Observational Astronomy: AY 203 - Fall Semester 2012

COURSE: 07:00-09:50 pm Thursday, Room 313 Gallalee Hall

INSTRUCTOR: Prof. R. Buta, 306 Gallalee Hall, 348-3792

OFFICE HOURS: Monday 2-4:30pm or send email to rbuta@bama.ua.edu


TEXTBOOK: Norton's Star Atlas, 20th edition, edited by Ian Ridpath. This should be at the SUPE Store.

PREREQUISITES: AY 101 or one of the other 200 level courses.

PURPOSE: AY 203 is a laboratory astronomy class designed to allow students to get to know the sky by making real observations of astronomical objects with telescopes and with the unaided eye. The observing sessions will mostly be carried out on the 4th floor of Gallalee Hall, within and near the dome of the 16-inch computer-controlled reflector which can be seen on the roof. We will also be visiting Moundville Archaeological Park to get a darker sky when possible and will observe with the department 20-inch computer- controlled Dobsonian reflector to view and study objects difficult to observe from campus. There will also be remote observing opportunities with telescopes in Arizona and Chile.

MAIN GOALS: To teach students how to use small telescopes to observe the night sky, star charts for finding specific objects by eye, a CCD camera for astro-imaging, a spectrograph, and to familiarize them with such concepts as the celestial equator, the north celestial pole, sidereal time, universal time, right ascension, declination, hour angle, rising and setting motions, the ecliptic, and circumpolar stars. The class will also involve analysis of images for the derivation of astrophysical quantities, like brightness and color for a Hertzsprung-Russell diagram.

ORGANIZATION: The lab meets formally every Thursday night in Room 313 Gallalee Hall, from 07:00 to 09:50 pm. There will be 13 sessions of this laboratory class during the semester, including one which could be used as a makeup opportunity. All students are required to do the exercises assigned for a given session.

Because of the nature of this class, which is subject to the vagaries of weather, we will have both indoor and outdoor exercises. Which exercise we do on any given occasion cannot usually be specified in advance. Therefore, it is imperative that you COME TO CLASS ON TIME. For the same reason, there is no formal lab manual. Exercises will be handed out in class.

CLASS WEBSITE: The class will have a website on Blackboard Learning. Go to mybama.ua.edu and use your bama login. Find the class under eLearning.

EQUIPMENT: A variety of telescopes will be available for students to use.
- Santa Barbara Instruments Group (SBIG) charge-coupled device (CCD) camera (type STL-6303E) for broadband and narrowband imaging
- SGS spectrograph/star-shoot imager
- video webcam

GRADING: The grading in this class will be based on a set of lab reports as well as a midterm exam, There will be two types of reports: fill in the blank and regular reports in a journal-type style. I will discuss the guidelines for the reports in class and tell you how they should be arranged and what should be turned in. The mid-term will be an essay style exam, based on issues discussed in the various lab exercises. It will count as much as a given lab exercise. There will be no final exam. Instead, a final project will count as this exam.

LAB PROCEDURE: Each lab measurement that you make, and each lab report that you turn in, must be your own work. You should not rely on someone else to do the work even if you must share some of the facilities. I expect independent work in all lab exercises.

MOUNDVILLE OBSERVING SESSIONS: Depending on weather conditions, we will hold one or more of our classes at Moundville Archaeological Park. This park lies about 20 miles from campus and offers darker skies than Gallalee Hall. The purpose of these sessions will be to allow us to learn constellations and view deep-sky objects that would be difficult or impossible to see from Gallalee Hall.

CARPOOLING: Some, and possibly all, of these Moundville visits (up to three) may require some carpooling on the part of students. The reason for this is that the department 20-inch telescope has to be transported with us for setup on-site. Possible Moundville visits will be announced as far in advance as possible, using the class website if necessary. People who need rides to Moundville should let us know so arrangements can be made.

LONG-TERM PROJECT: Each student will be allowed to select a project for long-term imaging and analysis that they will hand in as a final project at the end of the semester. The list of possible projects is given below. The final project will count 15% of the final grade.

POSSIBLE PROJECTS (some may be season-dependent):
- monitoring the light changes of a supernova
- monitoring the light changes of a variable star of a given type (example: Epsilon Aurigae, http://www.hposoft.com/Campaign09.html)
- observing asteroid movements and brightness changes
- multi-band imaging and analysis of planetary nebulae
- multi-band imaging and analysis of diffuse nebulae
- imaging survey of star clusters of different ages
- imaging survey of different galaxy types for classification
- spectroscopy of active galactic nuclei
- imaging survey of nearby stars
- quasar imaging and gravitational lenses
- observing Pluto and Neptune and detecting their movement and moons (in the case of Neptune)
- etc.

Lab Dates:
Aug. 23 - NO CLASS; Prof. Buta in China
Aug. 30 - first formal lab class
Sep. 6
Sep. 13
Sep. 20
Sep. 27
Oct. 4 - mid-semester break - NO CLASS
Oct. 11
Oct. 18 - mid-term exam (approximate)
Oct. 25
Nov. 1
Nov. 8
Nov. 15
Nov. 22 - Thanksgiving Holiday - NO CLASS
Nov. 29
Dec. 6 ***make-up lab***