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As part of PHY217, you will be expected to complete a simple observing project using the 16-inch telescope on the roof of the Hicks Building. This project is designed to give you basic hands-on experience of astronomical observing and data reduction, and can be completed in a few hours of telescope time. You are encouraged to design your own project, but it is important to discuss the feasibility with me before starting your detailed planning. The observing must be done in groups of three students, so please find others interested in doing the same project as you. If you can't think of a project, or can't find a group to work with, I shall be happy to recommend some options. You must notify me by email of your final choice of project and partners by the deadline at the end of week 2: Friday, 11 October 2013. If you have not chosen a project and partners by then, you shall be assigned them by me! (For further information on choosing a project, please see below.)

There are 3 aspects to the observing project:
  1. Planning: Well before your scheduled observing run, you must discuss with me or Paul Kerry (D16): which objects to observe, what time of night to observe, what filters you require, what sequence of exposures you require, etc. You will need to include a section on your planning in the final report.

  2. Observing: Your observing sessions will be supervised by Paul Kerry and must be completed in a specified period: Monday, 14 October - Friday, 13 December 2013 (weeks 3-11), although please note that observing is not usually possible over weekends and there may be short periods when Paul Kerry is unavailable.

    Sign-up sheets will be posted on the Astronomy Noticeboard outside the Astronomy Lab (E36), along with full instructions on how to contact Paul Kerry on the night. Although you should be able to complete all your observations in a single session, to allow for the vagaries of British weather we expect you to sign up for at least two evenings per week until you have successfully completed your observing. If you cannot do this, you must discuss the problem with me or Paul Kerry before the start of the designated observing period, or as soon as the problem (e.g. illness) becomes apparent.

    Attendance at the observing is compulsory - you will not receive any marks for the project if you fail to show up or, if the weather is bad for part of the specified observing period, you have not made every effort to sign up for other time slots. Note that, unless previously agreed with me or Paul Kerry, if you are unable to attend a successful observing session with the other members of your group, it will not be possible for you to observe at a later date on your own. Note also that no resit of the observing project is possible, so missing it will make it much more difficult to pass the module.

    We strongly advise signing up for observing as soon as possible: students who fail this module tend to be those who leave signing up until the last minute and then suffer from poor weather at the end of the observing period. This is no excuse, as there are usually clear periods at the start of the observing period which no students sign up for. Only if the entire period is unusable, or if you have genuinely serious reasons as to why you could not do the observations (which in most cases must be supported by documentary evidence), will this component not count towards the final mark.

  3. Data reduction and report: After you have obtained your observations, you will need to contact Paul Kerry to help you reduce and analyse your data using the computers and software available in the Astronomy Lab. Note that this element of the project, and the subsequent write-up, must be your own work - do not work in your observing groups.

    Your write-up must follow the same style as for a formal laboratory report. There must be sections describing the planning stage, the observations (a description of the equipment used, the observing conditions and the data that was taken), the data reduction and the data analysis. You will be penalised if you omit an analysis of the errors, and if you fail to compare your results with literature values. Please submit your reports to the departmental office by the deadline: Thursday, 19 December 2013. Note that this is the final week of term, and has been set to make the observing window as long as possible. However, you will undoubtedly have other pieces of work to hand in around this time, so it is in your interests to complete your observing and hand in your report as early as possible in the semester.

Choosing a project

You are free to observe any object you wish. However, it is important to note the following limitations.

Some examples of the data obtained for previous projects are given here. Before you email me with your final choice of project, it is imperative that you come to see me to discuss your ideas so that I can confirm with you that the project is feasible. Past experience suggests that the best projects tend to be one of the following, although we are always keen for students to show initiative and come up with their own ideas for projects:

©Vik Dhillon, 9th December 2013