16927 - Astrophysics Laboratory

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

This course is meant to provide the possibility to the student to learn about reduction, analysis and interpretation of data from ground-based and space-based facilities. The student will learn about the capabilities and main parameters of telescopes across a wide range of wavelengths, from radio (low and high frequency) to optical and X-rays/Gamma-rays. Modern techniques of astronomical data analysis will be acquired by the student. At the end of the course every student will be able to present and discuss the results of the analysis of measurements taken during the course.

Course contents

The course is divided into two main parts: frontal lessons and data analysis and interpretation.
The first part comprises some introductory lessons on the detection of astronomical signals and general concepts (background, SNR, PSF), then it focuses on specific, wavelength-dependend topics and issues, preparatory for the subsequent data analysis.
For what concerns data analysis and interpretation, there are three lab courses, each one focusing on topics at different wavelengths: radio (low and high frequency), optical/near-IR, and
X-ray/Gamma-ray. All students will attend these three lab courses. Each lab comprises lessons, tutorials, and hands-on training on data reduction, analysis and interpretation. Students will be divided into groups and each group will work on a specific scientific project. 
The optical/near-IR lab course is primarily based at the Loiano Observatory, where students can share the experience of observing at an optical (1.5m) telescope, with an immediate data reduction and analysis. The radio and high-energy lab courses are held at the INAF-Istituto di Radioastronomia (IRA) and INAF-Osservatorio di Astrofisica e Scienza dello Spazio di Bologna. For what concerns the high-energy lab, students will also work on the calibration of a high-energy instrument in the laboratories at the IV floor under the supervision of experts. 

In the following a list of general and specific topics is reported: 

  • Detection of astronomical signals. Transmission of the electromagnetic radiation through the atmosphere.
  • Background and its treatment in astronomical data analysis.
  • PSF and signal-to-noise ratio concepts.
  • Photometry: photometric systems, calibration, aperture and PSF-fitting photometry.
  • Spectroscopy of different classes of sources (stars, galaxies, and AGN).
  • Kinematics: measure of radial velocity and redshift from observed spectra. 
  • Properties of telescopes in different bands.
  • Exposure time calculators.
  • Excursus on the properties of the main modern telescopes and future facilities.
  • Data analysis in the optical/near-IR. 
  • Interferometry: main concepts, and possibilities in the ALMA era.
  • Analysis of interferometric radio and (sub)-millimeter data. 
  • Analysis of high-energy data.
  • High-energy detectors: how to use them and data acquisition.
  • High-energy properties of the AGN: open issues.


Detectors for high-energy astrophysics & X-ray data analysis
  • Glenn F. Knoll: "Radiation Detectors for X-Ray and Gamma-Ray Spectroscopy"
  • Keith Arnaud, Randall Smith, Aneta Siemiginowska: "Handbook of X-ray Astronomy"

Observational astronomy & techniques

  • Hale Bradt: "Astronomy Methods"
  • George H. Rieke: "Measuring the Universe. A Multiwavelength Perspective"
  • E.C. Sutton: ”Observational Astronomy. Techniques and Instrumentations"
  • Kitchin C. R.: "Telescopes and Techniques"

Radio Astronomy

  • G.B. Taylor, C.L. Carilli, R.A. Perley: "Synthesis imaging in radio astronomy II" (ASP Conf. Ser., Vol. 180)
  • B.F. Burke: "An Introduction to radio astronomy"
  • T.L. Wilson, K. Rohlfs, S. Huettemeister: "Tools of Radio Astronomy"
  • A.R. Thompson, J.M. Moran, G.W. Swenson Jr.: "Interferometry and Synthesis in Radio Astronomy"
  • J.J. Condon & S.M. Ransom: "Essential Radio Astronomy"


  • Specific guides and manuals to data reduction and analysis
  • Readings/guidelines/manuals/lessons/tutorials/exercises: http://labx.iasfbo.inaf.it/
  • https://science.nrao.edu/opportunities/courses/era/

Teaching methods

Teaching includes powerpoint presentations coupled with blackboard lessons, and tutorials. 

The mandatory lab courses (radio/(sub)-mm, optical/near-IR and X-ray/Gamma-ray) are based on data analysis and interpretation. Students will be divided into working groups; each group is assigned a specific scientific project and specific datasets which will be analyzed using the most up-to-date techniques (widely explained in the tutorials). Discussions with teachers and experts of the field are a fundamental part of these labs. 

The structure of the course is though to provide students with the capabilities of working as a team, reading and understanding scientific papers, and discuss their results using written reports (radio/sub-mm lab course) and powerpoint presentations (optical and X-ray lab courses). 

Assessment methods

The exam is structured as follows:

  • for what concerns the radio/(sub)-mm lab course, each group will write a final report. Professors will provide comments in a couple of weeks to be implemented into the revised version of the reports. A score in the range 0-10 will be assigned to each student;
  • for what concerns the optical/near-IR and X-ray/Gamma-ray lab courses, each group will prepare a powerpoint presentation to be presented at the end of the lab courses. Each student will discuss a part of the powerpoint presentation ("who is presenting what" being decided by the professors). A score in the range 0-10 will be assigned to each student.

Scores will depend on the quality of the presentations and on the students' capability in hard working (in data analysis and interpretation) during the lab courses.

The sum of all scores will represent the starting vote in the final oral exam. This consists in questions related to ground- and space-based instruments, telescope parameters, relevant techniques for astronomical data analysis, and main scientific issues discussed in the lessons.

Teaching tools

Powerpoint presentations and blackboard.

Links to further information


Office hours

See the website of Cristian Vignali

See the website of Alessio Mucciarelli

See the website of Myriam Gitti

See the website of Rosita Paladino

See the website of Paola Grandi

See the website of Cristina Pallanca