McDonald Observatory

Located on Mt. Locke in the heart of the Davis Mountains the McDonald Observatory is one of the premier astronomical research facilities in the world. The major research instruments located at the McDonald Observatory include the 82" Otto Struve telescope, the 107" Harlan J. Smith telescope, and the 433" Hobby-Eberly telescope which currently posesses the third largest astronomical mirror in the world.

William Johnson McDonald, a Paris, Texas banker and amateur astronomer, left a legacy of $800,000 to the University of Texas to "to build an observatory and promote the study of astronomy". As a result of that bequest the University of Texas decided to build an observatory in the Davis Mountains. The Davis Mountains site was selected due to its high ratio of clear nights, distance from artificial sources of light and home to some of the darkest skies to be found in North America. Over the years many major astronomical discoveries have been credited to the McDonald Observatory, these include the discovery of several planetary satellites and interstellar polarization.

The McDonald Observatory offers the public an excellent opportunity to observe the inner workings of a major research observatory. The visitors center, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except for major holidays, has extensive exhibitions covering the functions of the observatory, this is complimented by the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park which offers daily solar viewing and star parties each Tuesday, Friday and Saturday night where the public can view planets, stars and galaxies as well as other celestial phenomenon through the wide range of telescopes available. Special viewing time has been set aside for public access to the great telescopes, this has proved to be very popular as tickets must be secured months in adavance for this opportunity.

With its educational and outreach programs the McDonald Observatory has become a valuable addition to the Fort Davis community. The road leading up to the observatory is the highest point on Texas highways and offers the tourist a unique and beautiful place to visit. Fort Davis and the surrounding communities cognizant of the effect of light polution on the future of the McDonald Observatory have voluntarily established strict codes covering exterior lighting. Such cooperation is essential to preserve the superb environment that makes the work done at the McDonald Observatory possible.

Dome housing the Harlan Smith Telescope
View to the east from Mt. Locke
Highest point on Texas Highways

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