“Hey what’s that?” Three small words that can lead to amazing adventures.
That’s just what happened when we decided to explore outside the 29 Palms exit of Joshua Tree National Park. Shortly after exiting through the park’s gate, setback from the road was a small round building with a dome roof. “Hey what’s that?” “Let’s check it out!”
No Ordinary Roundabout
We turned at the small sign that read Sky’s the Limit Observatory Nature Center. We followed the gravel road to a large roundabout where we were quickly approached by a kind gentleman in a blue vest telling us that we were just in time for the free presentation about the solar system. “Heck ya!” So we joined the other three guests and walked to the center of the roundabout.
It turned out this was no ordinary circular road, it was an orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system. Also, this was no ordinary orrery, as far as Sky’s the Limit knows, this is the only true to scale orrery in existence. The scale is 20 billion to one! You’ll never feel as small as when they show you earth at that scale – you can not even see it in these photos – go see for yourself.
Additionally, Sky’s the Limit took care to level the grade in the orrery to represent the actual rotation of each planet around the sun. The poles and spheres representing the planets are moved once every for days to to indicate their relative location. The gravel roundabout we rode in on is actually a scale model of the main asteroid belt that is between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
More than an Orrery
After the short orrery presentation, we got a peek through a solar telescope and our blue-vested guide showed us what was inside the round building that we saw from the street. Inside was a large telescope and equipment. We were all invited to come back that night for a view through the scope.
The roof of the dome rotates to follow the telescope as it tracks objects in the night sky. The 14-inch mirror not only collects light from objects in our own Milky Way galaxy, such as stunning open and globular star clusters and nebula, but also makes it possible to observe galaxies millions of light years away.The History of Our Dome
By Ray Yeager
We stayed behind after the tour to eat lunch at one of their picnic tables and take a stroll through the meditation garden.
So, if you ever find yourself in the area of Joshua Tree National Park or 29 Palms, we highly recommend this short detour to The Sky’s the Limit Observatory and Nature Center to learn more about the universe or to just unwind and relax.