Astro 28W Field Astronomy - Granite Domes and High Sierra Hot Springs

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This was perhaps the most enjoyable Astro 28 class ever! Perfect weather, perfect students, gorgeous environment, stimulating for the mind, the eyes, and the body. I packed a ton of information into my sequence of lectures and a ton of nutritional goodness into the famous meals.

I recommended avoiding the nightmare intersection at Casa de Fruita (w/ Renassaince Faire this weekend too) and instead follow my lead and drive the back roads of Panoche and Little Panoche Valley and Mercey Hot Springs, across the Central Valley on farm roads, and into the Sierra. Past Lake Huntington the road was one-lane and slow, but the late afternoon lighting on the granite formations made it spectacular. An unexpected wedding and reception occupied most of the campground, so our preferred campsites were unavailable, even with Chris and his posse getting there a day early.

Chris pulls himself together Saturday morning

Wakey wakey, time for French Crepes

Sue came down from Washington to join us... and the crepes of course

Late morning, it was time to make our hike up to Doris Lake. This was my first hike of any kind after my June hip surgery, and I'm happy to say, it was a pure pleasure! We located a perfect lecture spot on top of a rocky ledge high over the lake, and here I gave my longest lecture of the weekend. I covered the principles of planetary geology, surface area/volume ratios and the effect on cooling rates, the geologic history of California for the past 120 million years, and the Sierra in particular. The chemistry and formation of granites, and the causes of the Ice Ages and how they have shaped the area here. Then, it was time to stimulate the body - Doris Lake beckoned!

Our crew, just before heading up to Doris Lake

A micro-lecture: the chemistry of hot springs

My ledge-top lecture at Doris Lake...

...included the now-traditional "This, is Your Basic Rock" pose

A granite diving board? Holly and Nik were the adrenaline duo on this trip

After carefully probing the depth of the lake (WAY deep enough), Look out, we have jumpers!

(1/2)mv2 = "my butt hurts!" as Holly learns the hard way

Our jumpers, now thoroughly pumped

This very nice barbershop pole is actually Jessica! Nothing like a long swim in an alpine lake to invigorate a big smile.

Holly's 501's show evidence of much close study of rocks and minerals...

...such as here, demo'ing her bouldering skills on the well-lectured Sierra granitics


Resting and snacking back at camp

Barry and Jessica ponder a fork in the trail through this beautiful meadow... on the way to Little Eden hot springs.

Working our way into Little Eden hot spring. The setting was gorgeous in afternoon light, as this large hot spring is impossibly perched midway up a very long steep cliff of granite high above the San Jaquin River upper basin.

My long lecture at Little Eden started on the origin of hot springs, then veered into pure cosmology - nature and evidence for the Big Bang, arguments for the multi-verse from quantum cosmology and from the anthropic principle, and the nature of black holes and quasars

...what a beautiful place...

A psycho-solarized group shot. The beauty, the mind-expanding Big Bang cosmology... (or was it the arsenic?)... and we were all feeling pretty spaced.

OK, we're re-normalized again

"Barbarshop Pole" - Between her Diff Eq homework, Big Bang cosmology, cold alpine lake swim and delicious hot springs, Math-major Jessica had a permanent ear-to-ear smile all weekend

On the cliffs below Little Eden were slabs of tubules of carbonate precipitates from the mineral-laden hot springs

Back at camp before sunset, I re-align the 8" f/4 LXD75 scope. Goal - get all those circular's to be concentric!

This incredible trip pulled in some veterans from the early years - Sue flew down from Washington, Karina joined us at June Lake in 1992, and Barry (invaluable for his Mono Hot Springs knowledge) was with us on the very first Astro 28 way back in '98 at Markleville.

Chris' animal spirits engage, as he BBQ's some tri-tip for his inner circle

A little studying around the campfire, while our dinner stew is cooking. Keegan decides to include himself too.

Our optical arsenal included Kirk's 12", our 12" Dob, 10x70 tripod-mounted bino's, and the 8" f/4 LXD75 above, which doubled as my astrophotography demonstration scope.

My evening telescope session focused on stellar evolution - examples of stellar nurseries in the Sagittarius spiral arm at various ages between still 'wet' new borns to first-steps open clusters, to doddering oldsters gassing out their last (planetary nebulae M57 and the Dumbell Nebula). Someone commented that the Dumbell looked a lot like GW, our president, instead of a weight training thingy, with its large vacant face and big ears, and other parallels were quickly found - inner essense (a white dwarf) was dim, tiny, and extremely dense. Much hot air was being expelled, to no great effect. Degenerated (electron degeneracy rules the white dwarfs residing inside planetary nebulae). I could go on but... Anyway, we also examined the great globular cluster in Hercules and contrasted this with the core-collapse globular M15 in Pegasus, which has a massive black hole in its heart. The Andromeda Galaxy and its dwarf elliptical companions were perhaps the favorite of the class.

Barry constructed this colorful totem, perhaps as a voodoo doll against the rowdy wedding party nearby? Or perhaps to appease the Cloud Gods?

The Veil Nebula - a supernova shock wave in Cygnus . Jessica and I were up till 3am Sunday morning getting this 6x5min stack of images. Thanks Jessica, for your help in focusing the scope!

Chez Nolthenius creates the eggs/veges scramble Sunday morning

The final lecture, at Old Pedro Spring a short walk across the river from camp.

The subject - the evidence for the Inflationary Universe paradigm: the origin of galaxies as quantum fluctuations pre-Inflation, and the power law spectrum of density fluctuations agrees closely with predictions

Look at those happy eager young minds...


Thanks to all of you for making this the most enjoyable Astro 28 ever!