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Frances Allen’s Desert Roundup—Seeing Real Stars In Rancho Mirage

Posted: Monday, April 23, 2018 – 3:31 PM

Have you ever seen a public library physically co-joined with a research-grade, observatory-mounted telescope? You haven’t, not if you have spent all your time in the state of California–never that is, until the dedication earlier this year of the Rancho Mirage Library and Observatory.

The new facility marks the first time, ever, that an observatory has shared a library campus in California. So it is no wonder that the observatory has attracted the interest of Rancho Mirage residents as well as stargazers worldwide.

The idea of establishing an observatory began with Marilyn Bauer, a member of the City’s Historic Preservation Commission. She was challenged to come up with an idea of something new and innovative for the city of Rancho Mirage and proposed an observatory which her colleagues soon agreed to.

But bringing the idea from a dream to fruition was not a simple task, and construction was faced with unique problems. A parcel of land had to be found that was practically suitable for operations at night. Fortunately, that suitable site was adjacent to the Rancho Mirage Library.

Also, the issue of vibration had to be resolved. A necessary consideration for any observatory is that the telescope must be anchored to minimize vibration. Otherwise the photos taken would be grainy and of a poor quality size. The Rancho Mirage site was next to a major highway and could present lots of vibration. This meant that the observatory’s instrument needed to be uncoupled from its pedestal and have a substantial mass to it.

And still more vibration problems as the observatory sits on a wash, so the reinforced concrete footings supporting it must extend 20 feet into the ground, requiring special drilling equipment to achieve that depth.

The facility is designed to be ”people friendly.” A large silo-shaped dome houses the “Cosmic Office” and the PlaneWave CDK700 telescope. It will also feature computers so users can hook up their own telescopes to view the cosmos.

One very special feature of the observatory is its ability to be operated remotely. The dome on top of the silo, which houses the telescope, can be operated remotely, as can the telescope. An actual person will not have to physically be in the Cosmic Office coordinating usage. No matter where on the globe they are, Rancho Mirage astronomers can now program the telescope remotely to capture celestial images.

Is the $1 million facility really it? Ask me when your grandchild is more familiar with the work of Einstein than with Beyonce.

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