Student Spectrophotometry of the Planets: What Worked and What Did Not

  • Richard Berry Alpaca Meadows Observatory


In summer 2016 I worked with two high-school students on a relatively advanced spectrophotometry project at the University of Oregon's Pine Mountain Observatory. My plan had been to use an ALPY 600 spectrograph on a 65 mm refractor to do an introductory survey of stellar spectral types. But when the small telescope's mount died, I asked the students what they wanted to do. They said: Let's do planets! Since Pine Mountain Observatory’s 24-inch f/13 Cassegrain was available, we put the ALPY on the 24-inch, and shot spectra of Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Titan, Uranus, Neptune, Triton, and the Moon. Everything worked perfectly (the success part!), but understanding what the data meant required more chemistry, physics, math, and software skills than the students could begin to absorb (i.e., not a success).