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Astronomical Instrumentation


This 13-week seminar-style course is designed to provide students and researchers with an introduction and overview of the different types of instruments that are used at major ground-based astronomical observatories and on NASA/ESA/JAXA spacecraft roaming throughout the solar system. Today, scientific instruments exist that allow study of the solar system, Milky Way Galaxy, and larger universe across the entire range of the electromagnetic spectrum from gamma rays to radio waves. 

Course Goals and Prerequisites

The primary goal for this course is for students to have a broad introduction and exposure to the scientific instruments that are used at large astronomical observatories and on planetary spacecraft missions. By the end of the course, students should be able to select the appropriate instruments for the study of a particular object, such as the Sun, Jupiter, or an asteroid; understand the basic designs and operations of the instruments; and understand the data products produced and how that data helps to address related scientific questions. 

This course does not have a formal prerequisite, but students are encouraged to have successfully completed Observational Astronomy before taking this course. 

Course Objectives

Students will read and discuss material (textbook + research papers) that provide detailed descriptions of the operation of each instrument, the data that is produced, and the type of science that is facilitated with each instrument. Examples include:

  • Visible, infrared, and X-ray imagers.

  • Magnetographs and magnetograms.

  • Different types of spectrographs.

  • Planetary rover instrumentation.

  • Detectors such as CCDs and infrared arrays.

Sample Syllabus

The course syllabus and weekly schedule will be as follows:​

  • Week 1: Introduction to the course, history and overview of electronic imaging.

  • Week 2: Introduction to detectors, CCD cameras and their characteristics.

  • Week 3: CCD camera, hardware, performance, calibration, and optimization.

  • Week 4: Continuation of the discussion of CCD cameras.

  • Week 5: Infrared arrays.

  • Week 6: Ultraviolet, X-ray, and Gamma Ray imaging.

  • Week 7: Introduction to spectroscopy.

  • Week 8: Review papers of representative spacecraft spectrographs.

  • Week 9: Review papers of representative spacecraft imagers.

  • Week 10: Review papers of representative Mars rover instrumentation.

  • Week 11: Review papers of representative astrophysics spacecraft instruments.

  • Week 12: Review papers of representative heliophysics spacecraft instruments.

  • Week 13: Final Examination. 

What is provided: PowerPoint presentations, instrument PDF research papers, dedicated instructor, weekly chat sessions.

What students provide: Their self-motivation, purchase of the textbook, and a desire to learn. 


The textbooks and course material for this course include the following:

  • Electronic Imaging In Astronomy: Detectors and Instrumentation (Springer Praxis Books), Ian S. McLean, ISBN-10: 3540765824, ISBN-13: 978-3540765820. See this book on Amazon

  • PDF articles of various types of spacecraft and astronomical instrumentation (provided).

Course Offerings

Astronomical Instrumentation will be offered on the following dates:

  • Dates to be announced

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