Astro 25: Field Astronomy in the California Mountains

Syllabus (General, for all sections. See syllabi for individual selections linked below)

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.. The impetus of the State Board of Education is to restrict a student's ability to take versions of courses for credit more than once, and since all of the Astro 28A-Z courses, while meeting at different field locations under different seasonal skies, 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 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.

Astronomy is an interdisciplinary science, bringing together many sciences that apply in one common realm - the realm of the largest scales; from planets to the entire universe. Sub-specialties in astronomy include the chemistry of the Interstellar Medium, nuclear physics applied to fusion within stars and supernovae, the physics of gravity and all aspects of mechanics, elementary particles physics applied to the Big Bang, planetary processes and geology applied to the formation and evolution of planets, asteroids, and comets, astro-biology and the nature of life in its most general meaning, Baysian statistics which is so important in fields where multiple experiments are just not possible, such as astronomy, the philosophy of science as it relates the history of this, the oldest of sciences. We'll touch on bits and pieces of some of these many aspects in our fast two-weekend compression of the nature of our Universe, and in a way such that no pre-requisites are required..

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 Thursday evening or 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 (It is important to learn to work and relate as a team, more so in modern science than ever before, and so I feel it is important to be together as much as possible during our course, including common meals where so much interaction and learning can take place. 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 2 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 and any books you like 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.

70% 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.

30% 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. Be on time. Ask thoughtful questions, demonstrate curiosity. Stay up at the telescopes until we close up. I have to confess, "A" means "Aoutstanding", 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 complain they did not receive an "A". If you aren't prepared to pay attention, master my lectures, do independent work on the exam, and do some web research in preparing, you are welcome to write 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, please contact the ASC (Accessibility Support Center - formerly DSPS), (831) 479-6379, Room 1073 or the Learning Skills Program at (831) 479-6220, Room 1073.

NONDISCRIMINATION and ACCESSIBILITY NOTICE:  The District is committed to equal opportunity in educational programs, employment, and all access to institutional programs and activities. The District, and each individual who represents the District, shall provide access to its services, classes, and programs without regard to national origin, religion, age, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race or ethnicity, color, medical condition, genetic information, ancestry, sexual orientation, marital status, physical or mental disability, pregnancy, or military and veteran status, or because he/she is perceived to have one or more of the foregoing characteristics, or based on association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.


  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
Spring '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, Occultation by asteroid Friea Summer '17 Details .
Fall '17 Oct 7 9am-11:50am on campus room 705
Oct 13-15 at location on Stanislaus River
Stanislaus River/ Sierra Limestone Caverns Fall Galaxies Fall '17 Details
Spring '18

Mar 10 9am-11:50am on campus room 705
March 16-18 at Laguna Mtn campground

Laguna Mountain Rec Area The Star Formation Regions of Orion's Belt Spring '18 Details
Summer '18 June 30 9am-noon on campus room 705
July 13-15 in the Sierra

Chimney Peak Wilderness
Occultation of a bright star by the asteroid Christa Friday at midnight. (path) Summer '18 Details
Fall '18 Oct 6 9am-noon on campus room 705
Oct 12-14 in the mountains
Stanislaus River/ Sierra Limestone Caverns Fall Galaxies Fall '18 Details
Spring '19 Mar 16 9am-noon on campus room 706
Apr 5-7
at Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park Graze of 7.6 magnitude star on 3% eve cresent moon Spring '19 Details
Summer '19 Jul 25 9am-noon on campus Rm 706
Aug 2-4
at Indian Creek Campground, Sierras
Indian Creek, Sierras near Markleville Summer Milky Way Study Summer '19 Details
Fall '19 Sep 21? 9am-noon on campus Rm 706
Sep 27-29
at Arroyo Seco Canyon
Arroyo Seco Canyon, Big Sur Fall Milky Way Study Fall '19 Details
Spring '20 Apr 9 Thur eve on campus Rm 806
Apr 17-19 at Carrizo Plain
Carrizo Plain National Monument Occultation by the Asteroid Neally Spr '20 Details
Summer '20

July 16 Thur eve on campus Rm 705
July 24-26 at Indian Creek, Sierras

Indian Creek, near Markleville, Sierras Milky Way, hot springs studies and planetary processes Summer '20 Details
Spring '21 Apr 10 Sat morning on-line (Zoom)
Apr 16-18 at Stanislaus River, Sierras
Stanislaus River/ Sierra Limestone Caverns Grazing Lunar Occultation on the evening crescent moon! Spr '21 Details




Some PowerPoint Links
Mono Hot Springs  
Carrizo Plain  
Laguna Mtn/Redrock