16927 - Astrophysics Laboratory

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2021/2022

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/TeV. 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. 
In the following a non-exhaustive 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 analysis of interferometric radio (VLA) and sub-millimeter data (ALMA).
  • Analysis of high-energy data of nearby and high-redshift active galaxies, and interpretation of the results using state-of-the-art physical models.
  • 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: https://indico.ict.inaf.it/event/1365/overview
  • https://science.nrao.edu/opportunities/courses/era/

Teaching methods

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

The three 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 (comprising 2-3 people each); 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). 

All of the students must attend the frontal lessons and the lab experiences, including tutorials. For what concerns the radio/submm laboratory, half of the students will attend the VLA lab (low frequency) and the remaining half the submm lab (high frequency).

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 (on timescales that will be communicated during the course) and will verify the knowledge in the radio/submm bands acquired by the students during the frontal lessons and the lab course. 
  • 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 (actually, typically after one-two weeks). Each student will discuss a part of the powerpoint presentation ("who is presenting what" being decided by the professors).

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.

To be more specific: each lab assigns an evaluation, corresponding to an interval of scores. Students, at the end of the three partial examinations, can then decide either to accept the grade (expressed in the 30-scale) resulting from the three-lab evaluations, or to have a final oral examination; in this case, the student, in practice, renounces the grade assigned by the three labs.

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