Astronomy 27: Field Astronomy at Pinnacles National Monument


PowerPoint on Solar System Formation and Other Solar Systems Around Other Stars


General Information

We're going to the Pinnacles - Pinnacles National Park! This will be a fun and educational course which will get you hip-deep in astronomy. It is offered in close conjunction with Geology 27 "Geology of the Pinnacles" taught by Cabrillo geology instructor David Schwartz. Geo 27 will teach you about the geology of the Pinnacles, and Wayne and I together will help you understand the connections between planetary science, stellar evolution, and the crustal forces on Earth which shaped the unique and beautiful landforms of the Pinnacles. We'll be camping at Pinnacles Campground.


This is a weekend course on general astronomy by direct observation. Upon completion, you'll have earned 1 unit of astronomy credit. IMPORTANT NOTE:  Pinnacles has two entrances; one on the west side, reached from Soledad, and one on the east side, reached from south of Hollister. We will be staying on the east side; don't make the mistake one person did by driving down the Salinas Valley. Maps and details will be given out at the pre-trip on-campus session.


Pre-trip on campus meeting on Saturday morning 9am in room 705: More logistics (food, carpooling, signing any remaining liability waivers), lecture on origin of solar system/stars in the planetarium, followed by planetarium session. I'll also have maps and any further instructions for arrival.


Fri afternoon thru Saturday late night: At Pinnacles Campground. Astronomy lectures/discussion/telescopic observing Friday and Saturday evenings.


IMPORTANT. We must pay to reserve a group campsite at this private campground early, and these sites are expensive. You are responsible for the $15 per person campground fee (entirely separate from Cabrillo College tuition fees). Therefore, you must pay at the bookstore $15 (using the voucher forms you get at the orientation from Wayne Bloechl)in order to receive "permission to register" which will allow you to register online just as you do for other courses. No one may add the class UNTIL the orientation. Everyone gets the same starting time!


* Many people ask whether they can bring along a friend, "significant other", or kids/dogs. The school forbids us from handling people who are not officially registered for the class, for insurance reasons as well as cost. That means that no one will be welcome unless they have registered for the class. Perhaps I should be more explicit; NO KIDS! NO AUDITS BY UNREGISTERED PEOPLE!

* You will be carpooling to Pinnacles, meeting the instructor Rick Nolthenius at the campsite Friday afternoon. We'll organize carpools at the pre-trip meeting.


* This trip requires camping on Friday nite and Saturday nite. There are no motels within 40 miles of Pinnacles, and the astronomy portion of the weekend will last until near midnite. So, be prepared to bring or share....


- sleeping bag

- tent (there are wild boar to watch out for)

- camp food (keep it in the car unless you're eating it!)

- cooking gear

- warm clothes (It has sometimes dropped below freezing before dawn)

- sunscreen, Ray-bans

- binoculars or telescope would be nice if you have them

- field notebook

- daypack for the geology day hikes.

- lawn chair for relaxing/ listening to the lectures


* The campsite is accessible by car so you do not need backpacks. It has water, restrooms, showers, a small store, even a pool.


* The trip will go, rain or shine. If it's raining, bring rain gear.


* This is an officially sponsored Cabrillo course and the instructors and the College can get in a lot of trouble if anybody does anything dumb. So....leave your automatic weapons, rifles, alcohol, and recreational drugs home for this one! Anyone caught with alcohol or drugs is risks getting an automatic "F".


General Schedule

Here's the format; After you arrive on Friday, set up your tent and eat so that you'll be ready for the first lecture, which will begin in the afternoon and continue until dark. At dark, we'll uncap the Cabrillo telescopes to continue the lectures on planets, double stars, galaxies, star clusters, nebulae, etc. You're welcome to bring your tripods and cameras and after the formal work, I'll help you get some astrophotos. For more on astrophotography consider Astro 9: Astrophotography I will discuss various topics while you observe them in the telescopes and ask you to evaluate the structure of the objects you'll be studying. I'll hand out a hefty "storyboard" which visually presents our lecture topics on stellar evolution, galaxy structure and evolution, and cosmology.


Saturday during the day you'll be at work in the Geology 27 course (co-requisite). There's hiking, weird rock formations, unique caves with waterfalls inside to explore, and I will also give a lecture at lunch on the High Peaks trail on the origin of the chemical elements of the Earth and also tie in geologic and cosmological time scales together. Saturday evening we'll start dinner preparations well before dark. After dinner, we'll have a lecture on galaxies, cosmology, and the origin of the universe, then go to the telescopes for the study of galaxies. If cloudy, we'll lecture around the campfire until long into the night.


* Preparatory reading: "The Cosmic Perspective" by Jeffrey Bennett et al. Read the following chapters...

Chapter 6 - Telescopes

Chapter 15 - Surveying the Stars

Chapter 16 - Star Formation

Chapter 17,18 - Stellar Evolution and the Stellar Graveyard

Chapter 19 - The Milky Way Galaxy

Chapter 20, 21 - Galaxies and their Evolution

Chapter 22 - Dark Matter

Chapter 23 - Cosmology and the Origin of the Universe

Chapter 24 - Life and the Universe


This book is on reserve in the library. Please pay special attention to the sections on stars and galaxies and cosmology, towards the end of the book. Try and do your reading before our trip, so you can ask impressive questions around the telescopes!


* Your grade will be based on your curiosity and participation at all sessions, and on a take-home, open book final exam. 25% of your grade will be based on the level of your full participation at all sessions - including the planetarium lecture, and at the telescopes on Friday and Saturday evenings. Make sure you have whatever warm clothes you need when the sessions start. You're expected to study each telescopic object and answer any questions posed by the instructor. This class is short-term and full participation is important. 75% of your grade will be based on the take-home final exam. The grading scale for the final exam is:

A = 87% or above

B = 77%

C = 67% (or Pass)

D = 57%

F = less than 57%


Student Learner Outcomes

1. Describe the motion of stars and planets caused both by daily and orbital motions.
2. Diagram the life history of stars from birth to death, and describe examples of each in the telescope.
3. Relate the chemical composition of the Earth's crust to the nuclear fusion processes in stars.
4. Trace the source of major geologic activities to processes present during planetary formation, and explain examples seen in the field.
5. Examine the broad outlines of the evolution of the universe as a whole, and theories of the origin of the universe.


Students with disabilities:
Students needing accommodations should inform the instructor. As required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accommodations are provided to insure equal access for students with verified disabilities. To determine if you qualify or need assistance with an accommodation, please contact ACCESSIBILITY SUPPORT CENTER (Formerly DSPS), Room 1073, (831) 479-6379.

If you have paid your camping fee and then drop out and need a refund, you will need to register for the out-sourced company which issues refunds, HigherOne, Inc. See the link for details.


There will be more handouts, help with car pooling, and details on where we will be staying, etc. at the pre-trip session. Please note that these are required attendance. I look forward to seeing you!