Physics 629: Observational Techniques
Fall 2010

Andrew Baker
Serin 309
Phone: 732-445-5500 x2544
Email: ajbaker[at]
Office hours: Thursday 1:30-3:00 (or by appointment)

TF3 (12:00-1:20) in SEC211, except where boldfaced below

Kitchin, Astrophysical Techniques (Fifth Edition)
Wall & Jenkins, Practical Statistics for Astronomers
I will also draw material as needed from Bracewell, The Fourier Transform and its Applications, from Rieke, Detection of Light, from Rohlfs & Wilson, Tools of Radio Astronomy, and from Thompson, Moran, & Swenson, Interferometry and Synthesis in Radio Astronomy, all of which are on reserve in the physics library.

Here's the official course catalog listing:
"Introduction to tools and techniques of modern observational astronomy. Survey of instruments and capabilities at current telescope sites around the world and in space. Data reduction methods. Practical experience with Serin Observatory."

I plan to teach this course so that by the end of it you will be able to (1) understand how modern telescopes and instruments acquire data at all wavelengths, (2) understand how modern software packages are used to acquire, reduce, and catalog data, and (3) estimate signal/noise ratios before you obtain a given dataset, and statistically appropriate uncertainties for the quantities you measure from it. I will also spend a little time discussing the sociology of astronomical observing, i.e., how one successfully competes for time on large telescopes.

Both the sequence of lectures and the assignment due dates are preliminary at this point; I will update them as needed during the course of the semester. The last two lectures are tentatively reserved for topics to be chosen shortly before Thanksgiving by the students who are officially enrolled in the course. These will give you an opportunity to make me sweat, thus exacting revenge for a semester's worth of homework assignments.

1 Sep 3 observing proposal strategy; introduction to GALEX ---  
2 Sep 7 Bayes's theorem; binomial and Poisson distributions WJ ch 1 & 2  
3 Sep 10 normal distribution; central limit theorem; confidence intervals WJ ch 2 & 6 HW1
4 Sep 17 statistics; error propagation WJ ch 3 HW2
5 Sep 21 testing for correlation; Monte Carlo simulations WJ ch 4 & 6  
6 Sep 24 parametric and non-parametric hypothesis testing WJ ch 5 HW3
7 Sep 28 least squares fitting; Fourier transforms WJ ch 8  
8 Sep 29 convolution and correlation; sampling theorem; FFTs WJ ch 8  
9 Oct 1 atmospheric transmission and refraction --- HW4
10 Oct 5 atmospheric seeing; zodiacal and Galactic foregrounds ---  
11 Oct 6 extragalactic backgrounds; confusion ---  
12 Oct 8 radio telescopes K ch 1 HW5
  Oct 15     mid-term observing proposal
13 Oct 19 coherent and incoherent detection K ch 1  
14 Oct 20 aperture synthesis: basics K ch 2  
15 Oct 22 aperture synthesis: details and advanced techniques --- TAC reports
16 Oct 29 detectors K ch 1 HW6
17 Nov 2 geometric optics ---  
18 Nov 3 optical telescopes K ch 1  
19 Nov 5 dispersive elements K ch 4 HW7
20 Nov 12 optical/IR spectrograph design K ch 4 HW8
21 Nov 16 diffraction-limited imaging (1) K ch 2  
22 Nov 19 diffraction-limited imaging (2) --- HW9
23 Nov 23 optical interferometry K ch 2  
24 Nov 30 optical and radio polarimetry K ch 5  
25 Dec 3 absolute calibration K ch 3 HW10
26 Dec 7 software ---  
27 Dec 8 student choice ---  
28 Dec 10 student choice --- HW11
  Dec 20     final exam due (noon)

Your course grade will be based on a weighted combination of three elements:

Homework assignments will be handed out (almost) every Friday and handed in at class the following Friday. Most will include three types of exercises: straightforward examples or extensions of material discussed in lecture; more involved applications to areas of current research or instrument development; and true/false questions that simulate the challenge of refereeing an observing proposal or a paper. Some assignments will involve programming and/or use of publicly available software packages.

Your mid-term project will be to write a proposal for new observations with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (HST). You may identify a subject for the proposal in consultation with a Rutgers faculty member or another collaborator, but the text you submit for credit must represent your work only. (Since the official HST deadline will be in February 2011, you are welcome to treat what you turn in to me as merely the first draft of what you submit for real after getting feedback from others.)

The final exam will be open-book, open-note, and closed-homework.

Other items

Last updated November 5, 2010.