ASTRONOMY 110L — Survey of Astronomy Laboratory

UH MANOA — Wednesday nights, Fall 2009

Course Information & Policies


LAB:                                      Wednesdays 7:00–10:00 p.m. 

                                                Physical Science Building (“PSB” or “PhySci”) Rm. 112, with

                                                carpooling to various locations (Kapiolani Park, Sandy Beach, WCC Imaginarium)


INSTRUCTOR:                    Paul H.I. Coleman


           Course Web page:

                                Office:    Institute for Astronomy (IfA), C106 

                    Office Hours:    None set, but can meet in Watanabe 423 (email or call to make an appointment)


T.A.:                                       Michael Lum 


                                Office:    Institute for Astronomy  

                    Office Hours:    To Be Announced, in Watanabe 403



Course Description

This laboratory is a one-semester complement to ASTR 110 lecture, Survey of Astronomy, an introduction to planets, stars, galaxies, and cosmology.  Co- or prerequisite: ASTR 110 or equivalent, or consent.  Our course will cover the apparent motion of the night sky, Moon, and planets; major constellations and bright stars; binocular and telescopic observation of fainter objects; and basic scientific and astronomical techniques.  We will perform both one-night and long-term observing projects, as well as some indoor exercises.  Our schedule will be subject to frequent revision based on weather and astronomical events, and will not be synchronized with any ASTR 110 lecture section. 



Equipment & Materials

REQUIRED TEXT:             Ridpath, Stars and Planets, 4th  ed. (2007), paperback: ISBN 978-0-691-13556-4



Pencil and eraser (for in-the-field sketching; pencil also has the advantage of being waterproof!) 

Scientific calculator (capable of power-of-10 notation and advanced math functions; only needed occasionally for calculations at home)


OPTIONAL MATERIALS (but highly recommended!): 

Warm clothes (especially during winter, and on windy nights)

Beach mat, towel, or picnic blanket (for sitting on moist grass outdoors)

Clipboard or hardcover notebook, with metal clips or clothespins (makes in-the-field observations and sketching much easier on windy nights)

• Folder or 3-ring binder (for organizing lab handouts, and for safekeeping of long-term projects)


You will be provided with 8-inch Dobsonian telescopes & eyepieces, 10´50 Binoculars, red flashlights, and other observing equipment as needed in lab.  You are welcome to bring your own binoculars, telescopes, and red flashlights, if you wish.  Note: White flashlights, cell phone lights, etc. are FORBIDDEN in lab, except during clean-up! 

        Please return all equipment in good condition at the end of the night — it must be used by students in all three lab sections.  Please report any problems or breakage to your instructor or TA; do NOT allow the broken equipment to be stowed away only to become a rude surprise for the next night’s lab. 



• Your final grade will be based on your overall course percentage: the number of points you earn divided by the number of points possible.  An overall percentage of 90% will guarantee you at least a final grade of A–; of 80%, B–; of 70%, C–; etc.  In the final determination of grades, these cutoffs may be lowered at the discretion of the instructor.  Your overall course percentage will be weighted as follows:

                                Quizzes                                                                                                                                 30% 

                                Assignments (Worksheets, Sketches, Lab Reports + Extra Credit)                       70% 

                                Attendance                                                                                                                           see below


Quizzes will be given most weeks at the start of lab in PSB 112, and will be short, 10-minute tests usually based on the material covered the week before, or possibly a pre-lab quiz on the material assigned for that same night.  You will be given advance warning about the topic(s) of the next quiz. 

        Quizzes may not be made-up for any reason, but all quizzes will be worth the same weight, and your TWO lowest quiz scores will be dropped. 


Worksheets & sketches will be short assignments to be completed either in the field and/or during the week as homework.  They will typically be due the following week, although due dates may be postponed due to weather.  The number of points that each assignment is worth will vary, depending on the amount of time and work that it requires. 

        Some missed assignments or observations can be made up during future lab sessions or at home (see your instructor individually for details); any portions of assignments that cannot be made up will be given a score of zero. 


Extra-credit:  A few activities will be optional, especially if they involve meeting at a time outside of regular class hours to observe a special astronomical event, observe the Sun midday, or to attend a public lecture.  By completing optional activities, you can boost your Assignment point total and potentially make up for missed work.  (Extra-credit points will not affect your Quiz point total, only your Assignment total.) 


Lab reports may be assigned at the culmination of some long-term projects.  Lab reports should be short (two or three-page) reports in which you present the results of your measurements or observations, and will follow a simplified science lab report format (introduction, procedure, observations, analysis, conclusion).  More details will be provided on the format to follow and the content required for each report.  Since writing the reports requires additional time and preparation at home, the lab reports will be worth a correspondingly greater point value than other worksheets. 


Late assignments will be penalized with a –5% deduction for each weekday past their due date, which corresponds to a 25% deduction per week.  Due dates may be extended for the class as a whole, based on weather or other problems; or for absent students on an individual basis, based on the nature on the assignment.  However, once a due date is set, penalties will be applied after that date.  You may turn in assignments at any time during business hours by sliding them under my office door, Watanabe 423, whether I am in or not. 


Exams: There will be NO midterms or final exam for this lab. 




Attendance will be taken at all lab sessions.  We will have indoor activities in PSB 112 in case of inclement weather, so you should plan to attend lab every Wednesday night, rain or shine!  We will meet every Wednesday from August 26  to December 9, except for November 11 (veterans day).  We will NOT meet during finals week. 

        While your attendance will not be used directly in the calculation of your overall course percentage, it may be used as a factor in determining the final grade for “borderline” students.  Participation in lab is essential to gaining familiarity with the night sky and with the tools of astronomy. 

        Missed quizzes cannot be made up (see “Quizzes” policy above).  Some missed worksheets, sketches, or other observations can be made up, either in part or in full (see “Worksheets” policy above).  (New due dates will be determined individually in each case.)  Some observations and projects, however, are one-time-only and are therefore impossible to “make up”; you will simply receive a zero score for that assignment (or portion thereof) that cannot be redone.  

        If you know in advance that you will be absent for lab, please contact your instructor well ahead of time to discuss making up work.  After an unanticipated absence, please e-mail or contact your instructor as soon as possible — do not wait until the following Wednesday night! 



Working in pairs or groups is common in science labs, and indeed is encouraged: teamwork can help you to make measurements faster and to catch errors, and explaining something to another person is a great way to learn it better yourself.  However, even if you are “working with” a classmate while using the telescope or making a measurement, there are a few guidelines to follow:

        (1) You are each strongly encouraged to make the observation yourself, individually, so that you each get the educational value and experience of using the equipment and “seeing for yourself.”  Then, after you have each tried, you can compare your results as a “sanity check.”  If your results differ just a bit, then keep your own results — most scientific measurements vary slightly due to “random error” (we will discuss this later), so you should not change yours to match your friend’s result.  After all, how do you know which result is “correct,” yours or your classmate’s?  Record what you see or measure.  (If your results differ wildly, then in that case it is appropriate to try to figure out “what went wrong.”  Small variations, however, are common and are a natural part of random error.) 

        (2) Any final work (lab reports, worksheet answers, etc.) should be in your own words.  If you do work together with a partner to make a particular measurement or observation, make a note on your worksheet or lab report of who your lab partner was.  Again, complete the final report or worksheet in your own words, even some of the initial data or measurements are identical to your partner’s. 

        Any passages or calculations that are simply copied or plagiarized from another student, or from any other uncited source (textbooks, encyclopedias, websites), will be given a score of zero.  Your submitted work should reflect your own understanding of the material. 




OPTIONAL TEXT:              Gupta, ed., Observer’s Handbook 200_  current version is best


OPTIONAL TEXT:              Rhoads, The Sky Tonight, 3rd ed. (2000), paperback: ISBN 0-930897-93-5


                                                Waterproof Pen (like traditional “Bic” ball-point; for in-the-field notes; although pencil is also waterproof) 

                                                Observing Log (any bound composition or lab book, preferably with some unlined pages)


Observing logs are something all professional scientists and many amateur astronomers use to record their observations and measurements as they are making them.  Your logs may be inspected (and graded) periodically during the semester, and will be collected at the end of the semester for a final grade.  Guidelines for observing log use will be detailed later.