Syllabus for Roster(s):

  • 12F ASTR 1230-100 (CGAS)
  • 12F ASTR 6230-100 (CGAS)
In the UVaCollab course site:   12F ASTR 1230

ASTR 1230 Fall 2012 Syllabus




Comet Hale Bopp


  FALL 2012











Contact Information:

Name Office Office Hours Lab Hours Email/Phone
Ricky Patterson
Astronomy 214

M after class,   T 2-3
or by appt.

Cheoljong Lee
Head 1230 TA

Astronomy 267

n/a M 8-11 PM
Apurva Oza
Lab TA
Astronomy 106 n/a T 8-11 PM
Scott Suriano
Lab TA
Astronomy 267 n/a W 8-11 PM
Meng Sun
Lab TA
Astronomy 106 n/a R 8-11 PM


Course Description:

Astronomy 1230 is an observational/laboratory course intended to familiarize you with the general features of the night sky and the astronomical objects that can be studied with small instruments, including binoculars, small telescopes, and cameras. It will develop your skills in operating astronomical instrumentation and in making and analyzing scientific observations. It also explores the central role observations have played in the development of modern astronomy and in our interpretation of the structure and evolution of the universe. The course has two main components: lectures and observational projects.

  • Lectures: The lectures will be given Monday nights from 7 to 9 PM in Clark 107 during the first half of the semester. They will cover the observable phenomena in the night sky, principles of telescopes, the nature of electromagnetic radiation and methods of its detection, and the basic observational techniques to be used in the laboratory work. It is important to attend all lectures. Lecture material will be covered on both the weekly quizzes and the midterm exam.
  • Observatory Work: The emphasis in the course is on making your own observations of the sky using your eyes, binoculars, telescopes, and other equipment such as cameras. Most work for this course will take place at the Student Observatory, which is in the U-shaped building immediately west of the Astronomy Building on McCormick Road (see the Astronomy Laboratory Maps). The Observatory Support Office and equipment storage is in room G25.



ASTR 1210 (Solar System Astronomy) or ASTR 1220 (Stars & Galaxies) are pre/co-requisite to this course. If you have not already taken one of these courses, or are not taking one this semester, you must receive the instructor's permission to enroll in ASTR 1230. Please contact the instructor in advance.

Web Pages:

UVa Collab Page for ASTR 1230 -- Astronomy Department Home Page

The ASTR 1230 Collab Page contains all announcements and information on all course policies, assignments, deadlines, weekly interactive quizes, grading, and grades. If you have questions, this is the first place to look. The page also contains links to supporting web sites on current astronomical phenomena, weather, astronomical observations, and so forth. The Collab Page is a secure site, and you will need your UVa login and NetBadge password to access it.

Lecture notes are also posted on the ASTR 1230 Collab Page. Notes will be posted the Friday before the lecture. It would be best if you read these before coming to class and were prepared with questions. You can make hardcopies to mark up during class. Reading assignments for each week are given on the corresponding set of lecture notes.

Texts and Supplies:

Texts are available in UVa Bookstore.

  • Astronomy 1230 Laboratory Manual, August 2010 Edition (Astronomy Department)
  • The Night Sky Star Finder "Sky Wheel" - Northern Hemisphere (Chandler)
  • The Edmund Mag 5 Star Atlas

You will also need to purchase a small flashlight (e.g. a Mini-Maglite). Buy one with a red filter if you can; if not, we can provide the filter. You should always bring a flashlight with you to the Observatory.

The Astronomy Minor

ASTR 1230 counts towards the requirements of the Astronomy Minor. The full requirements for a minor are: ASTR 1210, ASTR 1220, and your choice of three courses from ASTR 1230 or any 3000-level ASTR courses. If you would like to declare a Minor in Astronomy, please see the instructor for more information.

Observatory Schedule and Orientation

  • The Student Observatory is open, weather permitting, Tuesday through Thursday nights 8-11 PM all semester. On Mondays, the Observatory will open 15 minutes after the end of the lecture and close at 11 PM. If there is no Monday lecture, the Observatory will open at 8 PM. The Observatory will close promptly at the end of the scheduled period.
  • During the first full week of class, students are required to be at the Student Observatory for a lab orientation on the lab night for which they are registered. Once you are acclimated to the Observatory, you may work on any night that it is open, regardless of your formal registration. You will need to take advantage of this flexibility due to the vagaries of the weather (see next section).

