Snezana Stanimirovic: Banner

AST 460 - Experiences in Astronomical Observing, Fall 2012

Time: Friday at 3:30pm, 3521 Sterling Hall
Office hours: Tuesday and Wednesday 1-5pm, or by appointment.

Course Introduction:

The main goal of this course is to provide you a basic introduction into astrophysical research. Some of the topics we will discuss include: good research practices, understanding the astronomical literature, how to write articles for professional scientific journals, how to write a project report using LaTeX, how to present your results using PowerPoint. But, we will address all these topics within a real research environment, by undertaking a small observing project with the 2.3-m radio telescope located on the roof of Sterling Hall.

The Small Radio Telescope is a 2.3. meter radio dish bought by the Astronomy Department from the Haystack Observatory and installed on Sterling roof by Rick VanDer Geest and Rick Williams. The SRT allows continuum and spectral line observations over the frequency range 1400-1440 MHz.

2.3-m Small Radio Telescope on the roof of Sterling Hall. Credit: Rick VanDer Geest, UW Madison Astronomy


Various articles and documents will be assigned for reading. Most of them will be provided in electronic or paper form. I also envision using two short (20-30 pages) booklets by Edward R. Tufte: "The cognitive style of Powerpoint" and "Visual and statistical thinking".

Course Schedule:

  1. (09/07) Course introductions
    Writing about Physics (and other Sciences) (University of Toronto page)
    Assignment 1

  2. (09/14) "On Being a Scientist" (National Academy Press): Introduction to the responsible conduct of research
    AAS Ethics Statement, American Astronomical Society
    Assignment 2

  3. (09/21) Introduction to 2.3-m Sterling SRT and observing
  4. (09/28) Introduction to Unix and Writing SRT scripts
    Introduction to Unix
    Assignment 4
  5. (10/5) Coordinate systems and Observing practice

  6. (10/12) Project introduction: Milky Way rotation curve
    Project Intro
    IDL Basics (Based on Carl Heiles' IDL tutorials)
    Assignment 5

  7. (10/19) Observing and Reading Data files
    Assignment 6 Note: this is now due on Nov 2

  8. (10/26) Data reduction (more)

  9. (11/2) Finding tangent points and measuring their radial velocity
    • LDS spectra obtained in the same directions we are observing and smoothed to match the SRT angular resolution (provided by Claire Murray)
    • Assignment 7

  10. (11/9) Interpretation of HI spectra (brightness temperature, HI column density)

  11. (11/16) "The distance to the Perseus spiral arm in the Milky Way", Xu et al. 2006, Science
  12. (11/23) Thanksgiving, no class
  13. (11/30) LaTeX and how to write a project report, astronomical literature

  14. (12/7) Poster preparation for the Undergraduate Symposium 2013

  15. (12/14) Finalizing class poster for the Undergradute Symposium
UW Undergraduate Symposium (previous years):
  • Poster (2009)
  • Poster (2010)
    Picture 1 (2010) Picture 2 (2010)

    Useful links: