SkyWord

Skyword: March 2016

MARCH 2016

Lambert

David grew up in Kent, England, just south of London. He attended an all-boys grammar school (i.e., high school). As a junior there, he won a competition for which the prize was thirty shillings toward the purchase of a book from a local shop. David went to this bookstore and, from its shelves, he pulled Frontiers of Astronomy by Fred Hoyle, a book about general astronomy. "I don't know why I chose this book; I may have just rummaged around and found it," he says. Regardless, he became enamored of the study of astronomy and, specifically, the build up of atomic elements in stars, called "nucleosynthesis."

"Not quite a proper scientist."

Upon graduating from grammar school, David enrolled in Oxford University where he completed both his undergraduate and graduate studies. While at Oxford, he was advised by a "very kind lady on the faculty" that Fred Hoyle was "not quite a proper scientist" because of his sometimes controversial ideas about astronomy. For David, however, this remark immediately drew him to Hoyle as a role model.

"I ignored that advice as I often did."

Upon graduation in 1967, David left England for America where he worked for two years at the California Institute of Technology. While he did some stellar spectroscopy at Caltech's Mt. Wilson Observatory, David's sights were set on the University of Texas where the Harlan J. Smith 2.7-meter Telescope was just being completed. "I was advised by numerous people to not come to Texas, but I ignored that advice as I often did." In 1969, David came to the University of Texas, and, except for semesters abroad in India and other nations, he has resided here since.

"Whatever takes your fancy."

David has spent many years learning the details of using the telescopes at McDonald and how to apply spectroscopy to understand the physical processes governing nucleosynthesis in stars. "Once you understand spectroscopy," he says, "you have a tool to apply to whatever takes your fancy." David has applied this tool in many realms. He has tested theories of cosmology, observed the gas between the stars, and has investigated ideas of star formation.

"A potassium atom absorbs this light and then squirts it out in some random direction"

One exciting moment in his career involved the discovery of a shell of gas and dust around the star Betelgeuse. Light from the star "goes out into the shell, a potassium atom absorbs this light and then squirts it out in some random direction. That random direction is sometimes headed towards McDonald Observatory." By pointing the telescope slightly away from the star, one can measure the amount of light from the potassium gives off, and determine the amount and nature of material in the shell of gas and dust surrounding the star.

"He looks like a Walt Disney dog."

David became the Director of McDonald Observatory on October 1, 2003. He has also played a direct role in teaching the students of UT about astronomy as a professor and former Chairperson of the Department of Astronomy. However, he still maintains time for a good game of squash. Since his youth, David has also had a passion for reading. As a teenager, he scoured the public library for books on astronomy. Today, he enjoys reading biographies and poetry. His favorite poets include some contemporary writers but also more traditional ones such as John Donne, a 17th century Anglican priest and poet. Together with his wife, Melody, David enjoys walking his dog, Fergas, who came from the animal shelter and "looks like a Walt Disney dog."

David Lambert
Isabel McCutcheon Harte Centennial Chair, Astronomy
Professor at The University of Texas at Austin
Director, McDonald Observatory
Isabel McCutcheon Harte Centennial Chair, University of Texas at Austin
D. Phil., Astrophysics, Balliol College, Oxford
B.A., Physics, University College, Oxford

Marion

Indeed, Howie Marion, a graduate of UT Austin, has had an interesting path. Howie grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and, at an early age, became interested in sailing. This interest would later become a passion, but, upon graduating from high school, Howie attended Stanford University where he worked towards a degree in comparative literature. "I was interested in reading and writing," says Howie, who describes himself as deficient in mathematics. While at Stanford and towering at 6 foot 4 inches, Howie also played basketball for the Stanford Junior Varsity basketball team.

After a year at Stanford, Howie enrolled in the University of California at Berkeley where he was a student for two years. During summers, he worked full-time for a sailmaker, and, after two years of school, Howie decided to devote all of his time to sailing and, literally, began to sail the world. His work as a sailmaker took him from the Bay Area to Italy, France, Hong Kong, and, eventually, Australia--travels and work to which he devoted over twenty years of his life. In 1987 and 1991, Howie worked for the Australians in racing for the American Cup. Then, he moved back to San Francisco and opened Marion Sailmakers. Howie had become fascinated by the science of sailmaking. The engineering and art of making a piece of cloth into the "engine" for a boat was intriguing to him.

With the birth of Monica, his first child, the family moved to Michigan where Howie worked to refurbish a house in payment for living there. For one year, they lived in this house, working with their hands as they completed carpentry, plumbing, and electrical renovations. However, Howie yearned to understand the physical universe to greater depths.

"I was always impressed with students who could be so focused and disciplined, because I certainly wasn't."

Howie returned to school to study physics at the University of Chicago. In his four years there he dived into science and worked with professors in investigating the nature of high-energy astrophysical phenomena, especially supernovae. In this work, he and his mentors wrote a paper refuting the claims of an astronomer at the University of Texas, Craig Wheeler, who Howie would later ask to serve on his Ph.D. committee.

Upon graduation from the University of Chicago, Howie traveled deep into the heart of Texas where he had hoped to pursue work in building astronomical instruments for McDonald Observatory. However, he became interested in work pursued by Peter Hoeflich, a theorist in the department. Peter strives to understand how supernovae, particularly Type I supernovae, work. Strictly a theorist, he needed a student to pursue observations of these phenomena with which to compare his models. Type I supernovae are important because they are very bright and can be observed to very great distances. Therefore, they are a useful tool in observing and studying the early universe. Unfortunately, very few people are working to understand the underlying physical processes that occur in Type I supernovae. Howie, Peter, and their collaborators are using the McDonald Observatory and telescopes at Mauna Kea Observatory to investigate these processes. Primarily, Howie observes the near-infrared spectra of supernovae and, working in concert with Peter, they attempt to describe what actually does occur when a star takes its final, dying breath.

