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ASTR 530 : Teaching Astronomy Laboratory


NEXT OFFERED: Spring 2023, starting Jan 9


Methods and facilities of observational astronomy for public education. Includes training in telescopes, astronomical binoculars, portable planetariums, telescopes, digital cameras, photography (still, 3D, and time lapse). Students will help train beginners in the use of telescopes and carry out a modest observational program. The course requires one public presentation and internship work. Topics may vary with each offering.

Note - for 2023 we will have a focus on observing the upcoming solar eclipses, including training in citizen science activities. Visiting, Professional Development, and MST teachers must contact Dr. Reiff (reiff@rice.edu) before class starts.

Prerequisite(s): Any of: ASTR 230, ASTR 350, ASTR 360, ASTR 402, 403, 502, or 503 or permission of instructor. (Note: undergraduates considering a formal or informal teaching career may enroll. Contact instructor for registration waiver.)


This course introduces teachers (inservice or preservice) to the fundamentals of astronomical hardware and software, including telescopes, binoculars, sky software, spectroscopy, digital cameras, movie-making, CCD imagery, planetariums, etc. For 2023 there will be a special focus on solar and eclipse observing techniques and activities.


As a result of this class, the student will be able to:
1. set up, align and operate manual and computerized telescopes and astronomical binoculars.
2. (Communication) teach others how to use a telescope safely.
3. compute the magnification of a telescope from the focal length of the objective and the eyepiece, and perform other calculations relative to image size and brightness.
4. make an anaglyph 3D stereo image.
5. make a stop-action time lapse movie.
6. use filters for safe solar observations, and (Communication) to demonstrate safe techniques to others.
7. create an observational project that is suitable for the level of their own students (e.g. middle school, high school), and demonstrate to the class.
8. set up and operate a portable planetarium.
9. safely observe and photograph the Sun.


Instructor Prof. Patricia Reiff (reiff@rice.edu), with special activities by Adjunct Prof. Carolyn Sumners of the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
Classroom HBH 223, 6:00 - 9 pm MONDAYS starting January 25, plus observatory (BRK400), planetarium (BRK250) and lab sessions TBD
Also used: Oncampus Observatory, HMNS Planetarium, George Observatory and HBH 254. One overnight at George Observatory if it can be arranged.
Text "Space Update" DVD-Rom ($5) and other handouts.
Strongly recommended: Personal laptop and "Stellarium" (free planetarium software from stellarium.org). Also very helpful: headlamp with red/white LED light; good quality binoculars.
Grading: Roughly 120 points possible. Two take-home exams each counting 30 points, plus around 60 points for homework. No comprehensive final exam.
Students With Disabilities Any student with a disability requiring accommodations in this course is encouraged to contact me after class or during office hours. Additionally, students will also need to contact Disability Support Services in the Allen Center. Students will need to climb a few steps to use the 16 inch telescope but may use the smaller scopes without climbing.


January 9, HBH 223 Orientation and filling out of forms. (Visiting teachers must contact Dr. Reiff before the first official class) Downloading and installing Stellarium and Space Update. Bring your laptop to class each week. Celestial coordinates: alt/az; RA/Dec. Homework 1 out.
January 16, HBH 223 NO CLASS FOR MLK HOLIDAY. NOTE drop deadline for 100% refund of tuition is Jan 20.
Jan 23, HBH 223 Kinds of telescopes: refractors, reflectors. Parts of a telescope. Visit the campus observatory to view the telescopes.
Jan 30, HBH 223 Parts of a telescope; binoculars, lenses, focal length, image orientation and apparent size
Feb 6, HBH 223 Snell's law, index of refraction, sines and cosines, f-ratio, magnification and image brightness
Feb 9, HBH 223 (IF CLEAR) at Observatory: 7 pm. setting up and aligning the 11 inch and 16 inch telescopes. Observing session. (IF CLOUDY - cancelled)
Feb 13, HBH 223 Digital Cameras: Bring your digital camera (preferably a SLR with manual settings). We will discuss techniques of astrophotography, f numbers, etc. We will demonstrate how to set up for the 3D image taking (homework 3) and the time lapse photography (homework 2). Using special modes on cameras: when to use "portrait" mode, "sports" mode, "landscape" mode etc. More on f numbers.
Feb 20, HBH 223 then BRK 400 Solar observing techniques. Solar eclipses: alignment, special filters. Safe observing techniques. Solar observing at BRK 400: use of sunspotters and h-alpha telescopes.
Feb 27, HBH 223 the Sun and solar eclipse observing and activities.
March 6, HBH 223 History of the telescope. Saving the dark. lenses and the basics of CCD imagery.
Mar 20, HBH 223 then BRK B13 Seasons; Equinox at HMNS.
Mar 27, HBH 223 then BRK B13 Portable planetarium: how to set up and use.
April 3, TBD (If clear): Special eclipse activity practice. (Homework 8); finish up activities
April 10, HBH 223 Class presentations: show the others in the class the observing project you will do with your students. (Homework 5).
April 17, HBH 223 Review session if needed (virtual only)

HOMEWORK Spring 2023 (tentative)