Weather Warning and Personal Scheduling

  • The Observatory will be closed under adverse weather conditions (clouds, fog, precipitation). The TA's will decide whether the Observatory can open by 6:30 PM each night and post an Observatory status telephone message at 434-924-7238 at that time. Call this number for information if the weather conditions are questionable. At their discretion, the TA's can open the Observatory if conditions improve after 6:30 and will post an updated recording. Students are encouraged to use such nights, but any night that is not declared "open" by 6:30 will not count against the official quota of "clear nights." The Observatory status is also posted on our Twitter site.
  • Although you are allowed to set your own schedule for attending the Observatory, you are also responsible for completing each laboratory by the posted deadline. Deadlines and penalties for missing them are discussed further below.
  • Good observing conditions are at a premium, and you will probably not be able to complete all required work by observing only on the one night of the week for which you registered. You need to be prepared to take advantage of good weather conditions whenever they occur and to work at the Student Observatory on any night from Monday through Thursday.
  • Therefore, to achieve a good grade in this class, you must adjust your personal schedule to the course, not vice-versa. If you think this will be a problem for you, please consider taking another Astronomy course. We do not recommend that you take ASTR 1230 if you have a regular commitment that conflicts with the 8-11 PM M-R lab hours.

Preparation for Observing

  1. You are expected to be well prepared for lab work in this course. TA's will not have much time for individual instruction, so your progress will depend on your self-motivation and independence. You should be completely familiar with the goals, procedures, and technique for each lab before you go to the Student Observatory.
  2. Bring the lab manual, observing sheets, star charts (the Edmund Mag 5 Star Atlas and the Sky Wheel), flashlight, notebook, etc. with you to every observing session.
  3. Before attempting any particular lab assignment, you should carefully read the corresponding chapter in the manual. A clear understanding of what is expected in each lab will save valuable time during the limited lab hours with clear skies. Note that it is awkward to consult written material when you are working in the dark(!), so the more pre-observing preparation, the better.
  4. You should understand the observing conditions required for each lab and plan your activities well in advance. Some labs can only be done during certain phases of the Moon. Others require particularly good observing conditions (e.g. Meteors). The Variable Star Lab requires (brief) observations made over a period of 2 months. The "Time Estimate" section of each lab writeup in the Manual will alert you to special considerations.
  5. Most labs are best done during the darkest skies, i.e. in the two-week period centered on New Moon. A brief sky calendar is included at the end of this syllabus. For more complete information, you can consult some of the links from the ASTR 1230 home page.
  6. You must have filled out part of the standard observing forms used to record binocular or telescope observations before starting to observe. Preferably do this before coming to the observatory. See details in the next section.
  7. Reference materials: The Manual and the Edmund Atlas will provide most of the background information you will need in the course, but other reference materials can be obtained from the TA's or on the Internet. See the Web Links Page for a list of relevant sites.

General Observatory Procedures

  • The TA's will provide general orientation during the first full week of the semester. You must attend an orientation session that week during the hours for which you are registered for lab (regardless of the weather).
  • You will do the Constellation Lab (Lab 1) in small groups. Group sessions will take place during the first two usable nights on or after Monday, January 30.
  • The TA's will help you in learning to use the 8-in telescopes as part of doing Lab 3 (Introduction to Small Telescopes). After that, you should require relatively little help with normal observing procedures.
  • Signing In: You must sign in on the Student Log Sheet when you arrive at the Observatory.
  • Equipment: We provide all the equipment you will need to complete the labs. This is, however, expensive and in limited supply. Be careful when setting it up and using it. Be patient, think before you act, and never force anything. If there is a problem, do not hesitate to ask the TA for help. Equipment must be checked out; there are separate log sheets for equipment items. Celestron 8-in computer-controlled telescopes (at right) will be used this semester.
  • Observing Forms: Observations made with the binoculars and telescopes must be recorded on special supplied forms. As part of lab preparation, you are expected to fill out the first part of each observing form for each object you plan to observe before an observing session. The Manual describes how to fill out a form. An example is shown in the Manual and also at this site, from which you can download a digital copy of a blank form. Forms are also available in the Observatory Support Office (Rm. G25). Be sure that you make all required entries on observing forms, since they are an important part of your grade.
    • Before filling out observing forms, be sure that the objects of interest are well placed in the sky for that particular lab session. See Lecture 3.
  • Group work: Because of the limited number of telescopes, you will usually work in groups of 2-4 students. You are allowed to observe together with a group as long as the responsibilities of finding objects are shared equally and each member of the group gets a chance to observe. In a group situation, students may collaborate on setting up the telescope. They should take turns operating the telescope and finding objects. However, once an object is located, everyone in the group must independently observe it and take his or her own data. See below for the policy on pledged work.
  • Safety: Conscientiously follow the safety guidelines given in the Introduction to the ASTR 1230 Manual.
  • Shut down: At the end of each observing session, you should return the equipment to its storage place in the Support Office. Stow it carefully. Sign it back in. You are responsible for any equipment you have used. Please be prepared to complete your work for the evening and have equipment stored by the end of the scheduled Student Observatory hours.
  • Signatures: Each observing form which you fill out in the course of an evening's observing must be signed by the TA. Forms which are not signed will not be accepted for credit.
  • Be sure you complete all required parts of each lab (see the Requirement Checklist for each lab). Failure to submit complete labs on time is the most common cause of poor grades. Unwary students who get behind can flunk this course!

