Observational Astronomy (2023 Fall)

Information and Course Material for Observational Astronomy (30920023-90; 2023 Fall)

The Goal of this Course

In the last decade, ground-breaking astronomical discoveries have entered the science spotlight and collected a bucketload of Nobel Physics medals. Do you know which surreal technology enables the confirmation of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy? Can you imagine astronomers’ challenges when searching for the first exoplanet? Do you understand the amount of effort behind the observational evidence for the “accelerated expansion of the Universe”? “Astronomy is a discipline based on observation.” And, in this course, we will show you what it means.

This course will give you a panoramic view of the landscape of modern astronomical observation, including some of the frontlines of observational astrophysics. We will focus on the optical/infrared observations and cover the basics of the multi-wavelength and multi-messenger sides of the subject. This course will give a basic grasp of fundamental concepts and methods of observational astronomy. Through a small project, you will also taste actual observation and essential data reduction.

This course will primarily cover four topics: 1. Observation: What is astronomical observation? Why do these observations? What did astronomers in history observe? And what are today’s astrophysics targets? 2. Measurement: What are astronomers measuring during the observation? How do they achieve it? What fundamental space, time, and energy reference systems support all the cutting-edge observations? 3. Instrument: What equipment and instruments are essential for modern observation? And which exciting technologies are involved? 4. Methodology: How do the data collected during the observation become “science”? What are this critical data reduction step’s common sense and universal logic?


  • Lecture time/place: Wednesday 19:20-21:45, Room A113 of the 6th Teaching Building (第六教学楼)
  • Instructor: Song Huang (黄崧)
  • Teaching Assistant: Ming-Yu Li (李明宇)
  • Language: This course will be in Chinese; the lecture slides and homework assignments will be in English.


Attendance Policy

  • This course will not check your attendance during the lectures. Your in-person participation is strongly encouraged, but you should prioritize your own schedule.
  • If you cannot come to the classroom in person for a valid reason but still want to listen to the lecture through a telecon service or a video recording, you should let me know first. I will do my best to help.

Hands-on Section

  • This course will also provide a small, parallel “crash course” about several practical skills required to become a “high-end” amateur astronomer or a professional one. This involves knowing a bunch of cool websites or online tools that can make your life easier and learning a few cross-platform, open-source software that helps you play with real data, just like a sophisticated astronomer.
    • You can find the installers for several of the most useful software on this Tsinghua Cloud link
  • The course will also use a hands-on data analysis task as the final project. By default, we use Python programming language in the interactive mode through a wonderful software package called Jupyter. Within a Jupyter Notebook, you can load a series of tools (or Python libraries) provided by the community to help you deal with real imaging data of your favorite object.
    • Python is the default language for data science these days. It doesn’t hurt to learn a little Python, even with zero programming background. It is not very difficult. And the course will provide you with a demo.
    • If you can finish the project using a different language, please feel free to do so.

Grading Scheme

  • Homework (40%): There will be 5 homework assignments. Each assignment will be worth 7% of the final grade.
    • You will get a 5% Attendance score for free. Your in-person participation in the lecture is encouraged but is not a mandate.
  • Midterm (20%): One midterm exam will have 20 single-choice questions.
    • We will host the exam on Week 11 to avoid conflict with other mid-term exams.
  • Final Project (40%): “hands-on” imaging data analysis using Python or any other programming language:
    • If you are using Python, you will provide a Jupyter notebook that can be executed to reproduce the results.
    • If you are using a different programming language, you will provide the codes & a report to explain what you did.


  • The schedule for the rest of the semester will be updated later.
  • We will also provide the links to the slides for the lectures here. In case you want to see the step-by-step version of the PDF files of the slides, please find them in this Tsinghua Cloud link.
Week Date Lectures Crash Course
1 2023-09-20 To View the Universe (Keynote) Share the Sky
2 2023-09-27 Spatio-Temporal Reference Frames (Keynote) Organizing the Sky
3 National Day    
4 2023-10-11 Radiation (Keynote) Filters & Units; CDS Portal
5 2023-10-18 From ISM to the Atmosphere TBD
6 2023-10-25 Modern Telescopes TBD

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is one of the cornerstones of the Tsinghua University. It is critically important to maintain our community, which honors the values of honesty, trust, respect, fairness, and responsibility, and to protect you, the students within this community, and the value of the degree towards which you are all working so diligently.

Both the teacher and students of this course will follow the guidance of the Tsinghua University Academic Integrity Policy. Any violation, such as cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, interference, and obstruction, will be reported to the Department of Astronomy.