In the frosty late night air of Palm Desert (at least in the fall/winter/early spring months) and the sparsely populated town of Mountain Center in the desperately dark Santa Rosa Mountains (utilized in the late spring/summer months), telescopes are set up in dark parking lots and night prowlers roam the grounds looking for the first big, “Wow!”. Red lights blink on and off sporadically to usher groups in the right direction. Sounds like the start of a Hollywood film, right? No! It’s the monthly star party put on by the Astronomical Society of the Desert (ASOD).
My husband, who is an astronomer by profession, took me to my first star party about three or four years ago and I have been hooked ever since. I have seen the space station pass overhead, various satellites cruise by, elusive shooting stars (although I am supposed to call them meteors, but where is the romance in that?), the moons around Jupiter along with its bands and the “Great Red Spot”, the craters on the Moon (I am still hoping to see the American flag left up there), the rings around Saturn as well as its brightest moon Titan, plus all sorts of star clusters and even other galaxies! It’s just fascinating what is happening above our heads as most people lay sleeping.
Ashley McDermott, a Professor of Astronomy at the College of the Desert, founded the ASOD in 1972. He realized his love and enthusiasm for our universe was shared by not only his students but by the general public as well. Since then, monthly star parties have been a fixture in the desert. The ASOD doesn’t stop there though. They also present slide show programs and star party viewing opportunities to schools, civic groups, and organizations throughout the Coachella Valley. Membership is open to everyone from the just curious to the dedicated observer. Visit them by going to their website at www.astrorx.org and get your party going.