Independent Work

Any material submitted for grading in this course is assumed to be entirely your own work and will be regarded as IMPLICITLY PLEDGED, whether it is pledged in writing or not. Students may work together in setting up and pointing telescopes, though each person should contribute to the effort. However, when you make an entry on an observing form (describing sky conditions or an object viewed through the telescope, for instance) you must do so without consulting anyone other than the instructor or a TA. It is not permissible to copy any material from anyone else's notebook or observing sheets. It is not permissible to collaborate with other students on the non-telescopic assignments. You must turn in your original notes and signed observing forms for each lab. Suspected violations of this policy will be referred to an Honor Advisor. If you have questions about this policy, you should consult with the instructor or a TA.

Course Requirements and Grading

Your grade will be based on a nominal maximum possible score of 1000 points, earned from the weekly responses (due in class), weekly review quizzes, the midterm exam, and the completion of at least six laboratory exercises. There is no final exam.


The weekly responses are your written "response" to the lecture, and are due at the end of each class, except for the midterm. They should contain at least two points you didn't understand from the lecture, and two points which you did understand (with a description that demonstrates that you did). These should be less than 1 page in total.

The review quizzes are intended to consolidate your understanding of the material in the lectures and reading on a weekly basis. They will be made available for interactive completion on the ASTR 1230 Collab site. Each quiz will be open for student access for one week and will close before the subsequent week's lecture. You should be sure to complete each quiz on time. The quizzes, the midterm, and four of the labs (Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the Manual) are required of all students. The maximum possible score on the required work is 700 points. You can choose among the remaining labs which to submit for the last 300 points. These are called "optional" labs. Labs which do not require nighttime observations are called "day" labs. Two of these (Labs 10 and 12) involve observations of the Sun. The four "CLEA" labs are based on computerized simulations and do not require actual observations. Complete instructions for the observing labs are given in the ASTR 1230 Lab Manual. The "CLEA" labs can be accessed over the internet from the UVa "Hive," and instructions and data sheets can be obtained from Contact the TA's to arrange sessions to undertake Labs 10 and 12. Labs vary in length and difficulty and are assigned different amounts of credit. The optional labs are worth 100 or 200 points each. Therefore, you will have to do either 2 or 3 optional labs to reach the nominal 1000 point maximum possible total. A complete list of the labs and the credit possible for each is given in Table 2 below. Final grades will be assigned on the basis of a nominal perfect score of 1000 points. Letter grades will be based on a curve, with boundaries to be adjusted according to the actual performance of the class. But the following grade breaks are guaranteed: 930 = A-; 850 = B-; 730 = C-. If your total score reaches these levels you are guaranteed to receive these letter grades or higher. Lab reports are expected to be well organized, neatly presented, and clear. For this reason, hand-written work, other than the standard observing forms and data sheets provided with some of the laboratories, will not be accepted. You should word-process the text of submitted labs. Follow the instructions in Appendices D and E of the Lab Manual for writing up reports.


It is important that you work continuously throughout the semester to complete your lab work. To help you stay on track, there are firm deadlines for submission of work, and a penalty of 15% of the possible credit will be applied for work turned in after a deadline.

An lab is late if it is not turned in by 6:00 PM on the due date. Submit work  in the special ASTR 1230 submission box located outside Room 267 in the Astronomy Building. Initial deadlines for each assignment are listed below in Table 1 but an up-to-date version list of all deadlines are on the Schedule page in Collab.

Note: Assignments are designed so that any student can complete the requirements even in the event of a large amount of bad weather if the student does not waste clear lab nights. If the weather is unusually bad, we will reschedule the deadlines for everyone. However, our judgement is final regarding change of deadlines, and the class will be notified well in advance if changes are to be made. It is up to you to keep yourself informed of deadlines. You should regularly consult the Announcements Page and the Schedule Page on the ASTR 1230 Collab site. To put this simply, bad weather is not an excuse for missing deadlines.

The deadline for each of the weekly review quizzes, which will be open to you on Collab after each lecture, is 7 PM on the subsequent Monday.

    • Note: you must do Lab 3 before attempting Lab 4 or any of the more advanced telescope labs.

