at a telescope. Topics include observing preparation and execution, and the subsequent data analysis required for completion of a research project. 3-credit option available for students unable to join overnight trips to the telescope. Prerequisite: ASTR 480. Offered: S.
GE Requirements Met:
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Last updated:
May 14, 2024 - 4:08 am