Courses taught by William F. van Altena

The following are courses that I normally teach along with a rough syllabus for the last time that I taught them.

Astronomy 110 - Birth, Life, and Death of Stars

Astronomy 250 - Observational Astronomy

Astronomy 355 - Observational Astonomy (Advanced)

Astronomy 575 - Astrometry

Astronomy 701 - Research Seminar in Astrometry

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Astronomy 110 -

This course in is intended for non-science majors. An introduction to the solar system and stars, the physical principles involved in understanding their origin and evolution, and to the instruments of astronomy used to observe them. I will be teaching this course in the Spring term of 2001.

Astronomy 250 -

This course was taught through the academic year 1998/99. It has now been replaced by a lower level course, Astro 205, which concentrates on the hands-on use of our new Campus telescope using electronic detectors and understanding the reduction of astronomical data using computers. More advanced students now take Astro 355, which concentrates on the design and use of optical telescopes, photometers, spectrographs, and detectors to make astronomical observations. An emphasis is placed on the understanding of geometrical optics and techniques of ray tracing in the design of astronomical instruiments and telescopes.

Astronomy 250 Class Schedule
Spring 1999


Topic of Lecture

Reading Assignment in Fundamental Astronomy

Jan. 12


Chapters 1 & 3

Jan. 19

The Celestial Sphere and Astronomical Coordinate Systems

Chapter 2

Jan. 26

Introduction to Error Analysis

Topping & Bevington

Feb. 2

Masses of Stars

Chapter 10 & Smart pp.

Feb. 9

Magnitudes and Colors of Stars

Chapters 3.3, 4, 5.6, & 6

Feb. 16

Spectral Classification

Chapters 3.3, 5, & 9

Feb. 23

Stellar Distances and Motions

Chapters 17 & 18.1

Mar. 2

Hour Exam #1

Topics through and incl. Feb. 9

Mar. 9-22

Spring Recess

Mar. 23

Star Clusters and Evolution

Chapter s17, 11, 12, 14 & 15

Mar. 30

Our Galaxy

Chapters 16 & 18

Apr. 6


Chapter 19

Apr. 13

Structure of the Universe and Cosmology

Chapter 20

Apr. 20

Hour Exam #2

Topics including Feb. 16 through Apr. 6

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Astronomy 250 Laboratory Exercise Schedule
Spring 1999


Laboratory Subject

Hand Out

Due Date

1.& 2.

Telescopes & the Celestial Sphere

Jan. 18

Jan. 25


Error Analysis

Jan. 25

Feb. 1


Masses of Stars

Feb. 1

Feb. 15


CCD Photometry

Feb. 8

Feb. 22


Spectral Classification

Feb. 15

Mar. 5 (Friday!)


Distances to Star Clusters

Feb. 22

Apr. 5


Ages of Star Clusters

Feb. 22

Apr. 5


Radius and Mass of Our Galaxy

Apr. 5

Apr. 19


Galaxy Classification

Apr. 12

Apr. 26

Telescope Observing Laboratories


Solar Observing

Jan. 19

Mar. 6 (Friday!)


Nighttime Observing

Jan. 19

Apr. 27

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Astronomy 355 -

The design and use of optical telescopes, photometers, spectrographs, and detectors to make astronomical observations. An emphasis is placed on the understanding of geometrical optics and techniques of ray tracing in the design of astronomical instruments and telescopes. I taught this course in the Sprng Term of 1999.

