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