McDonald Observatory

On my return trip from Denver, after I had been up to visit my mother in Colorado in 2011, I diverted my route home in order to visit the McDonald Observatory and Big Bend National Park, in the far reaches of West Texas. It made my trip three days long, rather than the usual two days. I left Las Cruces, New Mexico, early in the morning, about sunrise, and I needed to reach Fort Stockton, Texas, by bedtime. (Fort Stockton was one of the few places in West Texas that I knew was big enough to have a hotel.) The telescope is on Mount Locke, which has an elevation of 6791 feet above sea level. I had many miles to go, so I didn’t spend much time at the observatory, but I found it very interesting, and I wanted to return with Marilyn sometime, so that we could participate in a “Star Party” there.

The McDonald observatory is administered by the University of Texas at Austin, and Marilyn had seen a lot of posters about visiting it when she was attending graduate school at UT. I have always been interested in astronomy, and when we were living in San Diego, we had made several visits to the observatory at Mount Palomar.

Hobby-Eberly Telescope

With its 11-meter (433-inch) mirror, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) is one of the world’s largest optical telescopes. It was designed specifically for spectroscopy, the decoding of light from stars and galaxies to study their properties. This makes it ideal in searching for planets around other stars, studying distant galaxies, exploding stars, black holes and more. The telescope is especially suited to conduct large survey projects using spectroscopy.

Otto Struve Telescope

When the Otto Struve Telescope was completed in 1939, its dome housed all of McDonald Observatory, not just the 82-inch (2.1-meter) telescope.

With its heavy steel mounting and black, half-open framework, the Struve is not just a scientific instrument, but it is a work of art. Like other telescopes at McDonald, its mirror is periodically removed and freshly coated with aluminum to maintain its sharp view of the heavens.

Harlan J. Smith Telescope

The early 1960s saw the emergence of the Space Age, and NASA needed large new telescopes to survey the planets before spacecraft could be dispatched to study them in detail. McDonald Observatory’s new director, Harlan J. Smith, saw an opportunity. He convinced NASA to build one of those new telescopes at McDonald Observatory. The telescope brought new life and prestige to the observatory, helped recruit top young faculty members, and established McDonald Observatory as a key player in the exploration of the solar system.

Here is a link for more information about the McDonald Observatory. If you are planning a visit, be sure to check out the information available at this link.

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