Astro 8A: Observational Astronomy

Fall '20: Due to CoVid19, this Fall '20 version is entirely On-Line. The descriptions below I've left alone for future use, when we once again have on-campus labs. Most of the links and resources below will still be useful for you in this Fall '20 On-Line version, so I've left them alone.

If you need a Windows laptop to borrow for some of our projects, you can get a free loaner. Here's the resource page

Syllabus and Schedule

Pre-requisite Challenge - Think you qualify to Take Astro 8A w/o the Astro 3,4,7 pre-co-req? We're here to help!

Your Astrophoto Project

Lab: Choosing Your Image Subject
Lab: Estimating the Magnitudes of Variable Stars
Lab: Processing Your Image Into an Artistic Masterpiece
A Form for Recording Your Image Processing Steps

Student Galleries
Photo Project Tips

How Your Image Project is Graded

Useful Resources

Some Points about Measurement
Astro 8'rs at Work

Astro Videos



Below is the Normal Non-CoVid Era On-Campus version of Astro 8A! Alas, students in Fall '20 and likely Spring '21 will not be visiting or working at the Observatory and any data will be taken by the Instructor - Rick Nolthenius - and provided to you on-line. I'm leaving this below just to give you a flavor of the REAL Astro 8A, in case you decide to take it at a later date.

We do use software in Astro 8A for working with your Astrophoto project. Free software: C2A, CCDOPS, Registax 5.1, Photoshop 7 (or something similar). These are all installed on the Room 705 and Observatory computers, but since you won't be at those computers, it'll be important that we get you a PC that has (or you can install) that software on it. If you don't have a Windows PC that you can install software on, and don't have a friend (or parent) who can loan you one, then I have to see if I can get the Cabrillo I.T. people to loan you a PC after THEY have installed this software on the laptop before they give it to you. So far, they have not responded on this but things are a bit chaotic.

This is the Astronomy lab class. Paired with Astro 3, 4, or 7, students have a complete UC and CSU university-level lab science GE transfer class. Unlike some lab sciences, you do not have to take Astro 8A at the same time as Astro 3 or 4 or 7. The lecture and lab classes are not structured to be closely parallel in material, due partly to the randomness of weather.


Astronomy is a bit unique in that we are very dependent on the unpredictability of the weather as to what we'll be doing. Because of this, the class has a more free-wheeling style to it than my other classes, which I think also makes it more fun. On clear nights, we meet at Cabrillo Observatory, where we each work on projects and I circulate around helping people keep forward momentum, all in an informal way. On cloudy nights, we meet in room 705 and do in-class labs, videos with quizzes afterward, and making progress on your photo project. On average we get to go to the observatory about half the time. In both situations, our projects usually focus on measurements. Here's a helpful page on the art of measurement. In-class labs focus on quantitative measurement and calculations using elementary equations which I'll help you with. Lab assistant Becky Snow and I circulate about and help keep progress progressing. The last day of the semester, during finals week, we have a little photo exhibition of student work, a pot luck, and we get to assemble your class-wide set of light curves on our project variable stars. Bonus points are given for the most accurate brightnesses. We also have a short final exam. It's a fun class! Besides my Astro 27 and Astro 25 field trip classes, this is my most enjoyable class.

Because we never know how the weather will cooperate, the class operates with a lot of flexibility. I've come up with many different projects with the goal of picking the right project for the right opportunity.

Night Sky Projects at the Observatory Can Include...
* Estimating brightnesses of eclipsing, irregular, and pulsating variable stars
* Logging meteors and meteor showers
* Timing occultations of stars by the moon
* Timing eclipses and transits of Jupiter's 4 moons

* Estimating the heights of mountains and crater walls on the moon using simple shadows
* Using our big scope (the 12" under the dome) to take a stunning astrophoto (you'll get plenty of help on this one). Your photo will be published in our on-line gallery.

In-Class Projects on Cloudy Nights ...
* PBS video programs and associated quizzes
* Charting the orbit of Mercury using Kepler's method
* Identifying and measuring craters and mountains on the moon
* Estimating the orbit of a meteor shower using simple observations
* Choosing a beautiful subject for your astrophoto project
* Polishing up your astrophotos and making wall-suitable framed prints
* Doing real science classifying galaxies for professional astronomers


Charlie is dumbfounded - after a semester of estimating the brightness of Cepheid variable star T Monocerotis and all the calculations of all the students to place them on a single graph.... it actually shows a consistent pattern, not random noise!

This could be you and your class!... with their astrophoto projects in hand. See these photos now decorating the walls of our new observatory. On the white board are their excellent visual magnitude estimates of our variable stars all plotted together.

Enjoy these pictures taken during our adventures in and out of the classroom, and consider joining us!


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Project resources for the Instructor