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ASTRO 310: Observational Astronomy
Prof. Sylvain Veilleux (CSS 0223, veilleux{at}
TA. Stacy Teng (CSS 0202, stacyt{at}

Course Description: Introduction to current optical observational techniques, with brief coverage of infrared, ultraviolet, and X-ray techniques. Statistics, geometrical optics, telescopes, effects of the atmosphere, spectroscopic instruments, and detectors. Practical work at the observatory using a CCD camera. Some nighttime observing sessions.

Prerequisites: ASTR121 or ASTR200; PHYS161 or PHYS171; or permission of Department & instructor.

Lectures: Tu & Th, 2:00 - 3:15 pm, CSS 2428

Course Outline:

I. Introduction (6 lectures)
- UM Observatory
- Practical aspects of CCDs
- Calibration: dark, bias, flat field, etc.
- IDL language
- Statistical analysis
- Time, coordinates, catalogs

II. Optics (6 lectures)
- Fermat principle
- Basic geometrical optics
- Telescopes
- Aberrations

III. Atmosphere (2 lectures)
- Attenuation
- Refraction
- Scintillation and seeing
- Adaptive optics and laser guide stars

IV. Spectral Analysis (5 lectures)
- Diffraction & interference
- Etendue, spectral resolution
- Prisms, Gratings, echelles, echellettes, cross-disperser
- Grating spectrometers
- Fabry-Perot interferometers, interference filters

V. Detectors (7 lectures)
- Optical: human eye, photography, photomultipliers, CCDs
- UV, infrared: photoconductors, bolometers
- X-rays, gamma-rays
- Calculations of signal-to-noise ratios, exposure times

Web page:

Required book: Astrophysical Techniques by C. R. Kitchin (2003, 4th Edition; 0-7503-0946-6)

Optional books: Handbook of CCD Astronomy by Steve B. Howell (2000; 0-521-64834-3)
Optics by E. Hecht (2002; 0-8053-8566-5)

Advanced book: Detection of Light by G. Rieke (2003, 2nd Edition; 0-521-01710-6)

Problem sets: 4-5 sets during the semester

Projects: (1) Measure gain and readout noise of a CCD camera
(2) Observations at UM Observatory:
(i) Imaging of nebulae with interference filters
(ii) Imaging of an open cluster with broad-band filters
(3) Use of image-processing routines to reduce and analyze cluster data

Mid-term and Final Exams: October 13, 2:00 - 3:15 pm; December 19, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm.
Closed book, in-class.


Homeworks 15%
Projects 40%
Mid-term exam 15%
Final exam 30%

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Sylvain Veilleux 2005-08-31