Astro 25: Field Astronomy in the California Mountains


Astronomy is most inspiring and best taught under a dark sky, without distractions from the rest of one's busy life. My newest incarnation of this conviction is Astro 25 - a 1-unit field science course which is a replacement for my long-taught Astro 28A-Z "Special Topics in Field Astronomy" course. The "special topics" designation means each special topic course could only be taught twice. I've now gone through the alphabet for Astro 28 and used up A-Z, and most of those letters have been used twice. The impetus of the State Board of Education is to clamp down on a student's ability to take courses for credit more than once, and since all of the Astro 28A-Z courses had some material in common, the judgment was - they can no longer be taught as individual separate courses. Hence, the creation of Astro 25 - which replaces all of them with a single course which can only be taken and passed only once, and with a more general description and a wider latitude in how I structure each individual offering. Like all classes, it may be taken up to three times if you receive a failing or "not pass" grade. Those who have taken past Astro 28 courses may still take Astro 25 (once!).

Each section of this class will be taught at a dark-sky location as a two-night weekend camping trip. I'll bring telescopes and helpers from the informal Cabrillo Astronomy Club, and at night we'll show you the stars and planets and discuss the structure of the Milky Way Galaxy, the life cycle of stars, the origin of the universe, and how the existence of life influences the structure of our instance of the Universe. During the day, we'll take hikes to talk about planets, their history, their evolution since the birth of the solar system, how the planets differ from each other, and examples of important processes as revealed by our Earth and it's surface and atmosphere.

Where possible, I will schedule Astro 25 to coincide with a special and unique astronomical event that we can observe, take data, and do some simple analyses to help understand the basics of what is going on. Examples may be meteor showers, which happen only at special days, or lunar grazing occultations in which a star can be seen to move along the north or south pole of the dark side of the moon, disappearing and reappearing among the dark mountains and valleys. Or the occultation of a star by an asteroid, by which amateur astronomers have made important contributions to our understanding of the shape and size and reflectivity of asteroids. Or perhaps, the appearance of a bright comet in the sky. Some of these events are predictable and some are not. Some require being in a very special place, some can be seen from anywhere it is dark and clear. Always, our trips must happen on a weekend so that we can drive to these often remote camping sites and get back before your other classes resume. Each offering will be unique.

What will All Trips Have in Common?
For each of the offerings of Astro 25, you can count on some common aspects...

* You'll meet for an on-campus session, usually on the Saturday a week before the actual field trip. Here, we'll do some logistics such as carpooling (you'll be responsible for transportation to/from the field location), discuss meals (I'll cook your breakfasts and dinners - good food, like my famous French Crepes Saturday breakfast!), and I'll give an opening lecture in the planetarium, as well as pass out maps..

* I'll next meet you at the camping location. The great sites for doing astronomy are usually in the mountains. Sometimes, we may go to the Mojave Desert just past the Sierra, if necessary to get to a special event. Our local Santa Cruz mountains are not good for this - too many big redwoods, and usually too crowded as well. Finding locations with clean dark skies and wide horizons is not always easy for me. Often our trips take us far afield, the Sierra, Carrizo Plain, Southern Big Sur... always spectacular locations that will inspire your astronomical curiosity!


* If you want a good flavor of what Astro 25 will be like, please look through the past trips of Astro 28 that I have conducted. I always take photos, and though I'm far behind on polishing and posting all my photos, there's enough here to show you how terrific my field courses are! Click on each section and then on the "post trip photos" link

I hope to offer an Astro 25 section once a year, usually in the Fall, and sometimes in the summer.


I hope you'll enjoy my course. In addition to the fun, it's also good for transfer to CSU as a science elective!







Grading will be based on participation in all activities, in data taking on course offerings which include this, and especially on a take-home final exam. You'll have typically 3 weeks to complete the final and return the hardcopy (no emailing) to me by snail-mail. Since you have plenty of time and have the entire web available to you, I will expect a good, computer-printed set of answers to the essay portions of your exam, and the multiple choice as well. Don't expect an "A" just for showing up. I'll want demonstrated full effort, participation, and care done on the final exam for a good grade. You will need to submit the final even to get a passing grade.

75% of your grade will be based on the take-home final exam. You'll have a week to complete it. You may use the suggested text, other library books, and the internet to help you find answers. You MUST write all answers in your own words. I dock points from both students when I see they have virtually identical essays. I also check for plagarism - copying from the internet or from the notes I hand out during the course. I want to see that you have found, read, digested, and put into your own words the answers to the questions I give.

25% of your grade will be based on your active participation in all sessions. This includes the pre-trip meeting in 705 and the planetarium, and lectures, hikes which include lectures, and the telescope sessions and any work which I ask of you during these sessions. Being late to sessions does not earn full credit. Be on time. Ask thoughtful questions, demonstrate curiosity. Stay up at the telescopes until we close up. I have to confess, I'm increasingly impatient with certain students who think just showing up for a weekend of camping and a mediocre effort on the exam entitles them to an "A". This is not the case. "A" means "outstanding", not "Adequate". "A" means demonstrated competence at mastering all the material at a college level. This is a 1-unit course. Normally, a student earns 1-unit in a lab course which meets 3hrs per week for an entire semester. Imagine the work that such lab students do, and translate that into the work you must do in this class to earn a good grade. I've had students who turn in uninspired work and are then outraged they did not receive an "A". It's so unnecessary. If you aren't prepared to pay attention, master my lectures, do independent work on the exam, and do thorough research in preparing, you are welcome to put on your exam "please give me a Pass/No Pass". You must make that decision when you prepare your exam. You can't tell me "Give me either an A or give me a P/NP". That cheapens the meaning of a grade. Here's the grading scale.

A: 85% and above
B: 75-85%
C: 65-75% and Pass = 65% and above
D: 52-65%
F: less than 52%

Students with Learning Disabilities Students with learning disabilities needing accommodations should contact the instructor ASAP. As required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accommodations are provided to insure equal opportunity for students with verified disabilities. If you need assistance with an accommodation, please contact Disabled Student services, Room 810, 479-6379, or Learning Skills Program Room 1073, 479-6220.

  1. Evaluate the general structure and evolution of planets, stars and stellar systems, including our Milky Way Galaxy.
  2. Evaluate the connections between nucleosynthesis in stars and the chemical composition of Earth and the other planets and the general processes that shape them.
  3. Take and interpret visual telescopic and instrumental scientific observations, and estimate and quantify error sources.

Astro 25 Individual Course Offerings (and camping links and mapquest data for instructor planning)




Special Astro Event?

Detailed webpage

Summer '16

June 18 9am-11:50am on campus room 705
June 24-26 at campground

Indian Creek, Sierras near Markleville Summer Milky Way Study Summer '16 Details
Fall '16

Sept 30 9am-11:50am on campus room 705
Oct 7-9 at campground at Giant Sequoia

Giant Sequoia National Monument, Redwood Meadow Cmpgd Lunar Grazing Occultation Fall '16 Details
Spr '17

Feb 25 9am-11:50am on campus room 705
Mar 3-5 at Carrizo Plain

Carrizo Plain National Monument Lunar Occultation of the Hyades Star Cluster and Aldebaren Spring '17 Details
Summer '17

July 15 9am-11:50am on campus room 705
July 21-23 at campground, Mono Hot Springs

Mono Hot Springs in Sierra, NE of Fresno Summer Milky Way Study Coming soon....