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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Physics and Astronomy : Undergraduate (School of Physics and Astronomy)

Undergraduate Course: Observational Astronomy (PHYS09059)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Physics and Astronomy CollegeCollege of Science and Engineering
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 9 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis 20-pt course consists of a 10-pt lecture course (~16 lectures, ~5 tutorials), the astrophysics laboratory experiments and a mini telescope project.The lecture course (one lecture per week, over two semesters) will introduce the students to the basics concepts of the quantitative measures of light, astronomical coordinate systems, telescope design, optical/near-IR instruments, multi-wavelength astronomy (Far-IR, X-ray and Radio) and
statistical techniques in astronomy. In the astrophysics laboratory the students will undertake two series of experiments. The first provides the students with practical experience of operating an optical spectrograph, including calibration, data acquisition and data analysis techniques. The second series of experiments provides the students with expertise in astronomical data analysis software through a series of experiments dealing with astrometry, photometry and spectroscopy. Finally, in the mini telescope project the students will obtain hands-on experience of obtaining and analysing their own imaging with the IfA student telescope.
Course description Lectures Syllabus:
1. Observing Basics
- celestial sphere, coordinate systems
2. Quantitative measurements of light
- Inverse square law, specific intensity, flux density
- Apparent magnitudes, absolute magnitudes
3. Reddening and atmospheric extinction
4. Adaptive optics and telescope design
5. Imaging - detectors
6. Imaging - data reduction and analysis
7. Spectroscopy - instruments
8. Spectroscopy - reduction/calibration
9. Space Astronomy techniques
10. Far-IR and submm astronomy
11. X-ray astronomy
12. Radio Astronomy
13. Signal, noise and distortion
14. High resolution astronomy
15. Statistical techniques in astronomy
16. Computing in astronomy

Astrophysics Laboratory Syllabus:
1. Practical spectroscopy
- Set-up and calibration of an optical spectrograph - alignment and focusing
- Determining the refractive index of a prism
- Identifying unknown elements from their emission-line spectra
- Determining the transmission function of a set of colour filters

2.Computer based exercises
- Determining membership of a galaxy cluster - multi-band aperture photometry
- Determining the redshift of a quasar - data reduction and emission-line fitting
- Determining the distance to a near-earth asteroid - astrometry

Mini-Telescope Project Syllabus:
- Collecting photometry data points for long period variable stars
- Observing other objects of interest (i.e. planets, nebulae etc)
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Practical Physics (PHYS08048)
Co-requisites It is RECOMMENDED that students also take Fourier Analysis and Statistics (PHYS09055)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2014/15, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  32
Course Start Full Year
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Lecture Hours 18, Seminar/Tutorial Hours 4, Supervised Practical/Workshop/Studio Hours 52, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 122 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 50 %, Coursework 40 %, Practical Exam 10 %
Additional Information (Assessment) The lecture course will be assessed via a 2-hour written exam. The astrophysics laboratory exercises will be assessed via two written reports.The telescope project will be assessed via a hand-in.

Feedback Not entered
Exam Information
Exam Diet Paper Name Hours & Minutes
Main Exam Diet S2 (April/May)Observational Astronomy2:00
Learning Outcomes

1) Demonstrate an understanding of astronomical coordinate systems, calculate the angular separation between celestial objects and plan observations of a celestial object based on its astronomical coordinates.

2) Demonstrate an understanding of stellar types and the variation of stellar spectra with temperature and size.

3) Convert between physical flux measurements and astronomical magnitude systems.

4) Demonstrate an understanding of the physical principles of interstellar reddening and atmospheric extinction.

5) Calculate interstellar reddening based on measurements of colour excess and an assumed dust reddening law.

6) Calculate atmospheric extinction based on standard star observations.

7) Demonstrate an understanding of the physical principles of optical CCD detectors.

8) Describe the basic steps required to calibrate/reduce optical CCD data and calculate the expected signal-to-noise ratio of CCD observations.

9) Demonstrate an understanding of the physical principles of an optical spectrograph and describe the basic steps required to calibrate spectroscopic data.

10) Demonstrate an understanding of basic statistics in astronomy, including optimising signal-to-noise and model fitting.

11) Demonstrate an understanding of observing techniques and instrumentation in both short wavelength (Gamma/X-ray) and long wavelength (sub-mm/Radio) astronomy.


1) Set-up, calibrate and acquire data with an optical spectrograph.

2) Perform the basic tasks of CCD imaging and
spectroscopy data reduction, including absorption corrections, astrometric calibration and aperture photometry.

3) Present a complete, reproducible written or oral account of an experiment and the conclusions drawn from it to a professional standard, incorporating figures, tables and graphs where appropriate.

4) Identify the sources of any errors in experimental results, quantify them and formulate approaches to control them.


1) Plan and execute imaging observations of an astronomical target.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
Course organiserDr Ross Mclure
Tel: (0131) 668 8419
Course secretaryMiss Paula Wilkie
Tel: (0131) 668 8403
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