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McDonald Observatory – Hidden Gems of Texas

Credit: Damond Benningfield

This year celebrates the 75th anniversary of the McDonald Observatory. The observatory is operated by the University of Texas at Austin but is located some 450 miles west of Austin in the Davis Mountains. There are 4 research telescopes at the facility and much of it is open to the public.They offer continuing education programs for teachers, host star parties and exhibits and open their telescopes to more than 60,000 visitors each year. So what are the ‘public’ events that are available for you to check out? How about facility tours, star gazing parties, twilight parties and solar viewings.

Solar viewings allow you to see the sun in a safe manner. This is held in a theater with live telescope images of solar flares, sunspots, prominences and more. The tour is available everyday from 11 am – 2pm. You can then continue your tour with a guide who will show you the facilities and research telescopes.

The Twilight Program is about an hour and a half before the Star Party and has two versions depending on moon phase and time of year. Portions of this event take place outside and reservations are encouraged as space is limited.

The Star Party is probably one of the most popular events at the observatory. It is approximately 2 hours and can be attended by the entire family. The parties are offered on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday evenings. You will have access to telescopes where you will be shown constellations and celestial objects. During this star party you will be educated on the purpose of stars, mythology of the constellations, and scientific reasoning’s of objects in the sky among other interesting facts. Depending on time of year, weather and crowd size anywhere from 4-16 telescopes are available for you to look through.

This is not only educational but extremely fun and literally eye opening. You cannot image all that is in our universe, even this is only a small peek into the vastness of space. You will walk away feeling like a mere speck on this earth and wondering what other life forms could possibly exist.

For directions, lodging, and visitor center information please call 432-426-3640 or visit the website.

Watch a Little More About the McDonald Observatory

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