Astro499 Fall 2011

Astronomy 499 : Astronomical Laboratory

Instructor Information:

Instructor: Prof. Leslie Looney Email: lwl @ illinois . edu
Office: 218 Astronomy Phone: 244-3615
Office Hours: By appointment

Welcome to the Astronomical Laboratory

This course is intended to be a hands-on introduction to the practice of astronomy, including setting up astronomical instruments for CCD imaging and spectroscopy to make analytical analysis of astrophysical problems. Labs will be conducted by small groups (2-3) of students. Because of the diversity of the laboratory activities and the need for good weather for observations, along with the constraint of telescope availability, labs will be conducted by students on their own schedule and in a difference sequence by each group, with some ordering restrictions. There are four groups of labs, and at least one lab from each group must be presented by each student by the end of the semester. Short write-ups (written in the general style of the Astrophysical Journal) will be required for each lab, but for the first three labs they will be short and not referenced. The length of the write up will depend on the lab. See this link for information on the ApJ style.

Experiment Summaries:

Group A:
  1. Naked eye tour. Make sure telescope is properly aligned. Then, choose 4-5 sources to observe by eye. Explain the emission process (i.e. why do you see them). A simple lab report per person with hand-drawn sketches are turned in.
Group B:
  1. Use the CCD camera to make a three color image of an extended source.
Group C:
  1. Use the spectrometer to take a spectrum of an object.
Group D:
  1. Characterization of the CCD camera. Measure the properties of the CCD, predict the performance with time, filter, and object. Evalute varying data reduction techniques. Evaluate observational setups.
  2. Compare regular images of stars to AO images. How is the image improved? What physical parameter? The SBIG AO device uses tip tilt. Why does tip/tilt improve an image?
  3. Take near diffraction limited images of a planet using the fast USB camera. Make sure to shift and add. Compare the short integrations to long integrations. Why is there a difference?
  4. Make a CCD image (any filter) of any sky object. Explain the emission process. Discuss any reasons for extinction.
  5. Make a CCD color image of a nebula. Play with the color mapping. What are the options for making a color image? How does the color mapping affect the scientific potential? Compare to an image in H-alpha, OIII, or SII.
  6. Observe a giant planet over many weeks and make an image of the moons. What are their periods? What can we learn from these images?
  7. Observe the spectra of a small sample of stars with different spectral classes. Compare and contrast. Why are they different?
  8. Observe the light curve of a variable star. (Hint, make sure to observe a source with an appropriate period.) Calculate the period and discuss any issues with the measurements.
  9. Observe an optical binary. (Hint, make sure to observe a source with an appropriate period.) From multi-epoch observations, derive the period. Discuss any issues with the measurements.
  10. Observe a galaxy and derive redshift. Is it a peculiar velocity?
  11. Observe a transiting planet. Can you detect the change in light?
  12. Observe a star cluster. Place the stars on an HR diagram. Estimate the age of the cluster.
  13. Spectral observations of Planets or Comets. Image CO2 in the atmosphere of Venus, ammonia or H2 in the atmosphere of Jupiter, or numerous bands in bright comets (if one is available), such as CN, CH, C2, C3, and NH2.
  14. Credit Hours and Exclusions:

    This course gives 2 hours credit. Students should be seniors with at least one 400-level astronomy courses completed.


    There will be no textbook for this course. Students will be provided with a "lab manual" of sorts which describes only the basic principles of the experiments, and some tips on what internet resources, journal articles, and monographs to consult to figure out how to make the experiments work. But on the whole, students will be left to their own devices (of course, with guidance from the professor as needed) so they will have an authentic research experience.


    The course will not have formal lectures or discussion periods. Students will work on the experiments on their own schedules, which is necessary due to limited experimental resources and good weather.


    Students will be evaluated by a combination of the short reports on the first three labs (70%), a proposal and report for the fourth lab (20%), one HW assignment (2%), and an and their effectiveness in the laboratory as judged by the professor and their lab partners (8%).

    Academic Integrity and Collaborative Work:

    Academic honesty is essential to this course and the University. Any instance of academic dishonesty (including but not limited to cheating, plagiarism, falsification of data, and alteration of grade) will be documented in the student's academic file. In addition, the particular report will be given a zero.

    Guidelines for collaborative work: although the data and data reduction must be done in groups, each student is expected to do his or her own work and is responsible for their own reports. For further info, see the Student Code, Part 4. Academic Integrity, at

    Accessibility Statement:

    To insure that disability-related concerns are properly addressed from the beginning, students with disabilities who require reasonable accommodations to participate in this class are asked to see the instructor as soon as possible.

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    Leslie Looney
    Last modified: Friday, 26-Aug-2011 11:08:29 CDT