Table 1: (Initial) Schedule & Deadlines

Always check Schedule link in Collab for updates to any deadlines

Lecture Topics & Events Assignments Due Quiz Due Date
9/3/12 Introduction, procedures, policies.   Mandatory Lab orientation  
9/10/12 The night sky. Constellations. Constellation Quiz Quiz 1 0(9/10)
9/17/12 Introduction to telescopes & binoculars.
Lab write-up procedures.
  Quiz 2 (09/17)
9/24/12 Observing techniques. Lab 2 Due 9/28  Quiz 3 (09/24)
10/1/12 Solar System astronomy.   Quiz 4 (10/01)
10/8/12 Fall Reading Days: No lecture. Labs closed.    
10/15/12 Stellar Astronomy.   Quiz 5 (10/15)
10/22/12 Galactic astronomy. Lab 3 Due 10/26   Quiz 6 (10/22)
10/29/12 Astronomical imaging.   Quiz 7 (10/29)
11/5/12 MIDTERM EXAM First Optional Lab Due 11/9  

Quiz 8 (11/05)

11/12/12 Exam returned & discussed. Lab administration.    
11/19/12 No lecture.Labs closed T, W, R for Thanksgiving Lab 4 Due 11/20   
11/26/12 No lecture.    
12/3/12 No lecture. LAST LAB NIGHT (THURS 12/6)


MONDAY, 12/10 6 PM 






Table 2: Course Credit

Assignment Estimated Number
Lab Sessions
Maximum Points
In Class Assignment    
Weekly Response n/a 25
Weekly Review Quizzes: Lecture material, reading,
basic observing techniques
n/a 75
Midterm Exam: Lecture material, reading,
basic observing techniques.
n/a 100
Required Labs    
Lab 1: Constellations 1 100
Lab 2: Introduction to Binocular Observing 1 100
Lab 3: Introduction to Small Telescopes 2 150
Lab 4: Telescope Observing I 2 150
Optional** Observational Labs    
Lab 5: Telescopic Observations of the Moon 2 200
Lab 6: Pulsating Variable Stars 2-3/week 200
Lab 7: Telescope Observing II 3 200
Lab 8: Astrophotography 2-3 200
Lab 9: Meteor Shower 1 200
Lab 10: Rotation of the Sun/Sunspots 5-6 (daytime) 200
Lab 11: Speed of Light/Eclipses of Io 1-2 200
Lab 12: Navigation by the Sun 1 (daytime) 200
Optional** Non-Observational Labs    
Lab 13: CLEA - Moons of Jupiter   100
Lab 14: CLEA - Hubble's Law   100
Lab 15: CLEA - Classification of Stellar Spectra   100
Lab 16: CLEA - Photometry of the Pleiades   100
TOTAL expected submitted work   1000


** You must submit optional labs worth a combined maximum possible total of 300 points: This can be broken down as follows:

  • Two observational labs,
  • OR one observational lab and one non-observational lab,
  • OR three non-observational labs.







For more details, see the Sky and Telescope "Sky at a Glance" Web Page


Heavens Above chart for Charlottesville, Sep 10th, 2012 at 10pm

Sky at 10 PM, September 10, 2012 (from Heavens Above)

Planet Visibility:

  • Mercury briefly visible in W sky after sunset in late October (before lab starts); then in E sky before dawn in late November, early December. Not visible during lab hours this semester.

  • Venus will be in the morning sky through the end of the year. Not visible during lab hours this semester.

  • Mars a very early evening object in September before disappearing into the daytime sky. Not visible during lab hours this semester (except at the start of the night at the beginning of semester).

  • Jupiter in Taurus, where it is a morning object until October when it starts to appear late in the evening. Visible during lab hours as the semester progresses.

  • Saturn in Virgo, moving towards Libra. Not visible during lab hours this semester (except at the start of the night at the beginning of the semester).

  • Uranus in Cetus and Pisces in the evening sky. Visible during lab hours.

  • Neptune in Aquarius, in the evening sky after Opposition in late August. Visible during lab hours.

    • 08/31: Full Moon
    • 09/10: Mercury at Superior Conjunction
    • 09/16: New Moon
    • 09/22: Autumnal Equinox
    • 09/29: Uranus at Opposition
    • 09/30: Full Moon
    • 10/15: New Moon
    • 10/21: Approximate peak of Orionids meteor shower
    • 10/26: Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
    • 10/29: Full Moon
    • 11/04: Daylight savings time ends (Sunday, 11/04, 2 AM)
    • 11/13: New Moon
    • 11/17: Mercury at Inferior Conjunction
    • 11/17: Approximate peak of Leonids meteor shower
    • 11/27: Conjunction of Venus and Saturn (before sunrise)
    • 11/28: Full Moon (Penumbral Lunar Eclipse)
    • 12/03: Jupiter at Opposition
    • 12/04: Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation



Last modified Sep 2012 by RJP

Text copyright © 2000-2012 Robert W. O'Connell. All rights reserved.