McDonald Observatory is one of the major Astronomical facilities in the world and is open to the public daily. The new Visitor Center offers a unique astronomical experience, insight into the workings of this scientific facility, and special access to research telescopes. McDonald Observatory is one of the darkest sites in the world for astronomical observing. Visitors have opportunities to view the sky using telescopes in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park adjacent to the Visitors Center.
Check-In Point: Visitor Center
The Visitor Center is the check-in point for all daytime and evening visitor activities. Inside the Visitor Center, you will find extensive exhibits which explain what astronomers do at the observatory, as well as a theater, astronomy-related gift shop, cafe, and restrooms. Solar viewing at 11am and 2pm, which allows you to safely view the Sun, along with its sunspots, prominences, and flares, is included with your general admission ticket.
The Hobby-Eberlt Telescope
( HET ) is one of a new generation of telescopes that has taken astronomy into the 21st century. The HET’s 432 inch primary mirror is the largest in the world, yet the telescopes innovative design cost only $16.6 million to build, about 15 percent of the cost of comparable size telescopes.
The Hobby-Eberly also has a museum area which features a continually playing movie about the telescope, exhibits and a remarkable view of the structure and mirror.
The McDonald Observatory is located in the heart of the Davis Mountains of West Texas. Visitors travel east on interstate 10 from El Paso take Highway 118 south at Kent for the 34-mile drive to the Observatory. Visitors traveling west on Interstate 10 may take Highway 17 south at Balmorhea to Fort Davis, then Highway 118 north 16 miles to the Observatory.
The McDonald Observatory is one of the great Observatory Centers of the world. Built in the 1930’s under terms of legacy from William Johnson McDonald. A Paris, Texas banker interested in the stars. A well educated man, McDonald lived frugally. As a hobby, he read science books and viewed planets through a small telescope. His will granted to the University of Texas $800,000 to Build and Observatory and promote the study of astronomy.
The site was selected because of its high ratio of clear nights. Its 6800 foot altitude, its distance from artificially-lighted cities, and its quite unique low latitude that permits Observation of Southern skies.
The Observatory was operated for its first 25 years mainly by astronomers from the University of Chicago. More recently primarily from the University of Texas. Until 1948, its 82-inch telescope was second largest in the world.
Discoveries made at the McDonald have included interstellar polarization and the satellites of several planets.