Astro 28M : Field Astronomy in the High Desert - Native American Sites and a Lunar Graze

Mar 19-21, 2010

Registering for the class


PostTrip Photo Page

In this course, we'll introduce you to some concentrated astronomy and planetary science in a stark and beautiful setting, under the clean dark skies of the high desert. The astronomical highlight is a bright grazing lunar occultation, which passes through the Domelands and Chimney Peak Wilderness areas north of Lake Isabella. We'll study the star formation areas of the Orion Spiral Arm of our Milky Way Galaxy on Friday night. Saturday morning I'll cook my famous French Crepes breakfast for the team, and we'll explore the local geology. Most of our group will do hikes in the local area to learn of planetary science, the geology of the Earth, the Sierra, and the geologic history of the Mojave and southern Sierra. We also plan to visit site(s) showing ancient Native American pictographs and petroglyphs, I will try to get permission to access the Little Lake archeology sites, which are next to a privately owned by very beautiful lake on the edge of a lava cliff. (There are also petroglyphs at Sheep Spring in Red Rock Canyon State Park). In the afternoon, we may have time to drive out to the ancient Pleistocene formations known as the Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark (photo at left, and, another link) - a famous location used in many sci-fi movies because of its bizarre and other-wordly geology. Saturday evening we'll arrive back at camp for dinner before sunset, and then deploy our stations for the graze which happens just as twilight is ending. The graze is visible only along a very narrow path which passes a few miles north of our campground.

The areas we'll be exploring show some of the best examples of plate tectonic-induced faulting, volcanism, and Ice Age geology anywhere in world. Our campground is Chimney Creek campground. The most direct route there is to drive up Hwy 178 out of Bakersfield, past Lake Isabella, to the tiny town of Canebrake, then take Canebrake Road 10 miles further north. It is graded dirt that is easy passable by 2wd passenger cars, but don't expect to go much more than 35 mph, and usually slower. The famous Pacific Crest Trail crosses Canebrake Road 0.2 miles south of Chimney Peak Campground. Here's another account, which mentions that the road should be passable by most ordinary cars. It should be pretty vacant this time of year - and cold at night. Bring your thermals! A link to some useful info on the roads near the campsite.

On the return trip on Sunday, we'll stop at Remington Hot Springs on the Kern River, here, and soak in wonderfully warm water while listening to a final lecture.




The topo map of our campground - Chimney Creek campground

GoogleEarth view of our campground

The sign at the entrance to the wilderness.

The view from the top of a mountain near camp, showing Kennedy Meadow north of our campground down below, and white-capped Mt. Whitney far behind

The Grazing Lunar Occultation of ZC 570 in Aries

At 8:08pm, right after twilight ends on Saturday evening, the slender evening cresent moon will just graze the bright star ZC 570 in Aries. The star will disappear and reappear along the ghostly earthlit mountains on the northern limb of the moon, and for 3 minutes, it will vanish and reappear repeatedly as it is covered and uncovered by the dark lunar hills and valleys seen in profile. Grazes are not only beautiful to watch, but making precise timings is as simple as shouting "D!" and "R!" into a tape recorder while radio station WWV broadcasts time signals. These timings are still the most precise way that astronomers have for tracking the changing orbit of the moon and calibrating it to the fundamental FK6 coordinate system tied to the stars. This permits many tests of exotica such as General Relativity and tidal friction. Read more about grazing occultations here. I'll bring our 10" LX200 scope and video recording gear. I'll also have another portable telescope(s) so that we can set up at least one or two other student stations, if I can get some help in transporting the telescopes. If you have your own, please consider bringing it!

Graze profile at long=118. Nice! Promises feast or famine of disappearances and reappearances

Graze site, nearest to Chimney Peak Campground. Elev 6800 ft. An alternative is to go down to the lower site...

Graze site, from Rt 395. Prime spot is 0.1s, plus 0.10 tanZsinD = 0.20miS of red line (300m nominal northern limit). On north-bound Hwy 395, the prime spot is Lat=35d 52.07'. On southbound: 35d 52.13'

The crossing on 395 happens to be 0.27mi south - an excellent if noisey choice in a pinch. Elev 826m


Camper's checklist

The Rules of the Game