PHYSICS 1081 ``Planetary Astronomy Lab''  Fall 2021

Saturn Image Credits: 1.00     CRN: 21965
Class Home page: 

Instructor: Dr. Jason Pinkney
Office hours  in 111 Science Annex at  these times: 10-noon on T, 2-4pm on W, 10-1pm on Thur.
Email or call my office: 419-772-2740.
Instructor's Home page:

Class time:  Tuesday 11:00-11:45 AM (brief meetings). Nighttime labs will be on Tuesday or Thursday evening (depending on weather) 8:45-10:00 pm (beginning of term), ~7:30-8:45 pm (end of term).
Class place:  Science Annex 108A (brief meetings); ONU Observatory (outdoor labs).

Observatory Phone: 419-772-4028


     (The place for any additions.)

Indoor/Outdoor Lab: Observing the Planets PDF. In case you need to print out replacement pages.

Online Lab: Mountains on the Moon Lab This 5-page PDF is a nice activity about measuring the height of a lunar mountain. It requires no data, but it can replace the outdoor lab "Lunar Surface Features". You would make a hardcopy, fill it in, and turn it in.

Online Lab: Comet Motion Lab This lab requires two images of a comet taken at known times. One of them gives the "plate scale" in arcseconds per pixel. The other may be at a different scale. Your job is to analyze the images and figure out the comet's speed in units like degrees/day.


Course Description:
Astronomy labs requiring math at the algebra level. These labs will reinforce the material presented in class (PHY 1051), including: the celestial sphere, coordinate systems, motions of the planets, planetary surface features, lunar surface features, moons of planets, and small bodies of the solar system.

PHYS 1081 is the lab associated with the course PHYS 1051, Planetary Astronomy. There is only 1 section, since mainly astronomy minors and physics majors with astronomy concentration need to take this lab.

Lab logistics: The class time is usually listed as "TBA", so our first job is to determine good times to meet. I will send out an email on the first week to check with you about suggested times. We will have an informational meeting on the second week in which we review the syllabus and you will be assigned your first lab. Labs consist of indoor labs (mostly computer-based) and outdoor labs.   The outdoor labs require a mostly clear sky and will be postponed in the case of bad weather. The indoor labs will primarily be from the Virtual Astronomy Labs software which is loaded on various computers in the Physics Dept and the Observatory. We will do the outdoor labs together at the Observatory, while the indoor labs are done independently either at the Observatory, in the Astronomy Lab (SA 108A), or in the Physics Lounge (SA 116).   We will set aside 2 nights a week for outdoor labs, but we won't go out if cloudy weather is in the forecast. Thus, on average, we will end up using less than 1 night per week. You can walk to the observatory, or arrange with me a ride from the Physics Department. Let me know your preference.

Course materials: No textbook required. Please have a notebook with neatly detachable paper for working on indoor (VAL) labs. Clipboards and lights will be provided at the observatory. Two, 3-ring binders containing the instructions for the Virtual Astronomy Labs will be kept in SA 108A. It is also helpful to have an astronomy textbook, like the one used in PHYS 1051, for reviewing the principles being studied. Old editions can be found in SA 116.


Tests Telescope proficiency and sky quiz. 10%
Labs Labs (about 50% indoor and 50% outdoor). 90% *
* If weather conditions or other circumstances interfere with the Telescope proficiency and sky quiz, the grade may be based 100% on the Labs.

Your final letter grade is calculated roughly as follows:


I will not grade any "harder" than the above. 

Course Policies

Attendance  is essential for labs.  One short period per week for the daytime meeting and one night a week is all that is expected.   An extra night is reserved to make up for cloudy nights, but some weeks will be completely clouded out. (This is one reason why the Outdoor labs are allotted 2 weeks on the schedule.)
Most of the lab work will be computer-based labs which are done outside of class time.

Telescope Certification -> Final/Sky Quiz You can earn a certificate meaning that you can operate our telescopes independently. The certification has two parts: a "sky quiz", and a telescope operation test. We may not have time to certify everyone to use the telescopes. However, we will still have the "sky quiz" portion of certification. This may consist of an oral exam component (called "sky quiz" in the schedule) in which you answer questions about the night sky. But possibly it will be done as a written Final Quiz. You should be able to identify at least 7 constellations, and the 5 brightest objects (stars or planets) visible.  Be able to find the north celestial pole, the zenith, and the celestial equator.  If we don't get a clear night during the last week, I will test you using a planetarium program. "Telescope Certification" requires one to set up a telescope and acquire targets in the telescope.

Calculators. I encourage you to have a calculator in this lab.

Schedule (tentative):
Week of Indoor Lab Outdoor lab   (if clear)
W1 (8/23-27) We choose meeting times.
Choose meeting time.
W2 Syllabus. "Observing the planets"   Orientation/"Observing the planets"
W3 (9/8-10)
"Observing the planets" "Observing the planets"
W4 (9/13-17)
"Observing the ...", VAL 6 "Observing the planets"
VAL 6 ("Latitude, Axial Tilt, ...")
"Observing the planets"
W6 VAL 9/11 ("Orbital Motion of a Planet")
"Angles in the Sky"
VAL 9/11 (Use Pinkney's program)
"Angles in the Sky"
W8 (10/13-15) VAL 7 (Lunar motion) "Satellite Predictions"
W9 VAL 7 (Lunar motion)
"Satellite Predictions"
W10 VAL 10/12 "Kepler's Laws"
"Lunar Surface Features"
W11 VAL 10/12 "Lunar Surface Features"
W12 (11/8-12) VAL 11/13 Planetary Ring systems
Imaging Comets/Asteroids
W13 (11/15-19) VAL 11/13 Imaging Comets/Asteroids
W14 (11/29-12/3) Sky quiz
Finishing remaining labs
W15 Sky quiz.

Additional policies
Academic Misconduct In PHYS 1081 (this class), you are encouraged to discuss your assignments with classmates. However, you should not copy each other's work. There may be some outdoor labs where you will be using the same data, but do your own calculations and analysis. For indoor, "Virtual" labs, each of you should have different data provided randomly by the computer, so here it is expected that you have slightly different results. Both parties may be penalized points for having identical results for the VAL labs.

ONU Health & Safety ONU wrote this Safety Plan for 2021-2022 on 8/9/21. The key point is that all students must wear masks in class. During the delta surge, it is wise to wear a mask indoors even if vaccinated. We are not requiring social distancing, but it is still a good idea to be spread out in our seating. Let me know if you have to quarantine or isolate so that I can help you keep up with the class.

Other Mandatory Syllabus Information:
Disability services Academic Honesty (Append. F, p. 97) Title IX

  Cool astronomy Links Pinkney's Homepage The ONU Physics Homepage