The greatest strength of Grinnell's astronomy program is the opportunity it provides for students working individually or in small groups to undertake a wide range of interesting astronomical investigations. Whether a project is done in conjunction with a regular physics course, as a separately designed individual independent study course, or as an informal activity, every effort is made to strike the right balance between student independence and student-faculty collaboration.
Examples of projects that students have done include:
- Determination of the age of the universe using galaxy redshift and distance data taken at Grinnell's observatory
- Studies of the excitation of atoms in planetary nebulae
- Measurement of the rotation curve of a galaxy showing the presence of "dark matter"
- Determination of the orbit of a binary star by observation of the shifts in its spectrum
- Measurement of the optical light curve of the Crab Pulsar
- Measurement of the age and distance of star clusters
- Spectroscopic investigations of the reflectivities of planetary surfaces and atmospheres
- Investigation of the increase in the opacity of the earth's atmosphere as a result of the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption using stellar brightness measurements