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How to prepare for the National and International Astronomy Olympiad? – Dharamnath Sah

Before going in-depth into the preparation for the olympiad let’s get to know a little about it. In total there are three astronomy olympiads conducted altogether; International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA), International astronomy Olympiad (IAO), and Asian-pacific Astronomy Olympiad (APAO).

There are three rounds of tests. Theoretical problems, data analysis problems, and night sky observation test. The theoretical round typically has 15 short questions and 2-3 long Olympiad Questions to be solved in five hours. Data analysis usually has two problems to be solved in four hours and the night sky observation round has 4-5 tasks with a typical time of up to 5 minutes for each task. The scores for three rounds for each participant totaled 50% weightage to theory and 25% each for the other two. Post totaling, the scores are renormalized by the “average score of the top three participants”. As per these renormalized scores, participants scoring more than 90%, 78%, 65%, and 50% qualify for Gold medals, Silver Medals, Bronze Medals, and Honourable Mention certificates respectively. Additional special certificates are awarded for outstanding performances in one or more tests. Since 2011, there is an additional team competition, where all members of the teamwork together vi Preface on one or more problems.

Theoretical Part: 

Basic Astrophysics 

Coordinates and Times 

Solar System 


Stellar Systems 


Instrumentation and Space Technologies 

For details about the syllabus please check the official site of IOAA.  

Let’s start from Zero. We know Astronomy is not part of our core subject. So we don’t have that good knowledge. Some basic knowledge of astronomy is not going to help if we are preparing for the olympiad. We need to go in-depth on many new topics which are out of our syllabus. But don’t worry, here I will help you out in describing the best preparation strategies for the National and International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics. 

How to start and from where? 

For Beginners:

Astronomy lecture series by Michel van Biezen. His lectures are quite good. Initially, when I was unfamiliar with some terms of Astronomy and basics, I watched his lecture and learned the basic concept which was quite helpful for me in understanding in-depth Astronomy and its terms. Check out the playlist of Astronomy. Michel van Biezen. And also watch the lecture series of OSC Astrophysics. This series of lectures will cover up the major topic of Astrophysics which will be much helpful further to understand the base of Astrophysics. OSC Astrophysics

Along with all of this, if you need to strengthen your orbital mechanics part which is a really important topic for the Olympiad, then I would suggest going through this playlist because they have described everything in detail. Orbital Dynamics– Jon Toellner.

Also, make notes of it. It will help you further.

You will find these lectures really lengthy, but it’s always not compulsory to watch all the videos and all playlists. We can choose the topic accordingly. If you are starting from zero, then don’t miss watching the first two channels mentioned in the beginning. 

Here I have linked a formula book which is a collection of various constants and important formulas in Astronomy and astrophysics. For explanation, you can take the reference from google. Formula Book.

Elementary Books (Classes 7-10)

If you just start reading Astronomy and everything looks new to you, we’ll say the best book for you is”Schaum’s Outline Astronomy” and”Mathematics of Astronomy”. These 2 books Astronomy beautifully with your 9-10 categories of physics and the early topics of Astrophysics are simply highlighted, if you are in class 10, you should not take more than 1 month to finish. 

For Seniors (10-12)

While preparing for the Astronomy Olympiad, first you need to study your physics book to your best because the majority of the portion is intersecting with physics. The most important topics of physics are Mechanics, Optics, Heat & Thermodynamics, Modern Physics, Electricity and Magnetism, and Wave Optics. My recommendation would be to solve problems with either University physics or HC Verma. 

Also, Read mathematics because it will help you a lot in the data analysis part. Mainly Conic sections, Trigonometry, Coordinate Geometry, Permutation and Combination, and Statistics in detail along with your high school topics. 

Spherical trigonometry is a topic you should never miss. It might be new but this is the most important.  Here you will come to know about our Celestial sphere and coordinate system of Sphere. For this, the best recommendation is to read the second chapter of W.M Smart. Spherical Trigonometry by W. M. Smart. Or you can go with this lecture series on Spherical trigonometry for understanding. (There are lots of videos so do select the needed one: Celestial sphere and their question will be enough).

 For Advance Concept:

You can start reading books recommended for Astronomy and Astrophysics. The worldwide best-recommended books are Fundamental Astronomy Springer publication and  Introduction to Modern Astrophysics. Introduction to Modern Astrophysics is a heavy book with detailed content while Fundamental Astronomy is short compared to it and has concise content. So, use it as your preference and time. 

You have to read Celestial Mechanics and Astrophysics Part i.e. Stellar Observations, Binary Stars, Galactic Astrophysics, etc Fundamental Astronomy.

For a more mathematical introduction to Astronomy as a subject, we have Astronomy — Principles and Practice, by Roy and Clarke. (Celestial Sphere, Telescope, and Optics).

Problem Solving: 

Reading theory and concept won’t give you a medal until you solve the real IOAA problems. A Problem book in Astronomy and Astrophysics by Aniket Sule is the bible for this. It contains all the problems and their solutions from IOAA 2007-2014 (2nd edition). With this, there is a new book written by a Cambridge student targeting the astronomy olympiad-  Fundamentals of Astronomy, a guide for Olympiads by Flavio Salvati. 

