Sunday, March 4, 2012


Saturday, March 3 – We headed up to the McDonald Observatory this morning for the 11:00 a.m. tour. The McDonald Observatory is said to have some of the darkest skies in the continental United States. It is on the top of the mountain at 6640 feet.

McDonald Observatory, a research unit of The University of Texas at Austin, is one of the world's leading centers for astronomical research, teaching, and public education and outreach. Observatory facilities are located atop Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains.


The tour lasted for three hours! We started with an overview type movie, and then the tour guide gave an insightful explanation of what goes on at the Observatory and a brief history.


We were then loaded on a mini-bus to ride over to the telescopes.

We toured the 107 inch (2.7 meter) telescope,The Harlan J. Smith Telescope, first.


Build by Westinghouse for about $5 million 1966-68, the Harlan J. Smith Telescope was the third largest in the world. The telescope is used every clear night of the year. Planning for this telescope began in 1964 and was completed in 1968. Weighing in at 160 tons, it had a fused silica mirror 107 inches (2.7 m) wide that gave it a light-gathering power one-quarter million times greater than the unaided eye. It began regular observations in 1969.


That measurement is the diameter of the mirror in the telescope. It was very interesting.

Bottom telescope. The middle circular object is the camera that records information and sends it to the scientist's computer.3b-bottom

They must keep the room at the exact temperature from the night before. We were in this room for almost an hour at this temp…BURRRR!3d-inside-temp

They allowed tourists to move the telescope up down and around using the electronic joystick. Another fellow turned the roof around on its rollers.

Dome rotated so the doors could open for the telescope.3c-facing-door

The doors are only open when the scientist is really to collect data.

Us compared to this HUGE thing!

We then took the bus to the newest telescope of 433 inches (11 meters) mirror Hobby-Eberly Telescope. This is a different type of telescope made up of 91 individual mirrors set together and used as a single reflective surface. It is mainly used for Spectrographic viewing of distant stars.


 With its 11-meter (433") 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.

It is such a different looking telescope. Pictures are a bit difficult to take because it is so big.

The telescope's mirror looks like a honeycomb. It's made up of 91 hexagonal mirrors. That's the mirrors at the bottom.

The Telescope is moved on an intertube type roller system.4a-floats-around

What a TERRIFIC tour!

After a walk through the educational wing of the Visitor's Center and cup of coffee for the road, we headed back down the mountain to relax at the motor home before returning for the Star Gazing Party tonight. We will tell you all about that in the next blog.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see y'all back real soon. Have a great day!