Everyone knows that stars rain down year-round in the Palm Springs Valley. We’re all über aware of the rock gods and goddesses of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the Hollywood royals crowned at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and the literary lions who gather for the Rancho Mirage’s Writers Festival. But I’m talking about the stars up above, in the sky.
While there’s barely a spot in the desert from which you can’t see what Shakespeare’s Hamlet describes as “this most excellent canopy…this brave o’er hanging firmament, this majestical roof, fretted with golden fire,” arguably the best place to see stars is at the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage, where, every Saturday night (weather permitting), approximately 30 minutes after sunset until at least 9:00 p.m. in the fall and winter (and 10:00 p.m. in the spring and summer), staffers set up a powerful telescope at the far end of the reflecting fountain. And yes, they do this gratis for guests.
The telescope used is an 11” computerized apparatus made by Celestron, one of the industry’s leaders. Its powerful magnification permits viewers to see celestial objects 117 times larger than they could with their naked eye. “We primarily look at the moon, planets, and the Andromeda galaxy,” says Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage Recreation Attendant Frank Sheckler. “Our primary theme is to give guests a sense of just how far these objects are, and just how big our galaxy and universe really are.”
As Frank explains, astronomers use light years as a measurement to gauge distances from earth. Since light travels at a rate of 186,000 miles per second—the equivalent of a roundtrip flight from Los Angeles to New York 37 times in one second, just to give you an idea—that means that the light we see from Andromeda (the galaxy closest to us) is from 2.5 million years ago. “The light from our own sun is from eight minutes ago,” continues Frank. “The light from Saturn is from 81 minutes ago. Light from the star Vega is from 25 years ago. When we look into the telescope, we are really looking into the past. This usually hits home with guests, making the experience more meaningful.”
I don’t know about you, but I just love the fact that the Ritz-Carlton brand boasts ladies and gentlemen like Frank and his colleagues whose expertise in all sorts of disciplines is always made available to the ladies and gentlemen who choose to stay at the resort. These employees are stars in their own right, if you ask me! www.ritzcarlton.com/ranchomirage.