ASTR 402 [Spring 2006]

Observational Astronomy
with Prof. Geller
Subject to change and revisions throughout semester

Image copyright 1998 Keith Cowing All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.
2001 Mars Odyssey presentation made at National Air and Space Museum
History of the Universe :: The Astrobiology Web :: Astrobiology Newsletter :: Astrobiology Magazine :: Ad Astra Astrobio Special Issue
Astronomy Picture of the Day :: Earth Picture of the Day :: Space Calendar :: NASA Image Sites
Space related news (at NASA and others): NASA Watch :: SPACEREF :: :: Universe Today
NASA Astrobiology :: Astrobiology Institute :: Center for Computational Astrobiology :: UW Astrobiology
Mars/life/meteors :: Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers :: Bad Astronomy
Help the Analemma Society establish an observatory in Fairfax County :: Learn about The Barns at Franklin Park in Loudoun County


This course will introduce students "to the basic practical tools, methods and phenomena" of observational astronomy, across the electromagnetic spectrum and including particles of matter.
This course fulfills the Writing-Intensive requirement for the Physics and Astronomy major. It does so through the 2000-word project descriptions due before the mid-semester break, the 2000-word project descriptions completed after the mid-semester break, and the 5000-word research proposal (in NSF style) due at the end of the semester. The proposed project descriptions will be completed through a draft/feedback/revision process. The first draft will be due prior to mid-semester break; I will provide commentary on the draft, and the revised draft will be due two weeks after return from mid-semester break.
  • Get help with your writing at the GMU Writing Center
    Other Spring 2006 Semester Information
    Classes begin							January 23
    Last day to drop with no tuition liability			February 7
    Last day to add classes						February 7
    Last day to drop						February 24(full tuition loss)
    Spring Recess							March 12-19
    Last day of classes						May 6

    Instructor: Grading Policy
    The term project will be worth 30% of your final grade. There will be homework assignments worth 30% of your final grade. Class observing participation will be worth 20% of your final grade. The mid-term project proposal will be worth 20% of your final grade.
    			Homework assignments				30 %
    			Term Project					30 %
    			Class Observations				20 %
    			Mid-Term Proposal				20 %
    Honor Code Adherence
    Students are expected to follow the George Mason University rules of student honor. As noted in the catalog:

    "George Mason University shares in the tradition of an honor system that has existed in Virginia since 1842. The Honor Code is an integral part of university life. On the application for admission, students sign a statement agreeing to conform to and uphold the Honor Code. Therefore, students are responsible for understanding the provisions of the code. In the spirit of the code, a student's word is a declaration of good faith acceptable as truth in all academic matters. Therefore, cheating and attempted cheating, plagiarism, lying, and stealing of academic work and related materials constitute Honor Code violations. To maintain an academic community according to these standards, students and faculty must report all alleged violations of the Honor Code to the Honor Committee. Any student who has knowledge of, but does not report, an Honor Code violation may be accused of lying under the Honor Code."

    [Source: ]

    Course Format - Lectures
    Lectures will consist of various forms of presentation material including videos, computer displays, demonstrations and transparencies. Questions are acceptable at any time during the lecture. Students should be alert during the lecture and prepared to answer queries posed as they arise.

    Entry level Competencies
    The course requires elementary calculus, algebra and geometry. Students should have English composition skills at least comparable to the English 101 level.

    Course Objectives
    1. To comprehend the observations made by astronomers
    2. To comprehend the tools used by astronomers
    3. To comprehend how data are turned into information in astronomy
    4. To comprehend the methods used by observational astronomers
    5. To utilize instruments in making observations
    Major Topics to be Included
    1. History of astronomy
    2. Electromagnetic Radiation
    3. Celestial Coordinate Systems
    4. Celestial Motions of Sun, Moon, Planets and Stars
    5. Determining Observational Times
    6. Optical Telescopes
    7. Telescope Detectors
    8. Detector Measurements and Statistics
    9. Telescope Interferometry
    10. Astronomical Sources of Light
    11. Celestial Object Distances and Sizes
    12. Light Absorption and Scattering
    13. Spectroscopy
    14. Other Observational Astronomy including Neutrinos, Cosmic Radiation and Gravity Waves

    Additional Topics Regarding Classwork
    As deemed appropriate, the course may be supplemented with homework, guest speakers and discussions of new discoveries.