Another exceptionally enjoyable trip! We got to camp via Jolon Rd from King City, through Fort Hunter-Liggett. I hadn't been through the fort since before "9/11", and so things were a bit different. Some of our car-pooling students arrived first at the entry gate. Each vehicle is asked for their drivers license, proof of insurance, and registration. There was some fumbling underneath seat cushions etc., but eventually we all made it through. We continued on up Nacimiento River canyon to Ponderosa Campground and grabbed 6 campsites near the top of the loop, just as we had for Astro 28A in 2000. I started right in on dinner - a jasmine rice / wild rice mix, cooked with fresh veges and coconut milk. The chemistry of the group was really excellent, with the Orr twins, Jessica's C. and H., and David especially adding life to our educational experience, and Heather adding plenty of volunteer help around the kitchen. As it got dark, we gathered 'round the telescope and binoculars and I lectured on the formation and evolution of stars, aiming my laser pointer to examples of different star types in the night sky. Sagittarius was well placed for studying the inner spiral arms and the rich details of the star forming regions here.
We had aweseome dark skies on Friday night and saw everything on my lists and then some; from open clusters to globulars to the biggest galaxies in the sky, to lots of famous and not so famous planetary nebulae, the showpiece emission nebulae / star formation regions of the Sagittarius spiral arm (the Eagle, Lagoon, Trifid, and Omega nebulae), and the Veil Nebula supernova remnant in Cygnus. We even got a chance to see a rare supernova bright enough to see optically with our own eyes in a distant galaxy - the beautiful late-type spiral galaxy NGC 6846 in Cepheus had a 12th magnitude massive star Type II supernova near maximum this weekend. This was the highlight for many (...there's something about young people and big explosions). At right, the Orr twins are in a state of slack-jawed awe, while Jessica enjoys the globular cluster M13 in Hercules.
Next morning was my promised French crepes breakfast cooked over dual burners for maximum throughput! Saturday mornings are usually the gourmet highlight of my field trip classes, as I cook crepes and carve up plenty of fresh fruit and nut fillings. Jessica H and the Orr clones happily carve away on bananas, pineapple, strawberries, peaches, and grapes. Jessica C., Maria, and Chadwick wait with plates at the ready.
Right, powered by this fresh fruit and carbo meal and inspired by the beautiful Fall colors at our camp site and the prospects of more astronomical wonders to be unveiled, Jessica (gymnastics coach!) leads the Orr twins and Dave in an A-S-T-R-O cheer. And capped with some high-5'ing all around.
Next we drove up the Naciemento canyon through a canopy of oaks and maples in beautiful yellow and orange colors to the saddle where Coast Ridge Rd crosses. Here, we had a panoramic view of the Big Sur coast far below. I gave a lecture on inner planet structural determiners - size and cooling rate and plate tectonics. Then focused on the unique geologic history of California and Big Sur. I brought along some metamorphic schist from camp and compared it to the road cut metamorphics, all formed in the Mesazoic period 100 million years ago when a deep sea trench defined California. Check out our happy crew below. Front row left to right are Nicholas River, Chris, Mike, Otis, Jessica C., and smiling Dave. In the back row is Kathryn, Aaron, Doug, Heather, Jessica H., Mark, Maria, Lindsay, Darrell, Mila, Karen, Scott, Ingrid, Randa, and Chadwick. After the lecture, students got some free time. Many went to the Jade Festival down near Sand Dollar Beach, others did some studying for classes in nooks and crannies along the rugged coast.
Jessica and I headed east, back down towards Hunter-Liggett to explore Mission San Antonio, one of the best and least visited of the California missions. It's about half a mile east of the main headquarters of Fort Hunter-Liggett, which is based around William Randolf Hearst's hunting lodge.
The mission grounds are kept with some of the original fruit trees and their offspring planted by the missionaries, including pomegranate and figs.
Candle making was done by dipping a string into this tallow vat over and over.
... is that a skull being carried by that priest? Those inquisition-era Catholics were not to be trifled with by the natives!
Jessica remembers her childhood, in the large church. She helped explain the uses of the various balconies, side rooms, and kneeling boards.
Later, we headed to the beach. The rock types and minerals of the Big Sur are easiest to decipher where they've been exposed at the coastline.
Here below Kirk Creek campground is chert and calcium carbonate-infused metamorphic shale.
The beaches contain bits of jade polished round by eons in the surf zone, here on calcium carbonate veins. At left is metamorphic sedimentary rock showing severely warped bedding in this folded, earthquake-faulted ancient subduction zone.
In late afternoon, we returned to camp and I fixed a dinner of pasta, basil/tomato sauce, and fresh sliced veges with olive oil and parmesan. Heather brought home-made brownies which we devoured while studying galaxies around the telescope, including the one and only quasar-like example visible in small telescopes; the Seyfert galaxy M77 in Cetus. Skies were so dark that we could see the Helix nebula without an H-alpha filter. Then, I recap'ed the value of timing the occultations of star by asteroids to determine their precise sizes and shapes, and then the crew watched as I worked hard to patch together the video system so we could watch for the occultation of a faint star by the asteroid Jarmila. Alas, the predicted path was likely slightly south of us, and we saw a near miss. (This is common; prediction errors and equipment problems typically result in no-occultations for 3 out of every 4 attempts). Then we packed the equipment into my car and got to sleep in order to get up at 3:45am and drive the 50 miles to Lake Naciemento for the graze of 46 Leonis at 6am the next morning. I did not make driving to the graze a requirement, since I would be video-recording the event for all to see and study during breakfast back at camp the next morning. But still, three carloads of students volunteered to join me. We drove south through Fort Hunter Liggett and had to show our papers again, this time without trouble. Jessica was my co-pilot, monitoring the GPS unit to make sure we arrived at the right longitude and latitude. I chose observing at 0.5 mi south of the limit; risky because it was at the top of the lunar profile, but also promising the most spectacular grazing events. While I set up, Chadwick managed to get his car stuck in a ditch, but the rest of the crew bailed him out. At left, SpongeBob sits before the TV and Jessica watches intently the highly magnified thin northern cusp of the moon and the bright red giant star (click the picture: the star is visible as a blob at the tip of the cusp on the TV monitor), while Dave grins with... anticipation? We all waited and cheered for the star to disappear.... but it never did. Arghh! An apparent south shift resulted in a miss! And this was the best graze of the year... Bummer!
We looked at the Orion Nebula right after the graze,as dawn began. A beautiful sunrise during the drive back to camp, and then I fixed my Sunday breakfast - hash brown'd red rose pototoes in olive oil with anaheim peppers, leeks, and plenty of cumin, cilantro, and other spices.
Darren and Chris warm in the first rays of sunlight.
Jessica and Maria have big smiles as they enjoy the hot breakfast in the October dawn chill.
Then, it was time to say goodbye after a good weekend. On the drive home up the coast, I stopped at Lime Kiln State Park; the sunlight filtering through the redwood covered streams make this one of the most beautiful spots on the Big Sur coast.
We'll return again in the future - Big Sur is one of the classic places for field astronomy. Join us!
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