AST 495-595 survives the Southwest

Can't catch Covid from a cactus!

March 15, 2020 |

View inside Fay Canyon ArizonaRecently, as part of the Spring 2020 course "Astronomy in the US Southwest" Drs. Eskridge and Rutkowski led a group of 5 students (Undergraduates: Jordan Headley, Samantha Sunnarborg, Jackson Walters, Andy Johnson; Graduate: John Scheele) on a grand tour of New Mexico and Arizona.  Stops along this 1800+ mile road-trip were designed to introduce students to astronomy and related science in the region.

The US Southwest has been home to curious individuals for more than 2000 years, so many of the stops included visits to locations where petroglyph records of astronomical phenomena could be seen close up.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus restricted visits to three sites originally programmed: the Large Binocular Telescope, the Kitt Peak National Observatory, and the U. of Arizona Mirror Labs. Nonetheless, students were granted behind the scenes access to the Very Large Array --- the US' premier radio observatory located near Datil, NM. They also toured the Lowell Observatory, seeing the telescopes with which Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh and other facilities on the campus.

Students also had the chance to visit a number of sites of geological interest for planetary science. These included a long hike in the snow and rain to the lava tubes that once fed the Sunset Crater volcano (which have analogs on the Moon) and canyons where ~50 million years of aeolian and alluvial deposition of sand in dunes and shallow seas could be considered close up. Featured above is a photograph of first year student Samantha Sunnarborg at Fay Canyon, an analog (ignoring all of the beautiful green vegetation!) to canyon lands on the surface of Mars.

This was the first physics "Study Away" program sponsored by the department.

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