Topics for Spring Term of 1999

Reflection, refraction and optical path length

Plane-parallel plates, prisms (deviation angle, dispersion, Risley prisms)

Spherical surfaces, real and virtual images, graphical constructions, Gaussian lens formula

Lens maker's formula, thin lens combinations

Thick lenses, principal points and planes, Gaussian formulae and oblique ray method

Nodal points, planes and applications

Spherical mirrors, concave and convex and graphical constructions

Sperical abberation from mirrors and its correction, astiigmatism

Stops - aperture and field, exit and entrance pupils

Ray tracing theory - first and third order, and the Seidel aberrations

Spherical aberration with examples form HST and COSTAR

Coma, lens design solutions and the Sine theorem

Astigmatism and optimal solutions

Curvature of the field and Optical Field Angle Distortion

Chromatic aberration and doublet solutions

Introduction to computer ray tracing

Telescopes and eyepieces - various astronomical designs

The WIYN 3.5-meter telescope

Field flatteners and correctors

The Atmosphere - turbulence, refraction and transmission properties

Speckle interferometry, Active and Adaptive optics, limits to astrometric precision

CCD's and the detection of radiation - charge transfer, signal-to-noise, detective quantum efficiency, optimizing the output S/N

S/N in photography and its optimizatin

Image centering with CCD's and in photography

Time-delayed integration (drift scanning) techniques for photometry and astrometry

Spectrographs - prisms, diffraction gratings and echelles, spectral resolution and dispersion

Objective prism, slit and fiber-fed spectorgraphs

Problem Set



Light rays and plane surfaces.


Spherical Surfaces, Thin and Thick Lenses.


Spherical Mirrors, Stops and Ray Tracing.


Exercises in Computer Ray Tracing


Ray Tracing a Modified Hartmann Focus Sensor.


Ray Tracing the WIYN Telescope

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Astronomy 575 - Astrometry

Fall 1999 Topics and Schedule



Sept. 3

Binary stars, orbit determination and stellar masses.

Sept. 6, 13

Observation of Binary Stars from the ground, HST and Hipparcos; the RIT-Yale-WIYN Double Star program.

Sept. 15, 20

The Hipparcos Astrometric Satellite.

Sept. 22, 27

The proposed astrometric satellites FAME and SIM.

Sept. 29 & Oct. 4

Trigonometric Parallaxes - Spherical trigonometry; Trig. parallaxes; photographic and modern detectors, Hipparcos, HST, FAME and SIM; correction to absolute parallax; the Yale Parallax Catalogue.

Oct. 6

The calibration of luminosities and the Mass-Luminosity relation using trigonometric parallaxes.

Oct. 11, 13

CCD transit instruments, drift scanning and stare mode; Atmospheric limits to precision in ground-based Astrometry.

Oct. 18, 20

Stellar Positions - Reference systems; astrographs - types, optical and mechanical alignment; the gnomonic projection.

Oct. 25

Transformation of right ascension and declination to rectangular standard coordinates and vice versa; correcting for refraction, precession, nutation and aberration of light; transformation to and from B1950 to J2000.

Oct. 27

The practice of transforming measured to standard coordinates; wide field astrographs and simplifications for long focus telescopes.

Nov. 1

Modeling prime focus and Schmidt telescope fields; the deep Schmidt survey catalogues: GSC, STScI Digital Sky Survey, USNO A2.0, etc.

Nov. 3

The establishment of astrometric calibration regions and the determination of positions for objects much fainter than existing reference stars.

Nov. 8

Characteristics of CCD's and the photographic emulsion as detectors. Theory and practice of measuring machines, including the Yale PDS.

Nov. 10

Astrometry and Galactic Structure - The role that Astrometry plays in defining the spatial and kinematic structure of the Galaxy.

Nov. 15

The determination of proper motions with respect to galaxies and the Lick and Yale-San Juan proper motion programs.

Nov. 17

Membership and internal motion determinations in star clusters.

Nov. 22, 24

Thanksgiving vacation.

Thanksgiving vacation.

Student papers

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Astronomy 701 - Research Seminar in Astrometry

This research seminar brings together individuals in the Astronomy Department who are working on a variety of astrometric problems on a weekly basis. The goal of the seminar is to familiarize the participants with current research activities in astrometry and aid in the solution of problems that each individual might be having. This course normally meets once a week throughout each academic year.

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