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department of astronomy
mcdonald observatory
hobby-eberly telescope
university of texas
AST 152M




Welcome to the Stellar Astronomy Lab. Concurrent enrollment in AST 352K is strongly recommended. This lab course is designed to give students hands-on experience in the acquisition and analysis of astronomical data, while AST 352K emphasizes the physics of astronomical phenomena. We will focus on observations made with a 16" telescope located on the roof of RLM. Students will learn how to operate the telescope using the computerized control system to locate astronomical objects. Images will be acquired digitally by the students using a Charge-Couple Device (CCD) in the dome. Students will use current astronomical image processing software on the computers in the undergraduate computer lab (RLM 13th floor) to analyze their data from the telescope.

Class Meetings
We will need to meet as a class from time to time. This will be a time for short lectures, discussion of material and labs, and distribution of hand-outs. As a class we will choose a time that is best for everyone and I will let you know at least a week in advance if we will meet the following week. Although the meetings may not be regular, they are still class time and as such should not be missed without a valid excuse.

Lab Groups
Learning to work well with each other is a very useful skill that you will certainly draw upon throughout your academic career and beyond. To cultivate this, much of the work you will do for this course will be in groups. Groups of 4 or 5 will be assigned based on the results of a questionnaire I will circulate on the first day.

Telescope Schedule
Everyone must attend the telescope orientation session before they will be allowed to use the equipment. This will be scheduled sometime during the second week of classes. Because the observations require clear weather, students are expected to be flexible in their time spent at the telescope and should recognize that observations may need to be made at unusual hours. Once the groups have been organized, each group can sign up for time on the telescope each week. Only one prime time slot (before 11 pm on any night) per week per group can be booked in advance. Unless a special announcement is made, the telescope will be available every night except Wednesday nights before 10pm.
If a prime time slot is still free less than 24 hours ahead of time, any group can claim it, even if they have booked another prime time slot for that week in advance. Each group must use their prime time slot that they have booked, or must cancel more than 24 hours in advance. Times after 11pm are open to any group without restriction, but must be signed up for ahead of time. There is a sign-up sheet at the Educational Service Office (13.122), and students in this lab have priority. Cooperation in sharing the telescope by these guidelines is expected. Failure to comply will result in a lower grade for the lab in that segment.

Observers will fill out a night report for each observing slot used. Necessary information must include actual observers present, object observed, equipment used, and any problems that arose. This will help us respond quickly to any repairs needed and/or replacement of parts.

For safety reasons, no one is permitted to be alone on the RLM roof (18th floor) without at least one other member of either AST 152M or UT Astronomy staff present. We will provide a combination lock box giving students access to the key for the roof. These keys must be returned to the lock box after you are done using the equipment.

You will ftp your data from the dome to an astronomy account that can be accessed from the computers in the 13th floor computer lab. It is your responsibility to make these back-ups. If you donŐt have an account on the computers, you will be provided with one.

The grade you receive in this course should reflect your mastery of the material, efforts to acquire new skills, and contributions you have made to the efforts of others in your group. Your final lab grade will be based on the following break down.

10 points
Attendance at class meetings
     There will be no make-up sessions. You are responsible for any material and handouts presented in class, whether you are present or not.

5 points
Basic operation of the telescope
     Each individual must demonstrate that he or she can safely use the telescope before using it to obtain data for the labs.

10 points
Observation log
     Each individual must keep an observation log for each observation night. It should be turned in with short answer questions individually.

25 points
Short answer questions
     These questions will test your understanding of the background material and lab activities and should be done individually.

50 points
Lab write-ups
     Only one lab write-up will be submitted by each group as a collective effort and will be given a group grade (except for one lab which will be completed by each individual). Each group may organize themselves according to ability in different areas of expertise, but each member of the group should know the details of how all the individual contributions relate to the completed lab write-up.

The final grade will correspond roughly to the following scale, but may change if needed.

A=90-100 points
B=80-89 points
C=70-79 points

Elements of the Lab Report
Introduction/theory: Why are you doing the experiment? What is the phenomenon you are looking for and what is the scientific relevance behind the phenomenon?

Procedure: What method(s) did you use to observe the phenomenon? Why did you use that method(s)?

Data: What data did you get? Present your final results in tables and graphs so that their importance is immediately recognizable. How many times did you repeat each measurement? To what accuracy are your measurements? Did your experiment suffer any gross errors?

Results/Conclusion: Summarize your results and discuss their meaning. Are there expected values that you can compare your experiment to? How do your results compare with your original hypothesis?

There will be 4 observing labs during the semester. You will have two or three weeks to complete the observing labs. In addition to the observing labs, a 5th Lab (library lab) will be completed individually by each student. This lab will involve library research in preparing for an observing run. Since this lab does not require the use of the telescope, it provides an excellent opportunity for students to take advantage of cloudy nights. It is strongly recommended that students complete this lab well before the final due date so as to minimize the work load toward the end of the semester. Handouts and assigned readings for each lab will be given to the students prior to the start of each lab segment.

Semester Schedule (note, this is still subject to change, depending on when the CCD arrives):

Week 3-Week 4
Organization of lab groups
Orientation for the telescope and the computer lab
Week 5-Week 6 
Lab 1: Introduction to the sky, telescope, and image processing
Lab 1 write-up due 10/7
Week 7-Week 8 
Lab 2: Characterization of the CCD detector
Lab 2 write-up due 10/21
Week 9-Week 12 
Lab 3: Photometry of stars using broadband color filters
Lab 3 write-up due 11/18
Week 13-Week 15 
Lab 4: Putting clusters on the HR diagram
Lab 4 write-up due 12/9

Lab 5 (library lab) is due by 11/23 (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving), but students are urged to turn it in before this date.


13 September 2005
Astronomy Program · The University of Texas at Austin · Austin, Texas 78712
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