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AST 5765/4762 (Advanced) Astronomical Data Analysis
Dr. Harrington cannot read email on the new UCF system due to Linux incompatibility! You must email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or he will not see your message.
Class files are here. See the handouts directory for syllabi. The rest of what students need in the class (data, routines, etc.) is in the online materials accessible via Linux login to students in the class.
Is this class for me?
AST 4762/5765 are the undergrad and grad versions of a class in basic data analysis, using astronomical data and methods for all the examples. If you will be doing research in astronomy and haven't taken such a class, this class is for you. It has a longer-than-normal class time because we integrate the lab exercises into the lecture, front-loading lecture at the start of the semester and emphasizing project work toward the end. Please see the syllabi, handouts, and assignments, available at the link above, to get an idea for what's involved.
Both undergrads and grads sit in the same lecture, but the homework has extra work for the grads and the final project, worth 40% of the grade, is much more challenging for the graduates. I encourage undergraduate students who have had some data analysis experience, who can program well, and who have the time to take the grad version. It will look good on a grad school application and you will learn much more. But it is more work, especially the project.
The math needed for this class is not too challenging - just differential equations for error analysis and calculus or algebra for the rest. However, this is an intense class, because most of the work is programming assignments and it takes time to make good programs that run well. We will discuss methods that make it quicker, but even so you can expect an average of 10 hours a week outside of class, and more in the most intense weeks, up to 15 hours for many students and more if you are struggling. However, if you pace yourself well, you will have a relatively light finals week because the final project is all that is due then and it is assigned about a month before it is due (there is no exam).
PREREQ: Ability to program a computer.
The single best predictor of course success is ability to program a computer on the first day of the course, so programming ability is now a formal prerequisite. Most students who come in without programming ability have struggled in the course. We use the Python language in the class, and spend the first 2 weeks getting up to speed in Python. That's reasonable if you know how to program, but it's very fast if you've never programmed. Having taken computer classes, especially in the distant past, is not enough. You actually need to have put that knowledge to use in the mean time and be comfortable with programming. Conversely, if you can program, you don't need to have taken any class.
So, if you're not a confident programmer in a real programming language already (e.g., C, C++, FORTRAN, Python, Java, MATLAB, IDL, Ruby, PHP, etc., but not markup languages like HTML), I'd recommend learning Python before the course starts. Python is one of the easiest languages to learn, and there are several good books on it. Here is the handout we use in the first 2 weeks of the course. Working through even the easiest of the books on the first page should prepare you well. If you get into the fun stuff on the second page, you're working ahead, which is great. All that's needed is basic skills: using variables well, loops and conditionals, functions, and getting your program to run in an operating system.
Linux Working Environment
For the class, we will provide you with computer accounts on a Linux system. For your own use until then, you can get a bootable liveDVD with many of the tools we use in class here: http://fossee.in/download
You do not have to do all your work in the Linux environment, but you will need to learn enough about Linux to navigate and manipulate files because you will need to pass in homework by placing it in a certain directory, and it needs to run in our environment. Most students therefore choose to use our environment. There are handouts on learning Linux in the class files, linked above, and many other resources online.
Also, it will be very beneficial (almost necessary) to have a laptop and bring it to class. We use VNC and SSH to get into our Linux machine securely, so you will need to install these on the first day of class or before. There are several install recipes available in the class files, linked above. You are responsible for managing your own computer during the class. These recipes are provided on an as-is basis only. You will not need to install Linux on your own machine and only a few students do.
If you have any questions, please ask!
Prof. Joseph Harrington
Planetary Sciences Group
Department of Physics
4000 Central Florida Blvd.
University of Central Florida
Orlando, FL 32816-2385
(407) 823-3416 office