AST80013 (formerly HET615) - Major Project: Observational Astronomy

Unit Instructors:

Dr Giovanna Pugliese

Format of the Unit:

More details will be provided in Week 1, but the basic components of this Major Project unit will be:

  1. A major project, chosen and approved by the project supervisor and unit instructor in or before Week 1 of Semester.
  2. A scientific justification, to be completed by the end of Week 3. Students must write a 3 page scientific justification of their project, clearly outlining the project aims, objectives and expected outcomes, as well as a detailed timetable of the project for the course of the semester. The purpose of the outline is to clearly establish that students are clear on exactly what they need to do for their project and understand the science behind it. This is broadly similar to "Observing Proposals" that research astronomers submit to apply for telescope time.
  3. Newsgroups will be used for general discussions of techniques and problems encountered, as well as for Project Diary postings, whereby students are expected to make brief weekly postings of what they accomplished, learned or tested that week. These submissions will not be marked but are a compulsory part of the major project. Students must submit Project Diary postings in at least 10 of the available weeks throughout the semester, otherwise they may receive a fail grade on their final project report.
  4. The major project report must be submitted at the end of semester (Week 12). The project report should be about 20 pages or as negotiated with the project supervisor as different types of projects may vary in length substantially.
  5. A final Poster to be submitted by the end of Week 13, in the style of a non-specialist conference poster. The poster should provide a general overall summary of the project, made up of a maximum of 4 pages (including images), written so as to be able to be understood by any SAO student.

Major Project Units, including this one, do not have any associated course content.

Project Topics & Supervisors:

The project will be on a topic chosen after negotiation with the project supervisor and unit instructor. Sample topics are provided below, or you may propose your own.

If you propose your own project (see information below) you must include:

  1. information on contingencies (i.e. in case of poor weather, instrumentation/telescope downtime)
  2. your ability to get the desired results in the time available

Please discuss your preferred topic with the project supervisor concerned, then contact the unit instructor to seek official approval.

Getting Started

For more information on general background reading, online resources and journals, contact your instructor and/or project supervisor.

Project 1: The right optics for the job: comparing telescopes

Supervisor: Giovanna Pugliese

Looking around the astronomical community, one finds telescopes in all shapes and sizes, with instruments mounted at a large variety of focal points. Each configuration has specific advantages and disadvantages. In this project, students are asked to compare four distinct telescope designs of their choice, discussing the instrument possibilities (spectra/imaging) for each design and typical optical advantages and disadvantages. Students are expected to provide historical and/or modern examples of how each design has been used to make significant discoveries.

Final projects should discuss/include:

  1. Definitions of coma, astigmatism, field distortion, spherical aberration and chromatic aberration, as well as Coude?, Cassegrain, and prime focus.
  2. Accurate, properly scaled, light-ray diagrams for each design discussed,
  3. Discussion of ideal uses/instrumentation for each, accounting for FoV, f/ratio, optical aberrations, etc, and
  4. Professional examples of each design, why it was chosen, and how it succeeded.
NOTE: Students should get their four design selections approved before writing their scientific justification.

Students may need software for drawing their diagrams. While CAD software is recommended, any vector drawing software (like Adobe Illustrator) can be made to work. Hand drawn scanned diagrams will also be fine.

Students must have their software installed and be familiar with its use before taking on this project!

Project 2: Astroimaging vs Astrophotography (observing)

Supervisor: Giovanna Pugliese

Even in today's era of cheap digital cameras and dropping CCD prices, many astronomers continue to reach for film and glass plates. In this project, students will compare CCD and film or DSLR images taken of the same objects with the same final exposure time and same telescope. Students are expected to observe one Landolt standard field and obtain a deep image of one "pretty" field containing nebulosity or a high-contrast large galaxy. (Landolt standards are standard star fields compiled by Arno Landolt over many years, and are typically known as "E region" or SA fields.)

Final projects should discuss/include:

  1. Differences in linearity, sensitivity, resolution, and dynamic range in film and CCD images,
  2. Differences in setup complexity (e.g. sensitizing film, cooling CCD, etc),
  3. Differences in reduction/analysis complexity, and
  4. When it is best to use either of these imaging methods.

Students need a telescope, CCD, and manual camera with proper adaptors.

Students must have their equipment inhand, setup, and tested before taking on this project!

Project 3: Filtering the Sky (observing)

Supervisor: Giovanna Pugliese

Filters are used in many astrophotographic applications such as the observation of the Sun, planets, stellar classification or nebulae etc... Filters form two basic types. The first is a broad band filter usually made from a transparent material with the addition of dyes and the second is a very narrow band filter made from thin layers of vacuum deposited material called an interference filter. In this project, students will demonstrate how filters are used to get specific information on objects by making their own observations using 2 or more filters.

Final projects should discuss/include:

  1. The different types of filters used, their construction, and examples of their use,
  2. Why the field observed was selected,
  3. Why the filters used were selected,
  4. The science derived from the filtered images.
NOTE: Students should get their object selections approved before writing their scientific justification.

Students need filters, a telescope, and a CCD or manual camera with proper adaptors. Appropriate data reduction software is also required for CCD observations.

Students must have their equipment inhand, setup, and tested before taking on this project!

Project 4: Variable Stars (observing)

Supervisor: Giovanna Pugliese


This project is limited by the equipment available to you. You will research and discuss the causes of variability, and determine which stars might be within naked eye, camera or small telescope reach.

Final projects should discuss/include:

  1. Individual observations of magnitudes of selected variable stars.
  2. Description of observational set-up
  3. Production of light curves
  4. Analysis and Discussion of results (incl. determination of periods)


Eye (y), Binoculars [50mm or greater required](y), Camera (y), Telescope (y)

Notes:Short period variables are preferable so that light curves can be developed over the semester. Students should aim to observe at least 6-8 variable stars for this project.

Project 5: Own Project

If you wish to propose your own project you must first negotiate it with the unit instructor, Giovanna Pugliese. Note that your project topic cannot be approved unless the unit instructor agrees with it and we can find a suitable project supervisor.

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