I arrived on Sunday afternoon. Monday at dawn was beautiful, with the waning cresent moon and stars shining above this prehistoric place.
Our crew arrived at Gull Loop in Oh Ridge campground on the shores of June Lake throughout the afternoon and early evening. Some lingering clouds from the afternoon thunderstorms slowed our observing in the evening, but we still got nice views of the Ring Nebula, M13, and the Whirlpool galaxy via the CCD camera/lap top computer set up manned by Eric. This followed my campfire lecture on star formation.
After breakfast I gave a talk on the sun. Karl brought along the H-alpha solar telescope from De Anza College; showing leaping prominences on the edge of the sun. There were several sunspot groups as well, with bright plages nearby.
We began our planetary science field studies with a drive south. First stop was Obsidian Dome, a massive formation of black and red volcanic glass formed just a few hundred years ago. Obsidian, a grainless glass rock formed when silicon-rich lava solidifies rapidly after exiting a volcano, is found here mixed with pumice and a bit of rhyolite. This group photo at left shows our crew; left to right are: me, Kevin, Nelson, Emily, Eric, Garth, Maria, Doug, Joe, Chris, Tristana, Kelly, Karl, Nelson S., Rick, Kirk, and Brendan. Out of the picture are Ken and Nathan. At right I'm explaining why the rocks at are feet are such a bizarre mixture of types and origins.
Next stop was "Earthquake Fault" just north of Mammoth Lakes. It's actually a long deep crack caused by volcanic dome formation which raised and cracked the earth's crust here.
The evening campfire lecture was on stellar evolution and the formation of white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Clear skies this night brought out the10" LX200 for rapid-fire computer controlled pointing to planetary nebulae, galaxies, globular clusters, open clusters, Comet Q4 NEAT, and other wonders of the summer sky. Kirk brought his 12.5" Dob, and Eric had his CCD camera linked to his 6" and laptop (with LONG extension cords to the bathrooms) to add some real time astrophotos of these objects.
After a scrumptious breakfast of my fresh French crepes, fruit, and yogurt, today's agenda was exploring the geology north of Mono Lake. First stop was the ghost town of Bodie, where we discussed the formation of heavy elements in stars and how some can end up in veins in the crust, followed by compression and stretching processes and the formation of the Basin and Range province in which Bodie is situated. All of this under the eaves of a 120 year old store straight out of the wild west. Next we drove through Bridgeport and on to Buckeye Hot Springs. Here we enjoyed natural hot showers as the hot springs emerges from the mountainside and cascades over travertine down to cold Buckeye Creek. Last stop was Travertine Hot Springs just south of Bridgeport. At left, Kirk examines the hot spring where it emerges from atop this travertine formation. Back at camp, as we waited for our pasta to cook, Rick serenaded us with some original folk songs while late afternoon thunderstorms created nice primary and secondary rainbows.
Late at night, skies cleared and Nelson and I did a one-hour count of June Lyrids. I was pleased to find that "my" meteor shower was still producing meteors, as we logged 13 sporadics and 7 June Lyrids between 1:50 and 2:50am PDT.
After a granola breakfast, we devoted the day to exploring Mono Lake and environs. First stop was at Grant Lake Overlook, driving the perimeter of the June Lake caldera. We discussed the contrast between the granitics along the western margins and the volcanics where we stood. Next we drove out to Lundy Creek to study the dark ash deposits from the Black Point volcano. Volcanism-caused compression and folding created these twisted bands at left.
Then to Wilson Creek to search for rare stretch-pebble conglomerates and a spectacular view of lake bottom volcanic ash sediments topped by Black Point ash, with glacial erratics of metamorphics and granitics on the creek floor (right). Next we studied Mono Lake from the visitor center. The most interesting adventure was a hike into Pahnum Crater to study contorted obsidian and pumice formations. Nelson holds a boulder of pumice at left. In the center photo, everyone's got their own pretty rock of obsidian. Hey you guys, didn't you read the signs?? No collecting! At right, I show flow-banded obsidian layered with pumice near the center of the crater dome.
Above, we enjoyed the view of Mono Lake from the Visitors Center. Finally, we drove to the shores of Mono Lake at South Tufa and studied the interaction of hot springs and CO2-rich Mono Lake water to form the bizarre tufa towers, and drew comparisons with the newly discovered springs on Mars. At right, Garth and Nelson's kazoo jam session entertains us as I fix a dinner of beans, cheese, and chips at Mono Lake. We ended with an optional evening photo session of the Milky Way and star fields among the tufa formations. The black & white Milky Way shot is actually from our previous Astro 30, in 1990, digitized from film. Note the meteor in eastern Aquila.
Our final day began with my breakfast of fried curried potatoes and veges. Some R&R time was spent swimming at the lake, followed by caravan'ing south to Convict Lake where I lectured on the nature of the dark 100+ million year old volcanics resting on the younger Sierra granitics and their origin via the Juan de Fuca plate and deep sea trench subduction. This is one of the most dramatic sites in the Sierras to study this. Note the incredibly folded deposits shown on the glaciated face seen at left. Convict Lake is also dramatic for having not one but 3 terminal moraines, showing the cyclic nature of the Ice Ages over the past several million years.
Afterwards, we made a stop at the UC's Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory below the oldest Convict Lake moraine, where we got a brief tour and description of the research projects being done by the scientists here. Then, on to the Owens River for a picnic and mini-lecture on the sad history of how L.A. bought the water of the Owens River Valley.
"Imagine the Universe as a Rock"... We wrapped up the course lectures with my now famous talk on cosmology, multiple universes, the "bigness" of the Big Bang (below!), and the nature of life... all done as we soaked in the relaxingly warm primordial soup of Hot Creek.
After returning to camp, I fixed up a pasta dinner and then focused on preparing for astrophotography. Below, Karl and I get familiar with our new STV video/CCD camera before evening comes. This will provide autoguiding on our new Losmandy GM8 mount, permitting up to half a dozen cameras to get guided pictures of the skies.
During the week, while I lectured and showed students the clusters, nebulae and galaxies through the telescopes, Chris Angelos demonstrated astrophotography to the students and captured some beautiful images. Here's some of his best... At right, this incredible wide angle picture of our Galaxy's center, showing many of the star formation and evolution subjects we studied this crystal clear night. Left is the Lagoon Nebula and dark Nebulae of Sagittarius. And left is Comet Q4 NEAT, receding from sun and earth, but still a nice 6th magnitude object with a blue ion tail fanned above the yellow dust tail. A colorful comet when combined with the green coma, below the bowl of the Big Dipper.
And finally, here is a colorful shot of the Veil Nebula in Cyguns, an ancient supernova expanding shell.
Eric Holmes was generous enough to show his telescope and astrophotography gear to fellow students. He had a home-made CCD camera and 6" Newtonian and sent along these photos of the irregular starburst galaxy M82, and the beautiful face-on spiral M51 (the Whirlpool). I did some post-processing in Photoshop; cropping and color balance.
Saturday morning our gang said its farewells after a breakfast of fried potatoes and granola. Some of us did a final walk down to June Lake for a swim before heading out. It was a great trip! Let's hope we can schedule again for next summer.