NOAO < EDUCATION < AstroBITS Course Outline


Image of the globular cluster M3, taken at Kitt Peak National Observatory by the spring 2010 AstroBITS teachers

AstroBITS Course Materials

Using the fascination of astronomy as a hook, the following eight modules have been developed at NOAO for teachers (and students) as an on-line course, funded by Science Foundation Arizona. Teachers who were accepted into the regular program were provided support as they worked through these modules, which use astronomical images and data to introduce concepts of image processing, plotting and spectral analysis. However, the activities are available to anyone, and have been designed to be completed without needing additional help.

The exercises make use of free downloadable software, and data taken at Kitt Peak National Observatory, also downloadable from this site.

To insure that teachers have access to a computer that will handle the projects, everyone is asked to complete the technical assignment:

AstroBITS Pre-class Technical Assignment


  1. Install on your computer the image processing package ImageJ (currently V1.42) from the main ImageJ web site (it is a free download):
    Click on “Downloads,” and choose the version of ImageJ appropriate for your computer’s operating system (ex. Windows , Mac ).
  2. Download the file here. Unzip it. Start up ImageJ by clicking or double clicking on the icon in the unzipped ImageJ folder. Once ImageJ is running, select the File option on the toolbar at the top of the screen. Then select the Open… command from the drop-down menu. Navigate to the folder that you downloaded and open the images (M16_Halpha.fits). You will probably see a pretty blank image!
  3. Select IMAGE option on the toolbar. Then select ADJUST, then (arrow right) BRIGHTNESS/ contrast. A little box titled B&C will appear. It contains a histogram of possible values: you can use the minimum and maximum to adjust these limits. Play with these to see what appears in the image (SPOILER ALERT: if you get frustrated, just try a minimum around -20 and a maximum around 400)

Materials that are needed for some modules and availability:

  • Module 1. diffraction grating. A nice one is available from Educational Innovations
  • Module 4: Night Spectraquest card and spectrometer — Educational Innovations.
  • Module 5: graphical analysis software (may already be available to you as part of a Vernier package)


Each module below is described in the linked pdf file. Additional files and material are in the following description.

Module 1: The Solar Spectrum and Introduction to CCD Images with ImageJ

  • Assignment 1: a) You will need the diffraction grating. b) You will need to download Stellar-Spectroscopy-Abits.pdf. If working with the grating is where your interest lies, jump to Module 4.
  • Assignment 2: For background on CCDs please read ccd_intro_Abits.pdf. Here is the image of the sun that you need: solar_image.fits. If working with images is where your interest lies, jump to Module 7

Module 2: The Black Body Spectrum and Stellar temperatures

Module 3: Spectroscopy and Stellar Temperatures

Module 4: Exploring Local light sources with spectroscopy

  • Assignment 6: You will need the Night SpectraQuest card and spectrometer

Module 5: Plotting and Analyzing Stellar Spectra

  • Assignment 7: For this assignment, you will need a copy of the software Graphical analysis, although it is. You will also need the tutorial on stellar spectroscopy that we used in Module 1, and the spectrum
  • Spectroscopy-GA3-Abits.pdf
  • Assignment 8: You will need the spectra in graphical analysis form, located in the zipped folder
  • JacobyAtlas.pdf

Module 6: The Hertzsprung Russel Diagram: stellar properties

Module 7: Image Combining with ImageJ to create color pictures

Module 8: Deriving the distance to an Open Cluster (Advanced)