Astronomy at CSUN


The Department of Physics and Astronomy of California State University Northridge (CSUN) offers education in astronomy at various levels starting from “Introductory Astronomy” (Astr152) to advanced graduate courses. Most popular course is Astr152, which is taken by about one thousand students every semester. Associated with this, Astronomy laboratory course (Astr154L) is offered to a limited number of students, in which they have an opportunity to perform the laboratory activities that helps understand some of the concepts in further detail. 


The current astronomical resources at the Department


The Department of Physics and Astronomy has four major resources: (a) Planetarium (b) Campus Observatory, (c) San Fernando Observatory, and (d) Solar Laboratory that are often employed in teaching. Brief descriptions of these facilities are given in this section. While the planetarium is primarily used for explaining the motion of the stars and planets in the sky, the Campus Observatory is used to show the astronomical objects such as the star-forming regions, planetary nebula and galaxies. The San Fernando Observatory situated about 9 miles from the CSUN campus, conducts the state-of-the art research in solar physics. The undergraduate students participate in the instrumental development, observing program and analyzing the solar data. The Solar Laboratory, which is situated on the CSUN campus, is used to show the photospheric and chromospheric images of the sun to the students who take introductory astronomy, as well as advanced astronomy. This is also used to introduce various astronomical instruments such as CCDs and spectrographs to undergraduate and graduate students. The following Figure shows these facilities.


Planetarium: The Donald E. Bianchi Planetarium is operated by CSUN's Department of Physics and Astronomy (Figure: 1). It is named after the founding dean of our College of Science and Mathematics, who was instrumental in obtaining the funds for Science Buildings III and IV and the Planetarium. San Fernando Valley residents and backyard astronomers from all over Southern California are invited to explore distant galaxies with us every Friday throughout the year. The details of the activities can be found at:


Figure: 1 (left) The Planetarium building. (right) The planetarium projector in the classroom.













At the heart of our 105-seat star theater lies the Spitz-512 Star Projector, capable of recreating the night sky on our 40-foot dome with accuracy and brilliance. Over 2,000 stars, the five visible planets, and all of the apparent motions of the sky are displayed overhead, in a unique and relaxing environment. The Bianchi Planetarium is also equipped to support large format image projection and captivating digital sound.


Campus Observatory: The campus observatory has a 14 inch reflector telescope made by Celestron as shown in Figure: 2. The telescope is mounted on a go-to mount that is controlled by a computer. The telescope control can be accessed by other computers via internet. The telescope is equipped with a CCD camera, several nebular and planetary filters and a solid state photometer. These are used for observing the galactic nebula, planets and asteroids and other interesting objects by the introductory astronomy students. Besides this, there are several small telescopes, including Meade 8 and 6 inch telescopes with their mounts and drives. In the event of lunar eclipse a large number of students join in observing the event.


Figure: 2 (left) the campus observatory dome. (right) the Celestron 14 inch telescope with go-to mount.















San Fernando Observatory: The San Fernando Observatory (SFO), a state-of-the-art educational and solar research facility, belongs to the California State University at Northridge (CSUN) and is operated by the Department of Physics and Astronomy (Figure: 3). The detail instrumentation facility and research activities are described in the website of the observatory at The SFO is the department's primary astronomical research tool. Originally built by The Aerospace Corporation of El Segundo as ground-based support for NASA's space program, the observatory was donated to CSUN in 1976 and has continued to play an important role in solar astronomy ever since.
Unlike many other observatories, SFO enjoys its best observing weather during the summer months when the Sun is high in the sky. This results in long observing days with clear skies, very stable air, and little chance of rain. With its mix of modern solar telescope systems and its San Fernando Valley location, SFO is uniquely equipped to monitor solar activity of various kinds. Over the years, the San Fernando Observatory has established an international reputation by providing observations central to our understanding of the Sun. It carries out numerous research programs, both independently and in collaboration with other institutions around the world, much of which is supported by grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation. It was NASA's largest single grant awardees for ground-based support for the Solar Maximum Mission satellite (SSM), launched in 1980.

Ongoing research at the San Fernando Observatory involves the physics of the Sun and falls into two main categories: the study of the evolution of magnetic fields in solar active regions and the study of the energy balance of these regions and its effect on solar irradiance.


Figure: 3 (left) The San Fernando Observatory. (right) The Chromospheric telescope at the observatory that is used to make observations related to Space Weather applications.














Astrophysics Laboratory: The Astrophysics Laboratory consists of a light-feed that directs sunlight into a laboratory. The light-feed consists of a set of flat mirrors situated on the top of the building that houses the department. In side the laboratory, there is an optical bench, a set of filters mounted on the objective lens of telescopes. While, the telescopes are used to view the solar images in chromospheric lines, the optical bench is used to test new instruments for the SFO. The solar image is displayed on a white screen to view the sunspots. The image is also passed through a prism and/or grating to demonstrate the solar spectrum.


Figure: 4 (left) The double mirror system that directs the sunlight into the laboratory. (b) Instrument testing activity in the laboratory.