Syllabus for the observational astronomy portion

of the course



Instructor:  Horace Smith

                        3272 BPS




Time: T 8:00-9:50 PM (observational). Observing opportunities will also be available at other times during the semester.


Location: 1420 BPS


Office hours (Horace Smith):

M: 2:30-3:30pm; T,Th: 2:30pm - 3:30pm, or by appointment, in Prof. Smith’s office (3272 BPS).


This part of AST 208 is an introduction to making, reducing, and understanding astronomical observations. We will also discuss how to use basic astronomical web resources, such as the Astrophysics Data System and SIMBAD.

The observational part of this course is nominally scheduled for Tuesday evenings.  In practice, this part of the course will require observations made on other days of the week as well.  For example, when we observe at the campus 24-inch telescope, we will break the class into smaller groups and take advantage of such clear nights as are available.  However, at least for the first part of the semester, we will meet as a class at the regularly scheduled Tuesday times. The observing weather is frequently poor for the first half of the spring semester, but we can hope for improvement in the second half.  Work with computer simulations of observations can help us out if the weather remains particularly difficult.


Topics to be covered in the observational part of the course


1. Naked eye astronomy

2. Web tools

3. Motions in the sky

4. Time

5. Coordinate systems

6. Magnitude systems

7. Telescopes

8. Astronomical Instruments

9. Photometry

10. Astrometry

11. Astronomical surveys

12. Discovering exoplanets


Observing Projects


Exactly how many observing projects we get through will depend somewhat on how many clear nights we get.  If we get poor weather, we may have to substitute more computer work for work with the actual sky.  Here are some projects we hope to complete:


1. Identifying the constellations (naked eye and computer)

2. Calculating the synodic and sidereal periods of the moon (naked eye)

3. Understanding celestial motions (computer)

4. Estimating apparent magnitudes and angular distances (naked eye)

5. Obtaining a CCD image of a celestial object (campus observatory)

6. Determining the distance to an asteroid (campus observatory)

7. Determining the distance and age of a star cluster (campus observatory)

8. Determining the periods of variable stars (computer)

9. Measuring the orbital periods of exoplanets (computer)




40% of the final course grade will be based upon the observational part of the course.  Besides observing projects and homeworks, we will have at least two quizzes.  A portion of the final exam will also be based upon the observational astronomy material.