Written by Shirley T
Wednesday, 06 January 2010 08:05
The name McDonald is typically associated with fast food chain restaurant but in this instance, McDonald Observatory which sits on Mount Fowlkes and Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, 450 miles from Austin is an astronomical facility. The site is named after the late William Johnson McDonald who was a Texas banker by profession but very passionate about astronomy and left a bulk of his fortune to the University of Texas to endow an astronomical observatory.
At present, the facility belongs to University of Texas at Austin. Sitting in the middle of nowhere on Chihuahuan desert land, the elevation and dry peaks of the Davis Mountains provides the darkest and clearest night skies in the region which make this venue an excellent spot for astronomical research.
Equipped with the state-of-the-art instrumentation for imaging and spectroscopy, McDonald Observatory also operates one of the first and most productive lunar ranging stations. In addition, it houses four research telescopes namely 9.2 m (360") Hobby-Eberly Telescope, 2.7 m (107") Harlan J. Smith Telescope, 2.1 m (82") Otto Struve Telescope and 0.8 m (30") large format imaging telescope. The giant Hobby-Eberly Telescope is operated jointly by the University of Texas at Austin, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, and Georg-August University of Göttingen.
Part of this facility is open to public. In fact, there is a Visitors Center which is open from 10 am to 5:30 pm daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Unfortunately, we arrived on Thanksgiving evening thus we missed the solar viewing program and 90-minute guided tour. However, we did not go home empty handed as the common area at Hobby-Eberly Telescope Center was accessible. At last, we got a peek of the gigantic telescope!
'Star Party' is an interesting public program conducted which is held on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evening at dusk to view the night sky and gaze celestial objects through 0.9 m (36") telescope at the Visitors Center. If you are interested, check at http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/visitors/programs/ for more details.
McDonald Observatory Visitors Center
3640 Dark Sky Drive
McDonald Observatory, TX 79734
Phone: 1 877 984 7827 (Toll Free), (432) 426 3640
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