Astronomy 350:
Methods of Astronomical Observation & Data Analysis

Course Syllabus
Winter Quarter 2011

General Information

1:30-2:48 pm, MWF, Knowlton Hall 0195

Instructor: Prof. Kris Stanek
Office: 4003 McPherson Lab 292-3433
Office Hours: W 3:00-4:30 pm (or by appointment)

TA: Rubab Khan
Office: 4031 McPherson Lab 292-7881
Office Hours: TR 1:30-3:00 pm (or by appointment)

World-Wide Web Page:

Course Objectives

This course is an introduction to modern astronomical observation techniques and methods for interpreting observations, geared toward advanced astronomy and physics majors. Topics include an introduction to practical spherical astronomy, basic statistical treatment of data, and astronomical instrumentation and data sources.

At the end of the course, students will be expected to grasp the fundamentals of positional astronomy as it relates to basic observational practice, understand and be able to apply sensibly basic statistical techniques for the quantitative analysis of data, and will have been introduced to and given basic experience in the techniques they will encounter in optical and infrared astronomical research. This should provide the student with sufficient grounding in basic data analysis techniques to be able to effectively participate in supervised research experiences with astronomy faculty.


The Final Exam is scheduled for Wednesday, March 16 2011 at 1:30-3:18pm in Knowlton Hall 0195. The exam will be comprehensive, and closed-book, closed-notes, consisting of short problems.


Homework will be assigned each week and due in-class the following week (days to be determined). Late homework assignments will not be accepted without good reason and/or advance arrangement with the instructor.


Lectures are three times a week, Monday, Wednesday & Friday at 1:30pm until 2:48pm. The lectures are where the core material of the course will be presented, so attendance is mandatory. A list of topics to be covered is given below. There is no single textbook for this course, but "Data Reduction and Error Analysis for the Physical Sciences is highly recommended. In addition, I will be handing out some lecture notes and other handouts.

Grading Policy

The Final Exam and Homeworks will count equally (1/2 each) to-wards determining the course grade.


Below is the list of topics for this course. The choice and pacing of topics in the two major units (statistical treatment of experimental data and astronomical data analysis) can slide as much as a week as required.

Week 0: Introduction
Mon, Jan 3: First Lecture: What is a Measurement?

Week 0-1: Spherical Astronomy
Review of Celestial Coordinates & Time Reckoning Conventions
Atmospheric Effects: Refraction, Extinction, & Dispersion

Weeks 1-5: The Statistical Treatment of Experimental Data
Measurement Practice
Moments of a Data Distribution: Mean, Variance, Median & Mode
Counting (Poisson) Statistics, Signal-to-Noise Ratio
Central Limit Theorem, Error Estimation & Propagation
Graphical Representation of Data
Tests of Correlation, Linear Least Squares

Weeks 6-10: Astronomical Data Analysis
Modern Telescopes & Instrumentation
Single-Channel Photometry
Digital Array Imaging Devices

Updated: Thu Dec 30 10:55:15 EST 2010