Astronomy 27: Field Astronomy at Pinnacles National Park


Registration Procedure

Astro 27 is our oldest field astronomy course. I designed it in the late 1980's in conjunction with David Schwartz of the Cabrillo Geology department. The goal was to create a concentrated exposure to general astronomy in a dark sky location, with observing of astronomical objects integrated into the lecture material, and to dovetail with a concentrated course in field geology. A single group of ~28 students does astronomy Friday night and Saturday night, and geology Saturday and Sunday during the day, and interdisciplinary material during an afternoon session on Saturday. These courses integrate well, since geology is really planetary science specialized to our planet - Earth. The courses are co-requisite. The combo has proved to be a big hit. It is arguably the most popular class at Cabrillo, with long waiting lines on sign-up day to secure the available spots. Successful students receive one unit of CSU science elective transferrable credit in astronomy, and a similar one unit of Geology for a single weekend of work, plus two on-campus pre-trip meeting days. For more on the details of registration and course particulars, see the syllabus and the handout given at the sign-up session. This course is taught in conjunction with Geology 27. Students must sign up for both classes in order to attend the weekend field trip. Pinnacles National Monument has facinating geology. Here's a link I found from another college's geology course relevant for this area.

Pinnacles National Park is a volcanic remnant about 80 miles south of Aptos. It is far from cities and has a very dark sky. It is usually far enough inland to avoid fog coming down the Salinas Valley. In 17 years, we have never been clouded out of an Astro 27 trip, with at least one of the two nights of observing giving clear skies. Unlike Astro 28, which focuses on particular, unique astronomical events and locations, Astro 27 is more general and comprehensive; course content changes little from semester to semester. Friends and volunteers of Cabrillo Astronomy join these trips and contributes their telescope skills during the observing sessions. The photo at right - that's me and some club members from the spring '99 trip.



Friday after setting up camp, I lecture on the optics of telescopes as well as continue the on-going lecture on star formation and stellar evolution, pointing out various star types and places in their personal evolution with my monster green laser pointer.




Evening lectures are under the night sky if clear, and around the campfire if cloudy. I lecture on planet and solar system formation, stellar evolution, galaxy structure and evolution, and cosmology and the origin of the universe.



Saturday afternoon after the geology hike we congregate at the campground pool for clean up and relaxation, and then a lecture tying together the origin of the elements which make up the rocks and crust of the earth, and their formation inside stars.



Saturday night features a group prepared meal, usually with a Mexican theme. Here, Geology instructor Dave Schwartz is clarifying some topics from the day's hike.


Meanwhile, Astronomy student assistant Dave McKulle works on his now-famous tri-tip BBQ.


Chris is clearly enjoying the stimulation of mind and senses.





Some Pics from the Spring '04 Trip...

Friday afternoon I run across a couple of amateur birders, one says she's been trying for over 6 months to see a California Condor (recently released at Pinnacles), with no luck. She describes them to me and I respond "...kinda like that bird there?", pointing over her shoulder to a huge black bird soaring over the ridge. She got all excited. A condor! So our class then got excited too. Here, Cabrillo legend Rich Hart gets the bino's on these birds. Later, I tracked down this link to the Pinnacles condor flock.

Fall '04 Trip

For Sept. 17-19 we figured we could count on hot, dry weather. Well, instead we had the first cold front of the season come through on Saturday. Still, we had a fantastic Friday night, with Jeff Jolin and I manning the 10" and 12" LX200's knocking down one deep sky wonder after another. Saturday was cool and cloudy and lecture was around a campfire of flaming pine cones, and went on late into the night as I talked about cosmology, life, and the Big Questions. We actually did get clear skies beginning at 11:30pm, and did some more viewing. Sunday we had a few sprinkles while the gang did the Bear Gulch hike, then off to discuss the roof pendants at Fremont Peak State Park.

Dave Schwartz, in official mourning after the death of rocker Johnny Ramone that weekend, explains plutons while Doug and Jessica cock their heads in puzzlement at the crumbling granite. This is a road cut a couple miles below the marble roof pendant summit.

Maria and Doug ponder the racoon tracks all over their cooler, car door, and car roof. Word is that the local racoons have every make and model of picnic cooler figured out.






Below I've grouped together photo's from recent Pinnacles adventures... Enjoy!

Spring '06 (courtesy of Scott Early)

Fall '06

Spring '07

Fall '07

Spring '08

Spring '09

Fall '09

Fall '10 (courtesy of Kirk Bender)

Fall '11 (courtesy of Kirk Bender)

Spr '12 (courtesy of Kirk Bender)

Fall '12 (courtesy of Kirk Bender)

Fall '13 (courtesy of Kirk Bender)

Fall '14 (Thanks, Kirk, again for great photography!)

Spring '16