Useful Links

Although you should always feel free to ask anyone in the department for help (including myself), here are some useful websites that may point you in the right direction. I've included websites that should serve as good tutorials or help resources for Linux/Unix, IDL, C/C++, Fortran, creating websites, IRAF, and a few other plotting programs.

Also, you can find other links for help with Unix, Emacs, Perl, IDL, and some other astronomy tools at Laura Trouille's useful links for research students, and at Snezana Stanimirovic's website (click on the ST Resources link on the left).


Linux is the basic operating system used throughout much of astronomy (and many other sciences). If you aren't versed in using Linux/Unix yet, you'll need to familiarize yourself with how to navigate through directories, edit files and run programs from the command line in a terminal.

Lots of information about how to get started and what to do. For beginners, lesson six will probably be the most useful.

Though this website has a pretty bad layout, there are some useful links at the bottom. Look at the "New User Help" pages.

"sed" one-liners. sed is a command in Linux that can be used for quickly editing files.

"awk" one-liners. awk is also a command in Linux that can also be used for manipulating files. I use awk quite a bit for printing different columns of text tables. You can use conditional statements (i.e., "if" statements) to search for specific criteria in a file.

IDL (Interactive Data Language)

IDL is good coding language for analyzing and plotting data. In my opinion, this is one of the easiest languages to learn; it handles arrays very well, is easy for reading and writing files, has many useful plotting tools, and is very widely used in astronomy. One disadvantage is that IDL runs much slower than, say, C/C++ or Fortran. Also, you need to pay for an IDL license in order to run the software. (So you'll be able to run IDL in the department, but likely not on your own laptop.)

A good basic "how to" website to read through. You'll find introductory information on how to get started with IDL.

Searchable database of tip, tricks and FAQ. I use this resource a lot.

Information about the IDL astronomy library (routines developed specifically for use with astronomical data) and links to other IDL help sites. These routines are all installed on our network; so you can call in your IDL programs as you wish.


C and C++ are widely used programming languages. They are similar and can more or less be used to accompish the same goals, but they have certain differences in syntax and style. C++ is the "newer" language, but you will certainly find quite a few people that program in C.

Great resource with many tutorials, from beginner to advanced.

Links to numerical recipes in C (you can find this book and one for C++ in the library as well). These "recipes" are codes written to help with programs you may write--so you won't be "reinventing the wheel". These codes are all on our network; so you can simply call them in your program (as long as you compile to code correctly).

Searchable list of routines in cplusplus, includig some explanation on how to use them.


Fortran is a widely used programming language. It's uses are similar to C and C++, but the syntax is different. It's basically a personal preference whether to learn and use C/C++ or Fortran; in many cases it simply comes down to who taught you to program, or what code(s) you're trying to work with.

This is basically a list of every Fortran link *ever*, but there are quite a few tutorials in the "Free Fortran compilers, tools, tutorials, and software" section. (There are also some old links that don't work, alas.) FAQs,_Help,_and_Tutorials/

Probably the most useful link, with the most tutorials, from the website given above.

some useful information from getting started with programming in Fortran through more advanced topics.

more good tutorials.

Lots of links to documents and other help websites for fortran. You may want to check out the "Professional Programmer's Guide to Fortran77". This seems like a very detailed document with almost anything you may want to know about the language.

The Sun Fortran manual (which is actually for Fortran 77, which is increasingly out of date now, but not a bad place to start).

Links to numerical recipes in Fortran 77 90; you can also find these books in the library. These "recipes" are codes written to help with programs you may write--so you won't be "reinventing the wheel". These codes are all on our network; so you can simply call them in your program (as long as you compile to code correctly).

HTML, CSS and Creating Websites

As REU students, you'll each be making your own websites featuring your summer research project. You can see examples of past REU students' websites here, and remember you can always select "view source" from your internet browser to see the source code (usually HTML) for almost any website.

An excellent website with tutorials and examples for HTML, XHTML and CSS. There are great example sections where you can edit existing code and see what changes in the resulting webpage.

Good resource with various tutorials and forums on coding in HTML (and some mention of using CSS).

Detailed tutorials for both HTML and CSS.

IRAF (Image Reduction and Analysis Facility)

IRAF is a software suite that many astronomers use to reduce their data. There are specific tasks for reducing images as well as spectra. You can also write your own programs in the IRAF language that can be executed from the IRAF prompt. In many cases, different observers have their own routines for reducing and analyzing different types of data from different telescopes using IRAF. I've tried to list some basic references here, but you may have the most luck asking around the department.

The main IRAF homepage. You can find documentation, tutorial, FAQs, and other general information.

A decent tutorial on reducing photometry using IRAF.

RV Cookbook

This document describes how the WOCS group at UW reduces their Hydra radial-velocity data using IRAF.

Misc. Plotting Utilities

Many astronomers (and other scientists) choose to plot their data using software like supermongo, gnuplot or PGPLOT. Some of these plotting programs are freely available for download from their respective websites, and at least some are already installed on our network.

Supermongo homepage containing extensive documentation on supermongo as well as tutorials.

Craig Rudick's supermongo tutorial. This site is good for people just starting out (and has examples).

Rebecca Stanek's supermongo page. This site is a little more advanced, and has good tutorials.

Gnuplot homepage with download and installation instruction, as well as documentation and FAQ. Gnuplot is a free plotting utility.

PGPLOT homepage with download and installation instructions and documentation. PGPLOT is also a free plotting utility.