ASTR302: Observational Astronomy Project

Course content:

This module replicates the process that professional astronomers go through in executing observational research projects. Some background will be given on how to write an observing proposal, which must contain a scientific and technical justification (this is a foundational process for astronomy research). Signal-to-noise calculations, needed to show feasibility, will be covered in detail. This will include how to model the expected brightness of a given source, and how to take into account sky conditions (e.g., seeing, sky brightness), and the efficiencies of various instrumental components (e.g., CCD quantum efficiency, filter passbands, losses due to reflections etc.). Students will participate in an exercise that mimics the peer review process undertaken by telescope time allocation committees, by reading and discussing each other’s observing proposal and ranking them according to scientific merit and feasibility. Students will then form small teams, and a subset of the projects will be carried out using a small telescope. Students will independently analyse the data obtained and write a scientific report describing their observations and results.

After completing this module students are expected to be able to:

  • Write an observing proposal (consisting of a scientific and technical justification).
  • Assess the scientific and technical merit of observing proposals produced by their peers.
  • Carry out a small observational astronomy project using a telescope.
  • Reduce and analyse astronomical data.
  • Clearly communicate scientific results in the form of a written report.