ASTR310: Observational Astronomy
Textbook: To Measure the Sky
by Frederick B. Chromey, c. 2010
Cambridge University Press
Ancient cultures first began to understand the Universe with
observations in visible light. For many people today,
astronomy is someone looking through a telescope at distant
stars. While few professional astronomers actually look
through a telescope with their eyes any more, images and spectra
obtained with modern instrumentation are essential for exploring
and understanding the Universe. This class is an
introduction to optical observational techniques, although ideas
about time, catalogs, and optics apply to all wavelengths.
Modern astronomy is above all a scientific discipline, and the
course covers relevant statistics, spherical trigonometry, time
systems, catalogs, geometrical and physical optics, the effects of
the atmosphere, and optical instruments. In addition to
covering these theoretical concepts, the class includes practical
work using the University observatory's telescopes and electronic
Lecture attendance: Lectures meet in CSS 2428 on TuTh from
2:00-3:15 PM. Prof. Harris will lead the lectures but you will
be expected to raise questions and participate in discussions.
In order to do best in this course, you will need to attend ALL
lectures. This is very important! The material on the homeworks and
exams are based upon the material covered in the lectures and the
textbook. If you have to miss a lecture, be sure to look at another
student's notes and make sure that you understand what was
covered. Please ask Prof. Harris or the TA if you have
questions. You should read over the material before lecture
and be prepared to discuss it. A more careful reading is
recommended after lecture. You should study your class notes
sometime before the next lecture to make sure that everything is
clear. You are encouraged to ask questions in class -- any
question you have is certain to be one others have -- or during
office hours, or over email.
Study wisely and ask for help if you need it. If you just cram the
night before the exam, you probably will not do very well. It is
better (and easier) if you keep up with the material on a daily
basis. If you have questions, please see Prof. Harris or your TA. We are here to help you learn.
Grading is on a point scale with different assignments weighted as
shown in the table. A description of each of these components is
contained in this syllabus.
The Midterm and Final Exams are Major Scheduled Grading events
defined in the University's policy on attendance (http://www.president.umd.edu/policies/v100g.html).
least 72%. Letter grades will be assigned based upon your
cumulative score. Here is how your grade will be determined from
your point total in the class.
Plus/minus grades will be given within each letter grade for
scores near the top and bottom of the percentage ranges.
This point scale makes it possible for everyone in the class to
do well. For example, if everyone scores above 75% in the course,
everyone would receive either an A or a B letter grade. Any
adjustments to the scores will make it easier to get a given
grade, never more difficult.
A major component of this class is a set of projects involving
computer reduction and analysis of astronomical data, some of which
you will obtain at the University of Maryland Observatory.
These projects are the single largest component of your grade.
This may be the first class you have had where weather plays a key
role in whether you can complete your assignments. Do not underestimate the time needed
to luck into good weather, master data reduction, and write up
your report -- you will want to start as soon as you can, and
sooner than you think you need to! Projects turned in
after the lecture ends on the due date will be considered late and
will receive 80% of the credit at most until 24 hours after the end
of lecture, and 50% credit at most for projects turned in at the
next lecture; no credit will be given for projects handed in more
than one lecture late. Projects carry nearly as much credit as
the midterm, and are counted as a Major Grading Event (see policy on
The projects will include:
The main projects are night labs, and depend on weather conditions:
they will only be held on clear nights as determined by the
Observatory Assistant and advertised at the course website. The
groups will sign up for nights in advance, and need to show up when
labs are held. These labs require 2-3 hours of observing each, and
additional time for data reduction, analysis, and report
writing. The reports must be typed and will follow the
standard pattern of a short scientific paper covering observational
or experimental work:
- Night observations at the observatory with the CCD camera(s)
to image nebulae with interference filters.
- Laboratory exercise to characterize the gain and read noise of
a CCD camera.
- Night observations at the observatory with the CCD camera(s)
and use of image-processing routines to obtain photometry of
You will share responsibility for the reports with two other
students in the class (data acquisition for the projects will be
done in other groups), so you will want to have a good understanding
of work division and responsibilities. Data processing will be in MATLAB, running
at the computer lab of the Astronomy Department (CSS1220) using
accounts we will set up for you or on your own computer. You
can get your own copy of MATLAB from the University as a
- The top of the first page contains author names, affiliations
(University of Maryland, ASTR 310 Spring 2015), and a brief
abstract summarizing the report. (It is easist to write
the abstract last.)
- An introduction that puts the report material in context by
reviewing the goal of the measurement and necessary techniques.
- An observation section that thoroughly describes the procedure
used to gather the data and the problems confronted in an
- An analysis and results section discussing and documenting in
detail the procedure followed to reduce the data and the
results, including figures and tables whenever necessary.
- A conclusions section that states the conclusions implied by
the data and the reasoning behind them in a conclusions section.
There will be approximately weekly homework problem sets in this
course. All homeworks and solutions will be available from the
Assignments link on the class ELMS page.
All homeworks must be turned in,
neatly written or typed, on 8.5x11 inch paper in class on the
assignment due date. If for whatever reason,
the University is officially closed on the due date, the
due date shifts to the next lecture date. Homework is due in hard copy,
and except by prior special arrangement with Prof. Harris;
electronically mailed versions of your homework will not be
accepted. Homeworks turned in after the lecture ends will
be considered late and will receive 20% of the credit at most
until 24 hours after the end of lecture, and 50% credit at most
for homework turned in at the next lecture; no credit will be
given for homework handed in more than one lecture late. If
you have an excused absence that prevents you from handing your
homework in on time, you must document it in writing (see Attendance and Absences,
above) and arrange to have the homework turned in as soon as
possible, but no later than during the next lecture.
