Astro 28T: Field Astronomy at Pt. Reyes National Seashore

Apr 20-22, 2007

New! See the Post-Trip Highlights Page

This time, we're going somewhere brand new - to the Russian River and Pt. Reyes area. At Pt. Reyes we'll be able to study some of the more dramatic landforms shaped by the principle forces affecting the inner planets surfaces - plate tectonics. The epicenter of the Great Quake of 1906 is right here at Pt. Reyes. We'll have dramatic views of the sky from a mountain top location, and we'll fuel our thirst for knowledge with protein and zinc-rich fresh oysters from Johnson's Oyster Farm (at right) on Drakes Estero inside the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Friday night we'll arrive at Frog Pond Campground (seen in the photo above) in Austin Creek State Park high above the Russian River and the resort town of Guerneville. We'll be at 1600 ft to get above any coastal fog. I've camped and observed here once before, in Sept. 2001 with a bright asteroid occultation. After breakfast, we'll head down the winding road through Armstrong Redwoods State Park .


Planetary Science: Saturday we'll take a leisurely drive down the Russian River, stopping to explore the rock types along the shore, stop at Bodega Bay (site of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" film) and the first look at the San Andreas Fault at the lagoon and marine reserve. Continue on along the coast of Tomales Bay, perhaps stopping at the Tomales Bay Oyster Farm for a brunch? But ultimately we want to explore the geology of Pt. Reyes. The eastern edge of Pt. Reyes National Seashore, near the Visitor Center, is the epicenter of the Great 1906 Earthquake that destroyed San Francisco. We'll study the buckled earth here on the Earthquake Trail near the Visitor Center, then across to the National Seashore and the very different (and very familiar you'll find) geology of this unique peninsula, onward to the headlands (see photo at lower right) and the conglomerates there and their interesting history and it's relation to Montery Bay, watch for whales at the lighthouse, stop at Johnson Oyster Farm for some fresh oysters and to examine the upper reaches of Drakes Estero, and then drive up the short steep road to Mt. Vision for a summary talk on the geology of the area and enjoy the incredible views in all directions. I took a beautiful set of pictures of sunset from this location in December '04 - a sample is below. More photos of this area from my adventures are here. And here. I've put together a planetary science handout which specializes on California and Pt. Reyes.


An excellent source of information on the geology is here.


Astronomical Highlights:

There is a lunar grazing occultation on Friday night. A 9.6 magnitude star grazes the 19% evening cresent moon along a path through Bodega Bay and points farther southeast. That's not close to our campsite, nor to Pt. Reyes exactly, and is frankly out of the way. We may skip this, or, I'm pondering where best to plan to observe it. It's faint, however, and will require excellent skies to see Anything less and we definitely will skip this. As of mid week before our trip, the weather and already large driving amounts have convinced me that we should skip this - the odds are just too poor that we'll even see it. Hey, sometimes there's a nice graze at a nice spot on a weekend cresent moon around which I can schedule an Astro 28.... and sometimes not.

The main feature - this weekend the earth passes through the orbit of the parent comet to the Lyrids Meteor Shower. We'll be watching shooting stars. Sometimes, this shower produces mini-"storms", as it did in 1922 and in 1982 (when I happened to be watching, from the high Sierra), producing hundreds of meteors per hour. Also this weekend, there is an occultation of a bright 9.1 magnitude star by the asteroid Terentia, which might be visible from our location.

Another special appearance is Comet Machholz, which will pass very close to the sun It'll be in the early pre-dawn sky for us, and quite a bit fainter, but perhaps still visible in binoculars and might make a nice astrophoto subject. Another comet will also grace our early morning skies - Comet Lovejoy will be passing through the summer Milky Way and be near maximum brightness (but only magnitude 8 - looking like a little fuzzy blob no doubt - but may make a nice photo subject for late late night photography. And Comet Encke, the shortest period comet known, and is 7th magnitude low in the evening sky at twilight.

We'll also be studying the great fields of Galaxies perfectly positioned in the Spring sky - the great Virgo Cluster, the Whirlpool Galaxy, the Sombrero Galaxy, and other wonders. We'll also be able to study the star formation regions of the winter Milky Way, still visible in the west after sunset.

Camper's checklist. , Planetary geology hand-out. When time get's close... Astronomer's weather 48hours ahead; but note this site is near sea level and we're going to be at 1600 ft elevation and so more likely to be above any fog shown on the weather site.


Apr 19: Late Update...

First, the weather is looking better; chances of rain have been backed off. We may be in good shape! They're predicting clear skies for Friday night.

Second, I've confirmed that there is water from faucets at the campground, so no need to bring anything except your personal favorite drinking water.

Check back again later in case there's any last second updates, otherwise I'll see you there.