Using Astronomical Data in the Classroom

Using Astronomical Research in the Classroom

One of target stars – gathering several minutes of spectral data for later data reduction

Summer 2013 – I was lucky enough to get a chance to participate in a very cool program in which teachers get to learn first-hand how research gets done at McDonald Observatory and now it’s time to bring my experiences into my classroom.

Our patient instructor! This was the orientation to the telescope control system

Dr. Chris Sneden was our guide during the research process. He was infinitely patient and for me this was a transformative experience for which I will be eternally grateful. I owe it to my students to bring the same sort of experiences to them when possible.

2.7m Harlan J Smith Telescope – ours for the run!

We worked in teams of 3. One team would help Chris and his graduate student out on the actual observing run.

Tull Spectrograph tour – check the target before entering the echelle spectrograph room
One of the mirrors in the complicated optical path of the Tull Echelle Spectrograph


First data gathering task of a run – get a reading from a known source – hot thin gas lamp
Incredible view from 2.1m looking back towards 2.7m
All-sky camera view from MONET

We took turns using small scopes and the 0.9m scope in the shadow of the 2.7m dome.

0.9m scope we got to use for our own observation runs!

The goal of this observing run was to seek out particular stars that might shed some light (hah!) on formation and evolution of the thin and thick disk of the milky-way galaxy.

The Davis Mountains provided great scenery while waiting for a cloudless night to begin
Starry background with 2.7m dome in foreground
panorama of area near 0.9m where we set up our own scopes


About to start a special night of personal observations on the 2.1m
Cassegrain focus of Otto Struve telescope. This is a magnificent instrument. It was like touching history.


Library on the ground floor of Otto Struve Telescope Building
Our personalized tour by Coyne Gibson. Check out the retro controls on the 2.1m Otto Struve

We also toured nearly all the telescope systems on both mountains. It was beautiful!

Control room of HET
HET with Astronomers’ Lodge in foreground


Entire photo set of my experiences at McDonald the summer of 2013