Taft Armandroff, Director
Frank and Susan Bash Endowed Chair
Welcome to SkyWord. It’s a pleasure to share the news of McDonald Observatory’s recent research, outreach, and an inside look at some members of our team.
The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) has been transformed. Its new wider field of view and capable new instruments will enable in-depth studies of dark energy, extra-solar planets, and more. The first article in this issue gives an overview of the telescope upgrade. Extensive testing of the upgraded HET’s optical system shows that it forms sharp images over its full field of view, meeting the demanding performance requirements we set early on. The HET team is currently working to complete re-commissioning of the telescope.
The second article highlights research by W.J. McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow Natalie Gosnell, who used Hubble Space Telescope (HST) to better understand “blue stragglers,” stars that look much younger than their age. Gosnell’s observations with HST’s Advanced Camera for Surveys led her to formulate a theory that might explain how two-thirds of blue stragglers formed. Her work is published in the December 2015 issue of The Astrophysical Journal.
In outreach news, the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center Manager Frank Cianciolo provides a history of McDonald Observatory solar viewing. Frank highlights recent upgrades, the award-winning work of Kevin Mace, and donations from the Semmes Foundation, Lloyd Overcash, and Wayne Rosing that funded the upgrades. Links to additional images and time-lapsed video from McDonald Observatory’s solar viewing system are available at the end of Frank’s article.
The Spotlight section features Bill Wren, who recently received the Hoag/Robinson Award from the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Bill’s passionate and effective advocacy for astronomy-friendly lighting has resulted in many laws and zoning rules, as well as a recent notice from the Texas Railroad Commission reminding oil and gas rig operators of existing law and best practices in outdoor lighting.
Finally, our Featured Photo shows Wayne and Barbara Alexander ringing the rocks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in Chile. The University of Texas at Austin is partnering with 10 other institutions to build this world’s largest telescope, which is expected to begin science in 2022. One notable and tangible contribution from The University of Texas at Austin to GMT is the design of the GMTNIRS infrared spectrograph. Developed by Dan Jaffe and his team, the instrument is based on the highly successful IGRINS instrument Jaffe built for the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald. GMTNIRS is funded by the GMT partnership.