Macdonald Observatory

My bucket list is to visit the world’s great astronomical observatories.  Since I’m in Austin, and got both my degrees from UT Austin, the first logical choice was to visit the Macdonald Observatory in the mountains of Fort Davis, TX.  I’ve been to MCD Observatory several times over my teaching career for workshops, these are images from my most recent trip.  For travel details please see the very bottom of this page.  The observatory page is located here:

https://mcdonaldobservatory.org/

 

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The 2.7 m (107″) Harlan J. Smith Telescope

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The road up, viewing the 2.7 m (107″) Harlan J. Smith Telescope

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Every time I’ve been to MCDO it has rained at least one day and each time we’ve seen incredible rainbows, often double and triples!

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Great panorama from the Harlan scope dome

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Another panorama from the other side

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the 10 meter Hobby-Eberly Telescope used to investigate dark matter

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support trusses for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope

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Mirror segments for Hobby-Eberly Telescope are mostly identical and can be removed, stored, cleaned and swapped out without worrying about segments not fitting

 

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Me with the 2.7 m (107″) Harlan J. Smith Telescope

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Outside my favorite building at MCDO, the 2.1 m (82″) Otto Struve Telescope dome.

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My favorite telescope at MCDO, the 2.1 m (82″) Otto Struve Telescope

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Just look at this majestic equatorial mount and massive counterweight system… It’s just so brutal and so amazing!!



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The mirrors can be removed and brought to this vacuum chamber for cleaning and re-coating.

 

To get there:

Well, it’s near I-10 near Fort Davis.  To really do it right you might need a few nights because you wouldn’t want to go all that way and then have it rain on your star party evening.  Plan perhaps 2 or 3 nights in the area.  I highly recommend visiting and staying in Alpine TX.  It is an extremely friendly little mountain town with great food and great bars.  I stayed at the Maverick Inn, again, highly recommended.

Yes, Macdonald has star parties!!  They are worth going to, you will have the DARKEST skies you’ve ever seen, literally, you cannot see your hand in front of your face unless the moon is out.  This is one of the last true dark sky areas in the USA.

https://mcdonaldobservatory.org/visitors/programs/star-parties

The guides and instructors are top notch educators that actually live in the area and truly know the skies and the observatory.  You’ll get a chance to see the skies through multiple large telescopes, it’s unlike any other star party you’ve been to, believe me.