This perfect Spring weekend could not, alas, be lined up with a special astronomical happening. No matter, we'll learn and explore plenty just the same. We've got a slender cresent moon and Saturn and Mars in the evening sky, wildflowers, the rich star fields of the Orion spiral arm of our Galaxy. Spring is a perfect time for the desert and eastern Sierra...
Red Rock Canyon State Park is a beautiful and dramatic landscape, full of old mines, Joshua trees, fossils from a wetter time long ago, veins of gold, seismotite, and other semi-precious gems.. Red Rock has gem fields in the El Paso Mountains, bizarre desert characters and their stories, the old mining towns of Red Mountain and Johannesburg, and of course it has pitch black skies. The amazing geology of this area is in part due to the convergence of the faulting parallel to the San Andreas and also the transverse Garlock Fault. Red Rock also happens to be the most convenient place for a desert trip - the shortest feasible road into the desert from Santa Cruz is Route 101 down to Paso Robles, then east on Hwy 46 to I-99 in the central valley, then down to Bakersfield and Hwy 58 over Tehachapi Pass. We spend Saturday exploring the nearby El Paso Mountains and their gem fields, mines, and geological formations. We've explored here before so check out the post-trip highlights of Astro 28M and Astro 28B (alas, the pictures from 28B are still only on film). Red Rock Canyon was also the site of our Astro 9 field trip for the great Leonids Meteor Storm of 2001. Read more about Red Rock Canyon State Park here, here, and here. Red Rock is a 6.5 hour drive from Santa Cruz. This is near the outer limits of many people's driving tolerance. A genuine campground (i.e. port-a-potty's, water). The El Paso Mountains have interesting geology, fossils, the Burro Schmidt tunnel (bits of gold ore can be found in/around). The campground is not accepting reservations, so it'll be first come/first serve. If we decide to go here and someone is willing to drive out there thursday eve or crack-of-dawn on friday, we'd have a better chance of getting the sites I want (the last 3 in the loop, on the little cul-de-sac against the cliffs). I will probably get a start on Thursday evening if weather is good, doing some astrophotography at Carrizo Plain on the way, then continue on to Red Rock and arrive by 2 or 2:30pm.
We'll study the star forming regions of Orion with our 10" LX200 computer-controlled telescope. And, the star clusters of Auriga. As the winter Milky Way sets, we'll turn attention to the north galactic pole region in Virgo and Leo, where the center of the local Supercluster lives - the Virgo Cluster (of galaxies). We'll study the giant "cannibal" galaxy M87, the Whirlpool galaxy in the Big Dipper, the remnants of dead stars - the Owl Nebula, the Crab Nebula (remnants of a supernova which exploded 1000 years ago). Late in the evening hardy souls may be able to spot our first glimpse of Comet Schwassman-Wachmann 3. This comet is disintegrating into fragments and this "string of pearls" will sweep by Earth closer than any comet in 80 years in just one month. The brightest fragment of the comet will still be faint, but should be easily visible in our telescope. Late at night I hope to do some astrophotography and you're welcome to get a demonstration of CCD imaging.
On the way home perhaps there'd be some interest in taking the Lake Isabella detour back to Bakersfield, stopping at one of my favorite hot springs, right on the lower Kern River. Here's some more pics scrounged from the web are here and here.
Pre-trip On-Campus Meeting
We met at 5pm on March 22 at the planetarium (room 706, same entrance as my office), making final plans on location, carpooling, food, map distribution, etc. And, a planetarium presentation on the night sky and planetary processes and formation. Location: it went to the 4th ballot, but the final decision was to go to Red Rock Canyon State Park. The convenience of being at a campground outweighed the adventure of going farther afield. I will be doing some final web scrounging for new variations to add to our past adventures at Red Rock. We have about 20 in our group, and we'll be doing some astrophotography later in the evening (me, Eric, and Neta at least). RCASS astro clubbers, you're welcome to join us as always. I expect to arrive around 4-5pm. Eric will probably arrive first - about 3pm. I will see if I can leave earlier. If possible I may leave late Thursday. I'd really like to make sure we get our favorite campsites - they're perfect for our plans. I will be buying dinner, at least the main course - pasta on one night and jasmine rice + veges on the other night. I'll also do a nice breakfast of french crepes. Please bring along some fruit to add to the crepes. Sunday breakfast will be quicker; perhaps eggs and toast, and granola for our vegetarian. You should bring lunches, snacks, and we've got promises for pot-luck desserts we can snack on while we're at the scopes. We also had 3+ volunteers who will bring firewood. I'll have along the "nuclear burner" donated by Jeff so we can get those big carbo meals cooked fast. A starting point checklist for you is here.
I distributed handouts - maps, and a concentrated summary of the geology of the inner planets, and the geology of California and the desert. I've posted this online here. There will be more small scale maps and material when I see you at Red Rock.
A checklist for car camping is here.