See Some Stars at the Rancho Mirage Observatory

Rancho Mirage at Dusk

Have you ever marveled at the vast universe above us? Have you ever seen the stars so close that you felt like you could actually reach out and touch them? The telescope at the Rancho Mirage Observatory allows you to see and experience our amazing universe all while making you realize that the universe is indeed bigger than us.

For you explorers out there, a visit to the observatory is well worth your time. You will learn the names of individual stars and see different constellations up close. The telescope is so powerful that you will be able to see Mars and Jupiter in great detail, as well as large clusters of stars and distant galaxies.

This is a family affair, so make sure to bring the kids along. Everything they have learned in their astronomy books will come to life once they experience the splendor of the night skies.

We hope this article will entice you to visit the observatory and learn new things about the night sky you never imagined. This experience will give you a new perspective on our planet and the vastness of space out there.

Why You Should Star Gaze in the Desert

The desert in Southern California is an ideal place for star-gazing. As star-gazers already know, you must do your star-gazing under a very dark sky between dusk and dawn. There is more opportunity for extended viewing in the cooler months due to the nights being longer. But there’s still good viewing to be had in the summer months.

The darker the skies, the better the viewing experience you will have. When these conditions are met, one will not need a telescope to marvel at the beauty of the stars above us. The skies here are very dark because there’s less ambient light than in bigger cities. The air is also very dry here, so there isn’t any haze to obscure your views.  If you’re in the right place, the stars can appear as if there has been white dust thrown across the sky. Of course, a telescope or binoculars will bring the universe even closer. 

Not going to be in the Rancho Mirage area? There are many other locations in Southern California suitable for star-gazing. We will discuss a few of these now.

Joshua Tree National Park is a popular site for star-gazing. The darkest spot in the park is at the Cotton Wood amphitheater where there are many events to be enjoyed during the winter and spring seasons.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Borrego Springs has been named one of the top 10 cities in the country for star-gazing. In 2009 it became the second International Dark Sky Community in the world!

Some will tell you that the Mojave National Preserve is the best place for star-gazing. Amateur and professionals astronomers alike can enjoy gazing upwards during their weekend camping trip at the Hole-In-The-Wall and Black Canyon campgrounds!

How Close are We to the Universe Above Us?

The stars may look close through the telescope, but we are 93 million miles away from the sun. That would be a 19-year trip, in case you were wondering.

The moon is more than 239,000 miles away from the Earth. The closest star you will see from the observatory is actually 4.2 light years away. 4.2 light years translates to 24.94 trillion miles from Earth. Imagine a telescope enabling you to view these marvels like they were in the same room!

The Telescope is Powerful

This powerful telescope allows visitors the ability to see planets such as Mars and Jupiter in great detail. The telescope also makes viewing galaxies, star clusters, and various nebulae throughout the night sky possible.

Star-gazers will be able to see 3 trillion times further than the naked eye could ever be capable of. In astronomical terms, this translates to 50 million light years. The telescope at the observatory is a top-quality, research-grade instrument, comparable to the observatories you can visit at universities.  The telescope you have at home doesn’t get anywhere near the magnification of this telescope.

The Building Is Cool Too

This is a massive building. Over one million pounds of concrete was used to construct the observatory. Round concrete footings were poured 20-feet into the ground to prevent vibration. The pedestal for the telescope is 16-feet tall and is anchored by a 120,000-pound concrete footer. The deck is equipped with four workstations that are equipped with power and data links. Upon walking onto the observatory deck, you will see the massive telescope underneath a rotating dome that spins 360 degrees in either direction. This rotation allows you to see large clusters of stars, nebulae, clouds of gas and dust as well as distant galaxies. There will be something to marvel at no matter which direction you look. It is equipped with a weather station that will close the dome if it were to rain. 

The Sky by Season

Some may be wondering what stars or constellations they might be able to see at the Observatory. Most constellations are visible for at least six months out of the year, but which ones are the most visible will depend on the time of year you visit.

On the first day of spring, the day and night are of equal length. Around this time, Arcturus can be located by following the curve in the handle of the Big Dipper in the eastern sky at dusk. Turn your attention higher in the sky to the south to see the sickle-shaped head of Leo.

 If you’ve never seen a meteor shower, come to the desert in mid-August and be amazed by the Perseid meteor shower. Over the years, this meteor shower has proven to be very consistent.

The autumnal equinox is a fun time for stargazing as well. Looking toward the northeast at dusk, you will see The Great Square of Pegasus. The Great Square is shaped like a diamond, much like a baseball diamond. The star at the bottom resembles home plate, to the right of that is first base, second base is at the top, with third base being to the left.

The winter solstice is on December 21st.  The desert will be covered in complete darkness by 5 PM. This is the best time of year to see the infamous constellation of Orion. Orion can be found by turning your attention to the south. Below the constellation, are three stars that form the hunter’s sword. If you’ll look to the left of Orion, you will spot Sirius, which is the brightest star in the night sky. Gemini and Taurus are very clear during the winter months as well.

Pre-visit Research

If you choose to go out on your own stargazing expedition, investing in a star map is worth every dollar spent. There are also mobile apps that can help guide you. These maps will help you identify and locate constellations you are familiar with and quite possibly some you have never heard of before. 

Night Sky and Night Sky Lite are available for IOS and Android. This app, gives you a realistic sky map that shows thousands of stars, planets, satellites and constellations.

Star Walk 2 is also available for both Android and IOS devices. This app also displays a detailed map of the sky above you. Giving you the coordinates of the stars you can see in your particular area makes finding each star, constellation, and planet very easy. Another awesome feature tells you the history and mythology of the constellations.

Sky Safari 5 is an advanced app that is very popular. This app allows you to view star maps offline to study in your leisure. Enjoy animated visualizations like eclipses and meteor showers. Another feature gives you information on a variety of celestial objects.

Stellarium Mobile is available for both IOS and Android devices for a small fee. This app, sporting more than 600,000 stars, give you the ability to zoom in and find constellations from different cultures.

Ready to Visit the Observatory?

The programs that are offered at the Observatory are too numerous to list in this short article, but more information about them can be found here in the Programs and Exhibits Guide.

We hope this article has made you excited to visit the Rancho Mirage Observatory on your next trip to Palm Springs. A visit to the Rancho Mirage Observatory will leave the explorer in you sharing this experience with others for years to come!

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