Physics 343: Observational Radio Astronomy
Spring 2016

Andrew Baker
Serin W309
Phone: 848-445-8887
Email: ajbaker[at]


Course meetings
Lectures: Serin 401, Monday 10:20-11:40am
Labs: Meet at Serin 403b (or as instructed), according to your assigned weekly time slots:


Office hours
Every week: TBD
Analysis weeks: One of us will be "on call" during each of the regular lab section times.

This course does not have an official textbook. However, you may find it useful (or just interesting!) to dip into Bracewell, The Fourier Transform and its Applications, Rohlfs & Wilson, Tools of Radio Astronomy, and Wall & Jenkins, Practical Statistics for Astronomers, all of which will be on reserve. The online Essential Radio Astronomy course developed by Jim Condon and Scott Ransom at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory is also an excellent reference.

Here's the official course catalog listing:
"Observational study of the solar system, stars, and galaxies, using the Serin 3 meter radio telescope. Emphasizes computer techniques for data reduction and analysis. Topics may include calibrating system properties, the variability of the Sun, Jupiter, or quasars, and mapping the distribution of hydrogen in our Milky Way galaxy and measuring its rotation."

I plan to teach this course so that by the end of it you will not only have experience analyzing data from the (ahem) 2.3 meter telescope on the roof, but also an understanding of how astronomers use much larger (e.g., 100 meter) radio telescopes in their research, and what kinds of astronomical targets they observe.

Lectures: The sequence of lecture topics may be updated during the course of the semester. The last lecture is tentatively reserved for a topic related to radio astronomy to be chosen shortly after spring break by the students enrolled in the course. This will give you an opportunity to make me sweat, thus exacting revenge for a semester's worth of quizzes and lab reports.
Labs: There will be a total of six labs in this course, many of which will focus on the analysis of archival data from research-grade telescopes; these will give you the chance to confront some of the same challenges that professional radio astronomers face in their work. As part of these analyses, you will be expected to work with spreadsheets and adapt simple programs; previous experience with these tools is helpful but is not necessary for success in the course. Each lab will feature a "hands-on week" in which you meet with an instructor and your lab partners to be introduced to the new data, followed by an "analysis week" in which you can consult with your lab partners and/or an instructor as you complete your report. The sixth lab will involve either data obtained with the 2.3 meter telescope on the roof, or an observing trip to West Virginia.
NRAO trip: A class trip to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's site in Green Bank, West Virginia has been arranged for the weekend of April 15-17. This will be a time-consuming trip (the drive alone takes 7-8 hours each way); however, it will give you a unique opportunity to see a research-grade observatory located in the center of the National Radio Quiet Zone, a variety of radio telescopes, and hands-on observing experience with a more powerful instrument than what we have available in New Jersey. Students who participate will be excused from the sixth lab.

1 Jan 25 course organization; radiative processes; specific intensity    
2 Feb 1 lab # 1; the 21cm line of HI Hands-on week # 1  
3 Feb 8 statistics and radio astronomy Analysis week # 1  
4 Feb 15 lab # 2; gas dynamics Hands-on week # 2 Report # 1
5 Feb 22 the interstellar medium; active galactic nuclei Analysis week # 2  
6 Feb 29 lab # 3; Fourier transforms; radio antennas Hands-on week # 3 Report # 2
7 Mar 7 radio telescopes; interferometry
guest lecturer: TBD
Analysis week # 3  
8 Mar 21 lab # 4; Green Bank trip; deconvolution Hands-on week # 4 Report # 3
9 Mar 28 final thoughts on telescopes, interferometry, and deconvolution Analysis week # 4  
10 Apr 4 lab # 5; stars and planets Hands-on week # 5 Report # 4
11 Apr 11 distant, dusty galaxies Analysis week # 5  
  Apr 15-17 visit to NRAO (Green Bank, West Virginia)    
12 Apr 18 galaxy clusters Hands-on week # 6
(for students not visiting NRAO)
13 Apr 25 cosmic microwave background and reionization Analysis week # 6
(for students not visiting NRAO)
Report # 5
14 May 2 student choice   Report # 6
(for students not visiting NRAO)

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

Quizzes will be administered during lecture (beginning, middle, or end) without warning. While most of the labs will involve archival data that you are encouraged to analyze with your lab partners, you should write up your lab reports individually.

Other items

Last updated October 29, 2015.