Spring 2009

SCIE 633
Observational Astronomy


01/12/2009 - 01/16/2009
Monday-Friday 09:00 AM - 05:00 PM

Off-Campus Site

Travel course to Hawaii

This travel course will focus on the observational aspects of the science of astronomy including its history, current state and future. We will focus on the tools that astronomers use -- telescopes, spectrographs and cameras -- and the challenges they face -- from engineering to weather -- as they seek to explore the Universe. Field trips will include a visit to the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii, which houses the world's largest and most advanced telescopes, as well as a tour of the headquarters and telescope control facilities of the W. M. Keck Observatory in Waimea. On one or two nights we will observe at the 9200 ft level Visitor's Station of the Mauna Kea Observatory, using their telescopes. The basics of small telescope design and use, binocular astronomy and naked eye astronomy will all be covered. We will also do a project in digital or film-based astrophotography.

Topics to be covered include: The night sky: Constellations and Planets; Astronomical Coordinate Systems and Time; Naked Eye Astronomy: What you can see by just looking in the right place at the right time; Binocular Astronomy: Zooming in; Light: Its nature and properties; Telescopes: History, types, examples; The Earth's Atmosphere and its Effect on Observing Space-Based Observatories; Modern Ground-Based Observatories: Techniques for Improving the Quality of Images; The Future of Observational Astronomy from Ground and Space; Choosing and operating your own small telescope; and Astrophotography for amateur astronomers

Student Expectations: Students are expected to attend all of the class meetings and observing sessions and participate in them. They are expected to prepare for the field trips by reading the assigned material and becoming familiar with the terms and definitions of our science. They are expected to become familiar with the winter night sky as seen from both Connecticut and Hawaii and demonstrate that familiarity by being able to point out bright stars, constellations and planets. They will also learn the basics of binocular and small telescope astronomy. Advanced students who wish to do a project in astrophotography will be encouraged to do so, but it is not a course requirement. Evaluation will be on the basis of class participation, a journal of activities, and a demonstrated basic competency in naked-eye astronomy.

The primary meeting location and time for the course will be at the Hilton Waikoloa Village hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii from Monday to Friday during the week of January 12-16, 2009. The schedule for these days will be announced later, but will involve both day time and evening time commitments. Mauna Kea Observatory is at an altitude of nearly 14,000 feet and one must be in reasonably good health to go to the summit.

In addition to the time in Hawaii, students will be expected to attend 3 night time sessions at the Van Vleck Observatory on the Wesleyan campus, two in early January and one later in the spring. These will provide a basic preparation to improve one's appreciation of the Hawaiian field trips and a summary and review session at the end.

For a course registration form and/or further information about this course, please call our office.

This course is not open to auditors.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus

William Herbst, (B.A. Princeton University; M.Sc. University Toronto, Ph.D. University Toronto), is John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy and has served as Chair of the Astronomy Department and Director of Van Vleck Observatory. He and his team of students have discovered a sun-like star that is eclipsed in a way never before seen -- not by another star, planet or moon, but by dust grains, rocks and maybe even asteroids orbiting it in a clumpy circumstellar disk. This discovery has received international attention and continues to open new doors in studying the origins and evolution of planets. He is primary or contributing author of more than 250 publications in the astronomical literature, including the recent "Reflected Light from Sand Grains in the Terrestrial Zone of a Protoplanetary Disk" Nature (2008). Click here for more information about William Herbst.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Field Studies

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 14

Texts to purchase for this course:

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