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AS4025   Observational Astrophysics

Academic year(s): 2019-2020

Key information

SCOTCAT credits : 15

ECTS credits : 7

Level : SCQF level 10

Semester: 1

Availability restrictions: Not automatically available to General Degree students

Planned timetable: 2.00-5.30 pm Mon and Thu

This is an observational and laboratory-based module that introduces students to the hands-on practical aspects of planning observing programmes, conducting the observations and reducing and analysing the data. The exact topics covered may change annually depending on resource availability; examples include galaxy imaging, exoplanet transits and radio telescope construction. Sources of data may include telescopes at the University Observatory and/or international observatories. Students gain experience in observation, data analysis, the Linux operating system, standard astronomical software packages and modelling, and report writing

Relationship to other modules

Pre-requisite(s): Before taking this module you must ( pass AS2001 or pass AS2101 ) and pass PH2011 and pass PH2012 and ( pass MT2001 or pass 2 modules from {MT2501, MT2503} )

Learning and teaching methods and delivery

Weekly contact: 2 x 3.5-hour laboratories plus supervised work in the observatory.

Scheduled learning hours: 78

Guided independent study hours: 72

Assessment pattern

As used by St Andrews: Coursework = 100%

As defined by QAA
Written examinations : 0%
Practical examinations : 0%
Coursework: 100%

Re-assessment: No Re-assessment available - laboratory based


Module coordinator: Professor A C Cameron
Module teaching staff: Prof A Cameron, Dr A Scholz, Dr C Cyganowski

Additional information from school


Astrophysics is an observational, rather than an experimental, science. Nearly all the information that astronomers can gather about the Universe at large and the objects within it comes to us in the form of electromagnetic radiation. In this course students will gain an understanding of the observational work required for astronomical research.


Aims & Objectives

The aim of this module is to familiarise students with a wide range of observational techniques in astronomy and astrophysics. Students will gain practical experience in instrument building planning, documenting and conducting astronomical observations, data analysis, and report writing.


Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, students should  have a comprehensive knowledge of basic ground-based observational techniques and data-analysis methods and be able to:


  • Plan a set of observations.
  • Acquire optical images of various astronomical objects, including the necessary calibration data.
  • Perform photometry using standard astronomical software packages under the Linux operating system.
  • Carry out the basic reduction and advanced analysis of optical images.
  • Record and write up results in a professional manner.



This module provides an overview of the practical part of research in observational astronomy. Students learn how to plan observations with telescopes at the university observatory, followed by data reduction and analysis. The exact topics covered  may change annually: examples include galaxy imaging, exoplanet transits and constructing and observing with radio telescopes.  Further sources of data may be made available from international observatories. Students gain experience in observation, data analysis, the Linux operating system, standard astronomical software packages and modelling, and report writing.


Laboratory Hours (to be confirmed)

Mondays and Thursdays: 14:00 to 17:30, starting the Thursday (TBC) of presessional week. There are also some evening/night sessions.


Additional information on continuous assessment etc

Please note that the definitive comments on continuous assessment will be communicated within the module.  This section is intended to give an indication of the likely breakdown and timing of the continuous assessment. 


This is a 15 credit module, so is expected to take 150 hours of study for the average student at this level.  The module’s work is finished by revision week, so students can expect to commit about 14 hours a week to the module in weeks 1 to 11, including the scheduled afternoon sessions  and the time spent observing.


This module has three assessed assignments, which are likely to be due in weeks 5, 8, and 11.  This module is 100% continuously assessed.  The continuous assessment is expected to take the form of three formal writeups, one for each observing "lab," and lab book quiz(zes).  The first writeup is a collaborative small-group report; the other two reports are written individually by each student.


Accreditation Matters

This module may not contain material that is part of the IOP “Core of Physics”, but does contribute to the wider and deeper learning expected in an accredited degree programme.  The skills developed in this module, and others, contribute towards the requirements of the IOP “Graduate Skill Base”.


Recommended Books

Please view University online record:


General Information

Please also read the general information in the School's honours handbook that is available via