Course Info Observational Astronomy

This course aims to provide an understanding of the tools and techniques used by astronomers to study the Universe, with an emphasis on ground-based optical observations. You will also learn the practical skills necessary to work with your own observations. Topics covered include: astronomical telescopes, astronomical instruments and electronic detectors.

It builds on Introduction to Astrophysics (PHY104) and the topics covered in the first-year astronomy lab (PHY115 & PHY116). The module is designed to prepare students choosing to do observing projects or the La Palma field trip in their third year (PHY319), fourth year projects (PHY480), and those intending to spend a year abroad on La Palma (PHY473, PHY474).

As part of this module, all students must do an observing project using the University's 16-inch telescope. On successful completion of this course you should be able to:

  • Assess the relative merits of different telescope and mounting designs, and different observing sites.
  • Understand the effect of optical aberrations and the Earth's atmosphere on astronomical observations.
  • Understand the operating principles of imagers.
  • Describe the operating principles of modern optical detectors.
  • Follow the procedures required to reduce and calibrate astronomical data.
  • Understand noise sources and predict the signal-to-noise ratio of an astronomical observation.
  • Analyse and visualise data in the Python programming language

The on-line course notes provide all of the information you need for this course. If you wish to read around, however, I would recommend the following texts (roughly in decreasing order of importance):

How to Think Like a Computer Scientist, Interactive Edition
An excellent online and interactive introduction to the Python programming language. It covers more material than my lectures, but also covers that material at a more gentle pace. Essential reading for those struggling with the programming side of the course, but also for those who want to learn Python in more depth, and perhaps take advanced programming courses in later years.
To Measure the Sky by Frederick R. Chromey (CUP)

ISBN: 9780521747684.

The book is currently in its first edition and costs around 37 pounds in paperback. There are 3 such texts in the Information Commons. This book, which came out quite recently, is probably the closest text you will find to the content of my course. It covers a great deal of the material I cover, and at a very similar level. Strongly recommended.

Astronomical Measurement: A Concise Guide by Andy Lawrence (Springer-Verlag)

ISBN: 9783642398353.

This book is in it's first edition and costs around 63 pounds in hardback, or 50 pounds for a digital copy. There is 1 text in the Astro Lab. This book covers much of the material in PHY217, in more detail than covered here. It also looks at observational techniques in other wavelengths to the optical.

Astronomy: Principles and Practice by A. E. Roy and D. Clarke (Institute of Physics Publishing)

ISBN: 9780750309172.

This book is currently in its fourth edition and you should be able to find a new paperback copy for around 35 pounds. The Information Commons holds 6 copies of this book. Beware of older editions, as they don't cover modern detectors and instrumentation. This is an excellent book which will come in useful throughout your degree. It covers a much wider range of topics than my course, but the parts on telescopes are covered at just the right level of detail.

Electronic Imaging in Astronomy by Ian S. McLean (Springer-Verlag)

ISBN: 9783540765820.

This book is currently in its second edition and costs around 63 pounds in both hardback and paperback. There are 3 such texts in the Information Commons. As its name implies, this book covers the detector aspects of my course, although it also has much useful information on instrumentation. The book tends to go into more detail than is required for PHY217, but it is written in a very readable style and I strongly recommend it.

Astrophysical Techniques by C. R. Kitchin (Taylor & Francis Inc)

ISBN: 9781420082432.

This is currently in its fifth edition, and is available in hardback for around 35 pounds. The Information Commons holds 3 copies of this book. This book covers a much wider range of material than my course, but unfortunately does not go into enough depth on some of the subjects that I require you to know. It may, however, be of use as a reference text.