Past paper of IAO, IOAA, Russian open school Astronomy Olympiad or Indian National Astronomy Olympiad. This is a must. If you can’t solve the past paper you won’t know the type of questions being asked in the Olympiad. So solving past papers is the key. 

(Fun Fact: one of  my friends got a bronze medal in the International Astronomy olympiad solving Aniket Sule book) 

Observation Round:

Observation is all about the sky and the star. The more you are familiar with the night sky, stars, constellations, messier objects the best you can do. If you manage to get a telescope, it would be the best support for you. 

Don’t take the stress you can’t manage. Naked eye observation is all about practice and your interest. Sitting up late at night in the sky would be difficult but this is the way you can excel in it. 

Stellarium software is best for night sky observations. We will be able to see the whole sky -North Hemisphere and the South Hemisphere and can learn the position of stars and Messier objects for any location and time.  Stellarium Astronomy Software. It’s free to install. Guide to set up

Sky chart provided by IAU. It has imprinted all the defined 88 constellations with borders. IAU constellations. Also learn how to do naked sky observation using your hand and finger to calculate the angle, altitude, and right ascension of stars, and heavenly bodies. For a Quick Guide.  

For more resources: 

  1. Skymaps.com this month a beautiful map of stars
  2. IAU Constellation – all defined 88 constellation
  3. Stellarium is the Best Software to recognize the sky!
  4. Star Chart Book by Science Olympiad Blog

Data Analysis Round: 

The data analysis section focuses on the calculation and analysis of the astronomical data provided in the problems. Additional requirements are as follows:

  1. Proper identification of error sources, calculation of errors, and estimation of their influence on the final results.
  2. Proper use of graph papers with different scales, e.g., polar and logarithmic papers. Transformation of the data to get a linear plot and finding the “Best Fit” line approximately.
  3. Basic statistical analysis of the observational data.
  4. Knowledge of the most common experimental techniques for measuring physical quantities.

Resource for data analysis:

  1. An Introduction to Error Analysis by Taylor.
  2. Probability by David Morin.

Some Extra Resources:

  1. Some useful formulas in Astrophysics.
  2. Mathematics of Astronomy
  3. Astronomy Principles and Practices- Roy and Clarke
  4. Schaum’s Outline of theory and problems of Astronomy
  5. An Introduction to Mechanics -Kleppner and Kolenkow 
  6. Indian Astronomy Olympiad

Some information about the National Astronomy Olympiad of Nepal.

– There are mainly three stages of the National Astronomy Olympiad. (Selection process, pre-closed camp, closed camp, and last International Olympiad)

  1. Registration process- As soon as the post is out the registration process starts and the registration will be done offline but can’t say about this year, it might be online and the charge is NPR 1000. If it’s offline then you can register from your province or if you are in Kathmandu then you can register here at the NASO office. You would need two photos and some supporting documents if they ask. After registration, You will get an admit card and a vest of the Olympiad that you need to wear at the time of the Olympiad.
  2. Selection process – Here you need to appear for a written test which consists of Multiple choice questions with one correct option and I guess no negative marking and three long subject type questions consisting of 10 marks each question. The exam would be conducted in all provinces offline.
  3. Pre-closed camp round- You will be given an assignment and you will get time to complete it. Assignment topics would be making something like Sundial, telescope, planisphere, or something like this. Along with that, there would be some presentation work and essays and some assignments to more work on. But don’t worry you will get enough time to do it and once can do it easily.
  4. Closed camp round- Here the real game of Olympiad starts where you are really preparing for Astronomy Olympiad but if you won’t prepare yourself earlier then you will be lost there and in under pressure you need to prepare in hurry and that won’t be that much effective and this might decrease your chance to get into National finalists. So you need to prepare earlier so as to make your foundation and crack it.

You will be provided with week-long classes regarding the course content of the Olympiad by National and International mentors but I would say prepare earlier because you would have very little to do it, probably the least.

In the end, you have to give an examination and the question will be of the International level,(standard IOAA format). So be ready to tackle those problems. They will give a group assignment to do maybe a presentation type where you will be doing a group presentation on a topic.

4. National finalists selection- As per Astronomy Olympiad is concerned the team will look over all your quality, from the day you went for the Olympiad to the day last day of your closed camp and then they will select you for National top finalists. In short, they will check your whole personality (Discipline, Knowledge, Communication). So be a disciplined student and follow the instructions of Sir/Ma’am it will help you in future also and be a good person too.

5. International round- After judging they will select the top 5 students for the international round. And you will be representing Nepal in IOAA or IAO from junior and senior categories. You need to know that the cost for going to the International Olympiad should be paid by the participants only. You can request help from your provincial government and your school and college and many students were helped by school and college and government. I hope they will help you.

Here your National journey ends and now you will be with International participants around the world and you would truly enjoy that. 

All the best for your Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad.

Thanks for reading. If you have any queries regarding olympiad contact me: Mail: dharamnathsah9999@gmail.com

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