Astro 28H: Field Astronomy at Lassen Volcanic National Park / Hat Creek Radio Observatory

Sept 27-29, 2003

See the Post-Trip Highlights and Scenes Here

Signups will begin Wed Sept 4 at 5pm in room 705. We have room for 30 students. Bring $20 camping deposit with you to signups. You may sign up yourself and one other. After payment, your SS# will be authorized for adding the class in the usual way via the web or HawkTalk. These field classes are very popular and will likely fill on the first day. Plan to arrive early to get your place in line.

In this section of Astro 28 we explore planetary geology topics. Our setting is Lassen Volcanic National Park, 40 miles east of Redding. See the national park's site on Lassen. Lassen Peak is the only active volcano in California, last erupting in 1921. It is the southernmost volcano of the chain of active volcanos defining the Cascade Range, as the Juan de Fuca plate subducts underneath the North America plate. The park has an amazing array of volcanics: fumaroles, geysers, hot springs, lava fields, ice caves, boiling mud pots, even entire boiling lakes. It is one of the most beautiful parks in the National Park system but is only lightly visited. I'm planning the details of this course right now, but already we can promise the following highlights.

Hat Creek Radio Observatory

The University of California owns this array of radio telescopes. It is about 20 miles north of Lassen in an interesting lava field formation, and some of the largest ice caves in the Cascades are only a couple of miles away. The SETI Institute is cooperating with the University to build a new array of radio dishes uniquely designed for searching for signs of intelligent life among the stars. SETI searches with unearthly radio dishes, ice caves... .it sounds like a scene from Star Wars - and it'll be just as fun. I'll plan a tour of the observatory on Saturday and explore the ice caves at the same time.

Asteroid Occultation

An asteroid will occult an 11.7 magnitude star during our weekend. The exact path will be uncertain until a few days or a week before the trip, but the current nominal prediction is for the path to pass very close to us. We'll bring along our video camera and monitor and attempt to record the exact moments of the disappearance and reappearance of the star from behind the asteroid. With such data, astronomers can determine the size and shape of the asteroid. If we're really lucky, we or other observers will see a secondary occultation due to a moon. This will enable astronomers to determine an accurate mass using Keplers laws (remember those, Astro 10'rs?). Mass and size then gives the density and hence important clues about the chemical composition and form of the asteroid. These are important for constraining theories of the formation of the asteroid belt, and also for deciding what the heck we're going to do when one of these monster rocks targets Earth.

The Center of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Late September is the perfect time to study the central regions of our own Milky Way galaxy. We are expecting that long-time Cabrillo Astronomy Club emeritus J.P. will journey from his new home near Eureka along with his impressive 25" Dobsonian telescope. With the incredibly dark skies of Lassen (already a favorite destination of Bay Area amateur astronomers) this large telescope has given us Hubble-quality views of star clusters, gaseous star forming regions, distant galaxies, and quasars.


This summer the planet Mars passes closer to Earth than it has been in the last 50 THOUSAND years! By late September it will be well placed in the early evening sky for our inspection. Contrasting the geology of Mars with that of the earth and Lassen National Park will be a prime goal of my lectures around the campfire and at the telescope.

Famous Crepe Breakfasts

I'll cook up my incredible fruit and crepe breakfasts to start each day, followed on Saturday by a study of the sun and sunspots using our solar filter. Then explorations of the geology and hot springs of the area, and Hat Creek Observatory and surrounding ice caves. Chez Rick will have a pasta theme to Friday and Saturday's dinners, with delicious saute's built from pot luck vege contributions from our students to enliven the dish, and Bob's famous garlic toast. Telescope viewing with the Cabrillo Astronomy Club and lectures will carry us deep into the night. Informal instruction on photographing the night sky with your film camera is also planned. Lassen Peak itself will cut a dramatic foreground for star trail pictures. Sunday morning we'll do our last explorations and rendezvous points as we work our way home. A take-home final exam will be distributed at the end.

To Bring

* Warm clothes! Day temperatures will be in the 70's, but at night it may get into the 30's by dawn.

* Tent, sleeping bag, thermarest

* An offering of fresh fruit and/or veges to contribute to the meals. Bring your own lunches.

* Flashlight with red tail-light tape to give a soft red color which won't ruin our dark adaption