I encourage discussions with your fellow students on how to best
tackle the problems, but I will not tolerate copying or other
forms of cheating. Such activities will be promptly reported to
the UMD Student Honor Council. Please review the Honor Code of the
University (see Academic
Integrity below). Although you may discuss the homework
problems with your friends, the final writeup must be your own work, formulated in
the way you best understand it, and in your own words. If
you consult a reference other than the course text, please
acknowledge it in your homework - this includes websites!
There will be an in-class 75-minute midterm examination,
which will be held in CSS 2428 on Tuesday, October 22.
This exam is closed book with no notes allowed, but do bring a
calculator. The schedule of lectures included in this syllabus shows
what material will be covered on the midterm exam. The midterm
exam is a Major Grading Event (see policy on attendances and absences).
If for whatever reason, the University is officially
closed on the exam date, the exam date shifts to the next lecture
According to University rules, the final exam for this
course will be held on Thursday, December 17, from 10:30 am to
12:30 am in CSS 2428. This final exam is cumulative,
that is, it will cover all material discussed in this
course. Material not covered by the midterm exam (see Lecture Schedule) will be somewhat
emphasized in the final exam. This exam is closed book with no
notes, but do bring a calculator. The final exam is a Major
Grading Event (see policy on attendances and
There will be no extra credit assignments in this class.
Attendance and Absences
Please review the University's Attendance and Assessment Policy at http://www.umd.edu/catalog/index.cfm/show/content.section/c/27/ss/1584/s/1540
and the University policy on medically-necessitated absences
points for this class:
The academic community at the University abides by a Code of
Academic Integrity. Acts of academic dishonesty include cheating,
fabrication, facilitating academic dishonesty, and plagiarism.
Activities such as cheating on exams or quizzes, copying homework
from a friend or book, allowing your homework or paper to be copied,
and submitting forged excuses for absences from exams are violations
of this code. If we suspect that an incident of academic dishonesty
has occurred, we will turn the case over to the Student Honor
Council to investigate and resolve. If the suspected party is judged
`responsible' for the act(s) of academic dishonesty, the normal
sanction is a course grade of `XF' which denotes failure due to
academic dishonesty. This grade is recorded onto the student's
academic transcript. The Code of Academic Integrity can be found in
the Academic Info section of the Schedule of Classes. It is printed
in full in the Undergraduate catalog and on the web at http://www.president.umd.edu/policies/docs/III-100A.pdf.
Please refer to this Code if you have further questions about what
is construed as academic dishonesty. We are very serious
- If you wish to claim an excused absence, you must do so in
writing and furnish supporting documentation.
- You must notify Prof. Harris of the reason for an excused
absence as soon as possible. This will include sending
Prof. Harris email or leaving a voicemail message as long as possible before absences
from exams or homework deadlines. For absences known far
in advance (for instance, religious observance or participation
in activities at the request of University authorities), you
must notify Prof. Harris by the end of the schedule adjustment
- The Midterm, Final exam, and Projects are Major Scheduled
Grading Events for this class.
- A prolonged absence in the sense of the University's policies
on attendance and absence is two or more consecutive lectures.
- If you will be absent on a day homework is due you may hand in
homework assignments early, either to Prof. Harris or in his
mailbox in the Department office. A classmate may turn in
your homework for you if you are able to attend the class in
which it is due (but please understand the University's policies
on Academic Integrity and its potential implications before you
- If you have a medical or other excused absence for a single
lecture that coincides with a homework deadline, and wish to
turn in the homework up to one class meeting later, the policy
in Sec. II.A. of http://www.president.umd.edu/policies/docs/V-100G.pdf
- Requesting to have three or more late homeworks, assignments,
or in-class exercises accepted is possible only with written
documentation justifying the request, and the consent of the
instructor (see Sec. II.B.1).
- Exams on alternative dates or for make-up are possible only in
cases of excused absences. When possible, exams will be
given before the
regularly-scheduled exams. For unexpected absences from
the Midterm or Final Exams, it is your responsibility to contact
Prof. Harris to discuss make-up work within 48 hours of the
The World Wide Web is a very useful resource that
we will make use of in this class (e.g., students will be asked to
use the internet for some of the questions on the problem sets).
The primary web connection for enrolled students is the
University's ELMS page found by logging into https://elms.umd.edu. If you
have difficulty accessing the internet, please discuss this with
Prof. Harris before the end of the schedule adjustment period.
In addition, the class site is also a gateway to many other
astronomy links, including sites with up-to-date astronomical images
that are made available to the public from telescopes in space and
on the ground.
Laptop, Tablet, and Mobile Device Policy
In principle, laptops and tablets can allow you to take notes faster
and access the class website. In practice, they are frequently
distracting and used for non-class purposes. Displays showing
non-class material can be very distracting for other students who
have a view of your screen.
If the use of laptops and tablets turns out to be too distracting
for the class as a whole, Prof. Harris may need to ban them
entirely. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
There is no need to use phones or other mobile devices during class,
even for texting. Please refrain.
Students with a documented disability should inform Prof. Harris as
soon as possible (preferably on the first day of class, and
certainly by the end of the schedule adjustment period) so that
appropriate academic accommodations can be made.