UniServe Science News Volume 8 November 1997


Contemporary Laboratory Experiences in Astronomy (CLEA)

Margaret Mazzolini
School of Physics, La Trobe University

The CLEA astronomy laboratory exercises are engaging, reasonably realistic simulations of what professional astronomers actually do, and help to teach some useful astronomy concepts in the process. We are using several of these labs. as a major component of our undergraduate astronomy courses at La Trobe University. There are eight exercises which have windows-based versions:

The Revolution Of The Moons Of Jupiter
Purpose: To illustrate the measurement of the mass of a planet using Kepler's third law.

The Rotation Of Mercury Using Doppler Radar
Purpose: To illustrate the measurement of the rotation rate of a planet using the Doppler shift of a returning radar pulse.

The Flow Of Energy Out Of The Sun
Purpose: To illustrate radiative transfer in stellar interiors and stellar atmospheres and the formation of spectral lines.

Photoelectric Photometry Of The Pleiades
Purpose: To familiarize students with the technique of photoelectric filter photometry and counting statistics, and to introduce the use of H-R diagrams for analyzing the age and distance of clusters.

The Hubble Redshift Distance Relation
Purpose: To illustrate how the velocities of galaxies are measured using a photon-counting spectrograph, and to estimate the value of the Hubble parameter and the expansion age of the universe.

The Classification Of Stellar Spectra
Purpose: To introduce students to the process of classifying different spectra by the relative strengths of lines, and to familiarise students with the sequence of spectral types.

Large Scale Structure Of The Universe
Purpose: To understand how astronomers use the redshift-distance relation to map out the cosmic structure of the galaxies.

Radio Astronomy of Pulsars
Purpose: To take simulated measurements of signals from several pulsars at various radio-frequencies and learn about the observational properties of pulsars. The radio telescope has optional features which can be used for additional labs.

With some judicious editing, these simulated free-ware labs. can all be used for 3-hour introductory astronomy sessions at first year undergraduate level, although sections of some labs. (Hubble Redshift, Large Scale Structure, Pulsars) are better suited to more advanced courses. Some (Moons of Jupiter, Rotation of Mercury) could probably be modified for use as project work at secondary school level. We have found the Sun lab. the least useful of the set, but in general they are easy to use and professionally produced with clear student instructions, simple to install, and a boon to any astronomy coordinator wondering what lab. to give students on cloudy winter days!

For more information, visit the CLEA site at

CLEA is available from:

Project CLEA
Department of Physics
Gettysburg College
Gettysburg, PA 17325

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UniServe Science News Volume 8 November 1997

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