Astro 28V: Field Astronomy in Hot Springs Country for the Perseid Meteor Shower

Aug 10-12, 2007

Post-Trip Highlights and Photos

This Astro 28 installment will be very special; we're going to highlight the most spectacular of the annual meteor showers - the Perseids. Caused by the gradual melting and dissintegration of Comet Swift-Tuttle, this is a reliable shower, producing 60-100 meteors per hour for a comfortable observer snug in his/her sleeping bag with eyes aimed skyward and hands on a thermos of hot chocolate. We'll array ourselves in a little circle and watch the sky, oooo'ing and ahhhh'ing and photographing the bits of rock and pebbles that burn up 40 miles above our heads, speeding ~150,000 feet per second into our atmosphere.

The Perseids are active all through early August, but meteor rates will rise each night until maximum on August 12. There are also two other meteor showers active in the early morning hours - the Capricornids and the Delta Aquariids, so we'll have fun disentangling which meteors belong to which shower. We'll observe on both nights. And, before the radiant rises we will also have out the telescopes to study the star formation regions dotting the summer Milky Way in Sagittarius, Scorpius, and Aquila, including the Lagoon, Trifid, and Eagle Nebulae made famous by the Hubble Space Telescope images.



Our Campground:

Honeymoon Flat Campground near Bridgeport, 25 miles north of Mono Lake. with it's beautiful tufa formations. The picture at left was taken from this campground last fall. This is centrally located in hot springs country, with Buckeye Hot Springs, Travertine Hot Springs, and Fales Hot Creek all just a few miles away. It's also the site of last year's Astro 28S class. It's on the Walker River after it emerges from the glaciated canyon that is home to Twin Lakes. This pretty spot has some advantages: First, it's a regular campground and therefore has water. It's also close to Twin Lakes which may be a swim option late on Saturday. It's also got a good horizon especially towards the south, and this is important for summer viewing as the most spectacular telescopic sights of the summer sky are clustered near the Scorpius/Sagittarius region which is home to the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, and this rides low in the south for northern hemisphere observers. Finally, it's much closer to the hot springs which are most interesting to study geologically and refreshing to experience directly. Temperatures should be warm, 80F in the afternoon and 40F at dawn. This campground is first come / first serve, and its possible we might not get campsites. In that case, we'd look for a spot close to Buckeye Hot Springs, or we can consider Virginia Lakes canyon, not far from Mono Lake.



As a backup in case the regular campgrounds are all full (not likely), we'll head for the camping area along Virginia creek in an open meadow near Virginia Lakes, high above the spectacularly scenic aspen groves of Conway Summit above Mono Lake and just below the Sierra Crest at the boundary of Yosemite National Park. During the day we'll explore Mono Lake (gulls and other birds love this lake for breeding and as a way station during migrations). One advantage of the Virginia Lakes site is that it is higher in elevation and therefore probably cooler (however, during the day we'll be exploring

Virginia Lakes (left) are in a picturesque high canyon, and Mono Lake (right) is far below. Our camping area would be just off the lower right side of this photo (click for enlarged version). The canyon sides are steep though, and our view of the sky would not be as good as at Honeymoon Flats. Below Virginia Lakes is Conway Summit, and its beautiful stands of quaking aspen, still green in August, but just beginning to change to yellow in a few higher elevation spots.









(Conway aspen photo: copyright Doug Broussard. All Rights Reserved)




The Plan

During the day, we'll study the local geology and lecture on the history of the earth and the inner solar system, with special emphasis on the geologic history of the Sierra / Basin & Range boundary region in which we'll be camping. I'll be treating you to my famous French crepes breakfast on our first morning, and cooked eggs and/or veges on the second morning. I'll also be providing dinners of pasta and other delicacies. Maps, academic handouts, and carpooling will be handled on our pre-trip meeting in August just before the weekend trip. Click below for the details. Here is the planetary science hand-out which I'll be distributing once I see you at camp.


Your grade will be based on two components. (1) A take-home written final exam. You'll have 10 days to complete and mail in or drop off. and (2) your demonstrated curiosity, participation, and helpfulness during the get-togethers during the field trip. Fun is an essential ingredient to any good learning experience.


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