Astronomy Observational Projects

The rules for lab writeups also apply for observational projects, but even more explanation is typically needed, since the instructor will typically not be present for these.

  1. Sun-watching: Pretty much every ancient culture watched the points where the sun rises and sets over the course of a year. There was a need for such observations in order to get the timing for yearly festivals, for agriculture, and for developing a calendar. Let's do the same for a semester. FULL INSTRUCTIONS.

  2. Yearly star motion: This requires 3 sketches, made at the exact same location and time of night, with at least a week between sketches. At a time you specify, say 9:00 p.m., go to a location where stars are visible and sketch the foreground objects (buildings, trees, whatever) and the stars placed as best you can do it on the sketch. Do not face north. at least a week later, at 9:00 p.m. in the same location, sketch the new positions of the stars relative to the foreground objects. Repeat a week later. In the writeup, explain what is happening. The sun only drifts a few minutes off from the mean solar time that our watches keep, so that isn't the answer.

  3. Count the number of stars in the sky. Requires the cardboard tube from a toilet paper roll. See FULL INSTRUCTIONS.

  4. Measure the size of the earth. Requires a collaborator in a city at least 50 miles north or south from here, preferably almost due north or south. Also requires one to build a stick-with-plumb-bob apparatus with which the length of the sun's shadow is measured. INSTRUCTIONS.

  5. Count falling star rate in meteors/hour. Requires a dark location AND for the moon to be less than 50% illuminated. Major showers are listed here, but meteors can be observed at the rate of about 10 per hour at any time of year. Dress warmly, lie on your back in a location with a decent 360 degree view of the horizon and a dark cloudless sky. Comment about the brightnesses of the various meteors in your writeup.

  6. Sketch the sky rotation: park yourself in one spot on a clear night. What compass direction are you looking? Sketch several prominent stars relative to foreground objects (rooftops, trees, telephone poles, whatever). An hour later, note the new positions of the stars on the (original) sketch. An hour after that, check again. What direction did the stars move? Can you explain what is happening? Make a second sketch for a different direction (North is the most interesting, but takes the most careful sketch) to confirm your explanation.

  7. On a clear 4 a.m., wake up. (Definitely a prerequisite!) Look into the starry sky and see which constellations are visible. Use the charts at the back of the book. Make an all-sky sketch, showing the recognizable constellations. Which Kaufmann chart depicts best what is visible in the sky? Is it the chart for the current month? What is going on, here? Explain fully.

  8. Over the course of a month, observe the position of the moon among the stars. Mark this position on a star map (instructor can provide). (This project also requires a few early-morning observations!) After a month, trace the path that the moon takes among the stars. Is this path the same as the ecliptic? Where is the line of nodes?

  9. Micrometeorites! Requires a strong magnet and a microscope (we have one in lab). We are looking for tiny, shiny, spherical iron-nickel droplets. The best place to look is in parking lots in the spots where dust and dirt tends to collect after a rain. Run the magnet through the dirt, then examine the magnetic material you pick up in the microscope. You get to keep any micrometeorites you find. More info and picture of one.

    Generic telescope observation: students are encouraged to come to Jewett observatory or a SAS star party to make telescopic observations. The generic observation consists of making 3 or more sketches of different astronomical objects: whatever the observers are looking at. Prepared handouts can be used, but any clean sheet of paper will do in a pinch; just write down the additional details: date, time, object, location, telescope, approximate field of view, sky conditions, and comments on problems or other amazing occurences.

  10. Photograph "star trails" like those illustrated on page 18 of Kaufmann, or as done by previous ASTRO students. You will need a camera capable of long exposures. The instructor can supply one roll of fast film. A tripod is helpful but not essential.

  11. Draw a moon map. Requires binoculars and a reference map with surface feature names marked on it. You'll also need to have the moon in full phase, plus or minus about 3 days. Do a quality job! Do the sketch first, then label features from a map.

  12. Observe and sketch sun spots weekly for a month. Requires a solar filter. (DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN, EVER, without very dark filters or other precautions.)

  13. Sketch the positions of the 4 Galileian moons of Jupiter over at least 3 evenings. Requires a small telescope. Can you tell which is the closest to Jupiter? Furthest? Are there times when less than 4 are visible? What is going on? Try to estimate the period of revolution of each of the moons (this may not be possible for all of them, depending on your data.)

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