ASTR 306/406 - Astronomical Techniques

T/Th 2:35-3:50pm, Sears 552

This course will focus on research techniques used by astronomers, including observational studies using ground- and space-based telescopes, and data mining of large on-line astronomical datasets. We will also emphasize the variety of technical writing that astronomers do, including observing/funding proposals, journal articles, and technical reviews. This course is an approved SAGES departmental seminar.


Chris Mihos
Sears 557
Office Hours: by appt
Paul Harding
Sears 569
Office Hours: by appt


None. Readings will come from a variety of sources available online and in the astronomy lab and library. When readings are assigned for a class (see schedule below), you should do the reading before the indicated class!

Computational Requirements:

High level data analysis will be required. The specific language/software you choose to do your analysis with is up to you -- for some purposes, a scripting and graphics environment (Supermongo or Matlab) may be appropriate; for others, a higher level language (C/C++, Fortran, or Python) will likely be preferable. If you do not have an account on our linux workstations, please see Charley Knox (Sears 568) to get set up ASAP. 

ASTR 306 Assignments:

Individual Assignments: Every few weeks there will be a homework set geared towards the development of technical skills. Typical assignments could include conducting a simple photometric analysis of astronomical image data,  or downloading and analyzing appropriate astronomical datasets off of the web. In addition, there will be several individual writing assignments throughout the semester which might include
Group Projects: There will also be a few larger research projects done in small groups. For each project, the group must submit a final project report written in the form of an Astrophysical Journal paper. The first of these reports will be peer-reviewed by the other groups in the class, after which revisions will need to be made.

ASTR 406 Assignments:

Graduate students will be responsible for the same individual assignments as the undergraduates, along with some extra problems on each assignment.

Projects for graduate students will be greater in scope. There will also be a field trip to Kitt Peak (Nov 4-8) and an additional project based on observations obtained during that trip.

Graduate students will also complete an individual project using data obtained at the Burrell Schmidt.

Grading Structure

ASTR 306
ASTR 406
Individual Assignments
Observing Project

Late Homework Policy:

You get one "free" late homework, which must be turned in no later than one week past the due date. After that, late work will not be accepted without a prearranged agreement.

Project writeups and writing assignments must be turned in on time; extensions will only be made for the most dire circumstances.


Project 1 Project 2
Group 1 Wes, Nathan, Steven
Abbott, Nathan, Emilie
Group 2 Sean, Emilie, Abbott
Steven, Wes, Sean
Group 3 John, Jay, Lei
John, Jay, Lei

Due Dates (Subject to change):

Sep 10
HW #1
Sep 26
HW #2
Oct 8
Observing Proposal
Oct 17
Project #1
Oct 24
HW #2 Revisions
Oct 29
TAC Review
Nov 5
Referee Reports
Nov 12
(Nov 15 for grads)
HW #3 and
Spectroscopy Lab
Nov 19
Project #1 revision
Dec 5
HW #4
Dec 10
Project #2
Dec 18
Observing Project (grads)

Topic List

Coordinate Systems
Aug 27
Aug 29
Chromey: Chapter 3.1
BGO: Chapter 1
The Atmosphere
Aug 29
Sep 3
BGO: Chapter 7
Night Sky Variability movie
Betelgeuse seeing movie
Magnitudes and Filter Systems
Sep 5
Sep 10
BGO: Chapter 5
Chromey, Chapter 10.3-10.4
Aberrations (deferred)
Sep 10
BGO: Chapter 6
Detectors and CCDs
IRAF lab
Sep 12
Sep 17
Howell: Chapter 2-4
Review/Discussion of
Homework #1 and #2
and Project #1
Sep 19

Sep 24
Chromey: Chapter 5.5
Howell: Chapter 5
Statistics and Analysis Toolbox
Sep 26
Phys Lab Error Analysis Primer
(Harding notes)
Oct 1-17

Discussion of HW2, TAC,
and Referee Reports
Oct 24

Time Allocation Commitee Meeting
Oct 29

Project 2 Overview
Oct 31
Project 2
X-ray satellites and SDSS
Nov 12

Picking Clusters
Nov 14
SDSS lab
Discussion of HW4,  color-mag diagrams, Chandra/SDSS crossmatching
Nov 19

Chandra/SDSS crossmatching Nov 21
Chandra lab
Infrared Astronomy
Nov 26

Thanksgiving Break
Nov 28

Radio Astronomy (part 1)
Dec 3

Radio Astronomy (part 2)
Dec 5

Useful online resources: