Astronomy Labs

September 2002

The Institute for Astronomy, long recognized as a strong research institution, is developing innovative new courses which will broaden its teaching mission and make research experience available to undergraduates. Our program emphasizes a two-tier astronomy laboratory, consisting of an introductory course with no prerequisites and a more advanced and open-ended laboratory offered to qualified students.

1  ASTR 110 Laboratory

Most large undergraduate science courses at UH offer a parallel laboratory which students can take to deepen their understanding, gain hands-on experience, and satisfy the lab requirement. We want to offer a laboratory as part of ASTR 110, ``Survey of Astronomy''. The demand for this lab is evident from a recent survey of 161 students enrolled in ASTR 110; when asked whether they would have signed up for an astronomy lab if one was offered, three-quarters expressed interest, and 30% said it was ``very likely'' they would take such a lab.

The introductory lab course has two goals: fostering a basic awareness of the universe, and exploring the conceptual underpinnings of astronomy. Course activities include both astronomical viewing and laboratory experimentation. Through direct observation, students will become familiar with constellations, planets, moons, stars, clusters, and nebulae, and learn how to use small astronomical telescopes and other simple equipment. Through laboratory exercises, they will come to recognize the unity of astronomical and terrestrial physics. The activities planned for this lab are fairly simple and use only basic physics and math. We feel it's important that students should be able to fully understand what they are doing at each step. For that reason, the course will deemphasize the use of sophisticated ``black boxes'' and computer simulations in favor of simple - but conceptually transparent - tools and techniques.

The introductory lab is a 1-credit course intended to complement and extend the material in the ASTR 110 lectures. The syllabus is designed to work with the constraints imposed by weather and visibility of astronomical objects. Topics to be covered include:

  1. The Sky: Orientation, Constellations, Astronomical objects, Lunar & Terrestrial motion.

  2. Dynamics: Cavendish experiment, Shape of lunar orbit, Satellites of Jupiter.

  3. Telescopes: Simple lenses, Construction of simple telescopes, Using small astronomical telescopes, Advantages of aperture.

  4. Cratering: Diameter and depth of lunar craters, Craters in the lab, Stratigraphy demonstration, Relative ages of lunar surfaces.

  5. Distances: Parallax in the lab, Distance to the Moon, Inverse-square law, Light curve of a Cepheid variable star.

  6. Spectra: Use of simple spectroscope, Formation of dark lines, Solar spectrum, Classification of stellar spectra.

A budget for the lab is included in Appendix A.

2  ASTR 399 Laboratory

The advanced course will serve two communities: (1) students who have successfully completed the introductory lab course and are interested in pursuing real hands-on science projects and (2) graduates of our highly successful major Teacher Enhancement program, Toward Other Planetary Systems (TOPS), now in its 4th year in Hawaii. The TOPS program is an NSF-funded high school enhancement program (with a privately funded student component) with the theme of searching for new astronomical worlds through cutting-edge astronomy on Mauna Kea, while also integrating cultural astronomy and the ancient search for new worlds through polynesian voyaging and navigation. Participating teachers receive UH Outreach College credits, and share what they have learned with other teachers and in their classrooms. Participating high school students also receive credits through the UH Summer Scholars program, and we strongly encourage them to continue on in the sciences.

The advanced lab course will be a 3-credit course, with labs that the students conduct during the semester. There will be a classroom instruction component to train the students in the physics, astronomy, computer skills, and technical skills needed for the lab. The anticipated labs include:

  1. Height of Lunar Relief [photography]

  2. Photometry of variable stars - light curves [photomultiplier]

  3. HR Diagrams [CCD]

  4. Photometry of extrasolar planet transits [CCD]

  5. Spectroscopy of bright stars [Spectrograph]

Graduates of TOPS are implementing astronomy in their classrooms and we receive many student requests for assistance with astronomy science fair projects - a first in Hawaii. To further the implementation of the TOPS astronomy experience, we propose to make suitable equipment available to TOPS graduates by creating a small remote observatory on the roof of the UH physics building on campus. The goals of this proposal are to:

In order to support the new astronomy curricula developed, we are creating a small remote access observatory on the roof of the University of Hawaii physics building. Through private funding we already have a 7-foot dome which can house an 8-inch to a 14-inch telescope. From the TOPS outreach program we have a wealth of equipment, including several 8-inch schmidt-cassegrain telescopes, 2 photomultipliers, 3 CCD cameras, 1 CCD spectrograph and a large variety of photographic equipment.

The 7' dome we have presently will house one telescope and can accommodate 2-3 students. Appendix B provides a budget for an upgrade of the system to allow for fully remote operation. This would make the facility available to UH students throughout the interisland system.

A  Introductory Laboratory Budget

SkyQuest XT8 Dobsonians16$4652
Light-pollution filters16$360
8x40 wide-field binoculars225$1850
Short-focus 80mm refractor31$289
Astrometric reticle eyepiece (12mm)31$120
Simple telescope kits425$250
Diffraction gratings25$25
Visual star spectroscope1$179
Cratering experiment6$500
Cavendish experiment1$100
Misc. laboratory supplies51$1000
Sky pointer (5mw green laser)61$190
Digital camera71$660
Eyepiece/adaptor for camera (18mm)71$100
Table 1: Budget for intro. lab


1. Dobsonian telescopes are robust and simple to set up and operate. We envision four students per telescope as a compromise between cost, ease of transportation, and viewing experience. Additional eyepieces will increase the range of magnifications available. Light-pollution filters are useful when viewing faint objects in a urban setting. (Orion Telescopes & Binoculars).

2. Binoculars are very effective for star gazing and bridge the gap between naked-eye and telescopic observation. (Orion Telescopes & Binoculars).

3. The short-focus refractor (Orion Telescopes & Binoculars) and reticle eyepiece (Meade) are used to measure lunar diameters. The scope can also be used to demonstrate polar mountings and for ``quick look'' observations.

4. The telescope kits consist of two lenses which may be combined to create a simple low-power telescope. (Science Kit & Boreal Laboratories).

5. Misc. supplies include photocells and light sources so students can verify inverse-square law of light intensity, small prisms and other optical parts, and replacements.

6. A high-power laser pointer will be used to point toward objects in the night sky (Scopetronix).

7. A digital camera (Nikon Coolpix 4500 or equivalent) will be used to record lab setups and take images of the Moon & planets at the telescopes (EPC-Online.Com). The eyepiece/adaptor permits the camera to be mounted on a telescope (Scopetronix).

8. A computer running Windows will be used together with the digital camera to capture and process images for a class website.

Almost all the equipment can be reused each time the lab is given. Once the key equipment is purchased, the total cost for replacment of consumable supplies will be on the order of $1000 each time the lab is given. Transportation costs needed to bring students to an off-campus observing site will probably be comparable to this figure.

B  Remote Observatory Budget

CM-1400 OTA1$3995
Pier for mount1$500
Paramount GT-1100 (including software)1$8500
True Tech Filter Wheel1$895
Optec Temp. Compensating Focuser1$695
Astrovid 20001$595
Frame Grabber card1$395
Wide Field Finder4$100
Meade EXT-90 spotting telescope5$400
Computer with Windows 20002$2000
Apogee AP8p CCD1$12950
LISAA guider6$1495

Table 2: Budget for second dome - remotely operable

The basic telescope unit will be a C-14 ( mounted on a Paramount GT-1100 mount (with their pier). The dome will be an Astro Haven 7 ft diameter clam shell design that is motorized to allow for remote operation.

The remote telescope mount is the Paramount GT-1100 mount and software. The telescope will have a computer driven filter wheel and a temperature compensating focus mechanism (both available from

We will buy a wide field finder (Antares 8x52mm finder from Sky Instruments, 6/01 Sky and Telescope p 142.) that has an Astrovid video camera on it that hooks into a computer frame grabber (both available from This allows wide field snap shots for finding and pointing. This unit would not be automated, but would be available for remote use.

A Meade EXT-90 in the spotting scope configuration (Edmund Scientific) will be co-mounted with the C-14 and equipped with an Apogee LISAA CCD (purchased in yr 3) to serve as an auto guider. This will interact with the control software provided by Paramount.

We will purchase a Pentium PC computer with cdrom writer and large hard disk (UH discount price lists; computer prices are constantly changing, but for $2,000 we can get a powerful computer that will meet our needs). Windows 2000 will be the operating system as it is a true multi-user, multi-tasking operating system.

The CCD will be an Apogee AP8p ( which uses a SITe 1024x1024 sensor (24 micron square pixels). This should give 1.3 arcsec square pixels, and give us a FOV of 0.36 degrees on a side. With a 1 minute (unfiltered) exposure, the S/N = 8.9 for a 19 mag star in 60 sec. (Alternatively, we can get an SBIG CCD camera for about $2000 - not as good scientifically, but certainly ok for training.)

Joshua E. Barnes (

Last modified: September 4, 2002 [.ps]