Astro 28E: Field Astronomy in the High Sierra and a Lunar Grazing Occultation

Giant Sequoia National Monument

Sept 25-27, 2009

Post Trip Photo Page

For this installment of our field astronomy series, we're going to re-visit a popular spot - the giant Sequoias - largest living things on earth. Giant Sequoia National Monument is high in the Sierras south of Sequoia National Park. We'll be visiting a large grove of Sequoias - the Long Meadow Grove and the "Trail of 100 Giants" - as well as studying the geology of the southern Sierra, piecing together the story of California's geology and relating it to the formation and surface processes on the other inner planets.

Our campsite will be at Quaking Aspen, where we have a beautifully situated group campsite on the edge of a large alpine meadow, with just enough trees for shade, and excellent views to the south and east for study of the summer Milky Way wonders of Scorpius and Sagittarius. Here's a map of the campground area. Here's the latest weather forecast.

Thursday night in the planetarium: We'll cover trip logistics, then I'll lecture on the formation of stars and the formation of our solar system, focusing on the principles which govern how planets form. I'll also present a lecture on the nature of lunar grazing occultations, their scientific value, and we'll strategize on how we'll array our team to obtain valuable timings for the ZC 2771 graze on Saturday.

Friday night we'll set up scopes in the meadow and study the moon and its geology and origins. And the planets of the Fall sky - Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune. The summer Milky Way will run over overhead and we'll study the the emission nebulae and star formation regions of the Sagittarius Spiral Arm of our galaxy, and the giant globular clusters which concentrate themselves around the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Fall is also rich in planets: Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune are all closest in their orbits to Earth this month. We'll also have our computerized "Go To" 10" LX200 scope for hopping around the sky.

Saturday we'll tour the Long Valley grove of giant Sequoias - the largest living things on earth. And of course, as Santa Cruzer's, we're culturally required to give a big Tree Hug along our hike through the giant trees. Then we'll venture to Dome Rock and discover the history of the Sierra Nevada batholith and prehistoric mountain ranges that occupied this location, and study the Kern River Canyon - the largest drainage in the Sierras and spreading out before our eyes from this great vista point. We may also take the spectacular hike out to the fire lookout perched on a granite spire near Dome Rock and lecture on planetary science and plate tectonics.

Saturday Night: The main show tonight is a spectacular grazing lunar occultation which passes only a few miles from our Quaking Aspen campground. A bright star, HR 7195 in Sagittarius, will graze the south polar area of the quarter moon. We'll have telescopes set up along the profile and watch as the star disappears and reappears among the dark mountains and canyons on the edge of the moon. Read more about grazes, which are of great scientific value to make observations of, here. A planning page, showing the lunar profile and predictions for my own use, is here.

Sunday morning: I'll cook up one of my famous hot breakfasts and we'll take a short hike to a waterfall for a final lecture.

Course Grading

Your grades will be based on class participation, and on your take-home final exam which you'll mail in to 10 days after our return. Take note - these classes are important to me, and to the Astronomy program. It's important that I do everything I can to encourage participation by good students who will be responsible. Grading will therefore have some subjective component - a helpful attitude around the group work loads, a willingness to listen to the lectures and participate in the discussions, no swearing, and a strict adherence to the Cabrillo policy of no drugs or alcohol. And no slackers looking for an easy grade to graduate from High School! These classes are always a lot of fun - we blend learning with enjoyment and this makes for the maximum educational impact.. Join us!

Check out the 2004 Astro 28J class and its post-trip photo page;. Also, Astro 28U in '07, which were both held at this same location.

Camper's checklist

Course Materials

I'll distribute some of these below in hardcopy when I see you in the field. We'll also have a lecture on the formation of stars and of our solar system in the planetarium during our pre-trip meeting. At the end of the class on Sunday, I'll distribute a take-home final exam which you'll have 10 days to complete and return to my office or the room 701 mailroom for the NAS division.

The Geological History of California in animations.

Principles of Planetary Science

What is a Lunar Graze?