"Our diversity, now, bodes well for the future."

Howie also shows great interest in extending the study of astronomy to others. He thinks that people of different gender, race, and ethnic backgrounds offer different approaches in the study of astronomy. The work of women, African-Americans, and Hispanic Americans, he says, will greatly enrich the study of astronomy. He hopes, also, for the general public to share his awe for the universe. While meeting with his Austin teachers, he tries to impart unto them that physics and astronomy don't have to be difficult, that the world we live in is a laboratory where experiments help us to learn new and exciting facts about our universe. This opportunity is a tremendously powerful gift to us.

"These days, I'd just as soon run a triathlon."

Presently, Howie works hard to be a dad for his two children, Max and Monica. He only occasionally sails, but Howie has recently become interested in triathlons. Since youth, Howie has been quite an athlete; biking, running, and swimming have always been fun for him, so the triathlon is an obvious endeavor. In addition, Howie had an impressive finishing time of 4:23 in his first marathon (26.2 miles).

G. Howard Marion
Research Associate, Harvard Center for Astrophysics
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Physics, University of Chicago

Dinerstein

UT astronomer and professor Harriet Dinerstein grew up in the middle of New York City. The light pollution of this vast city made it impossible to see the stars at night. However, Harriet was inspired by her visits to the world-renowned Hayden Planetarium, now replaced by the Rose Center for Earth and Space Science.

While in high school, she participated in a National Science Foundation-sponsored program at the Hayden Planetarium. This program introduced Harriet to astronomy as a science, enabled her to meet real live astronomers, and cemented her love of the subject. It was 1969, the summer of the first moonwalk.

Continuing with her astronomical interests, she received her undergraduate degree from Yale University, and then attended graduate school at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the home of Lick Observatory. Her dissertation work involved combining observations from two different spectral regimes, infrared and optical; today, this kind of "multi-wavelength" astronomy is widely used to study all kinds of astronomical objects and problems.

Harriet's first postdoctoral position was as a National Research Council fellow at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, which at that time was home base for the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, a flying telescope that was the forerunner of SOFIA , the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy that is currently being built.

Harriet Dinerstein first came to the University of Texas in 1982 as a Robert A. Welch Foundation postdoctoral fellow, and joined the University's faculty in 1985. Since then, she has done research on star formation, extragalactic ionized nebulae, classical novae, supernova remnants, and most of all, planetary nebulae.

Harriet has been awarded two of the major research prizes of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) the Annie Jump Cannon Award in 1984 (awarded jointly by the AAS and the American Association of University Women, AAUW) and the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in 1989. She has also taught a dozen different courses at UT and won two Teaching Excellence awards.

Her husband, Dan Lester, is a Research Scientist working for McDonald Observatory, with an office right down the hall from hers. They have two daughters, Amanda and Jenna, who are both fanatical soccer players.

In her free time, Harriet relaxes with the Austin Balkan Singers, a group of women that perform folk music from such places as Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Croatia.

Harriet Dinerstein
Professor of Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of California at Santa Cruz
B.S., Astronomy and Physics, Yale University

Kelton

While most people tend to see astronomy as a romantic and intellectual endeavor, Phil Kelton, Acting Superintendent of McDonald Observatory, is very aware of the nitty gritty parts of running an observatory. In fact, that's the main part of his job. An observatory, like any other organization or business, has to be financially functional and efficient in operation. Unlike other astronomers, who receive time on the telescopes to study the skies, Phil receives time to help maintain and upgrade the equipment. "Day to day, there is a routine aspect to running an observatory," he reflects, "and the end result is to produce telescopes and instruments that are effective at doing research."

"I do a little of everything."

Phil is a man of many interests. He enjoys sports (especially basketball) hiking, amateur astronomy, chess, computer science, wine tasting, duplicate bridge, traveling, and all kinds of music. "I do a little of everything," he says. Many of these hobbies stemmed from interests that developed during his childhood in Texas and Nebraska. He started stargazing when he was 14 years old and had a few small telescopes. He also enjoyed playing chess in his sixth grade class. "We got time out from class to sit and play chess," he remembers, "and we used to do chess tournaments every week."

"A cat called Cat."

When he's not working at the office or at the Observatory, Phil likes to spend time at home with his wife, who teaches French at The University of Texas. Also in the household is a cat, called Cat, that was a childhood pet for his three grown children - Erica, Kevin, and Christina.

"Astronomy is fun!"

Phil came to astronomy in a very roundabout way. He started out studying physics at the University of Nebraska and received a bachelor's degree in the subject. He then got a master's degree in computer science. Finally, he came to The University of Texas to work toward a doctorate. Rather than focus solely on computers, though, he decided to put his knowledge to use in astronomy. "I just sort of shifted into astronomy and started working for McDonald Observatory," he says. He worked on real-time computing and instrumentation for astronomy for his Ph.D. "Astronomy is just fun!" he says. "I like telescopes and the sky and everything about astronomy."

Phil Kelton
Acting Superintendent of McDonald Observatory
Ph.D., Interdisciplinary Studies; University of Texas
M.S., Computer Science; University of Nebraska
B.S., Physics; University of Nebraska

Gyorgyey Ries

When Judit Gyorgyey Ries was in the 6th grade in Hungary, she read a book about astronomy whose title is roughly translated as Tales of the Moon. It was this book that made her "totally fall in love with astronomy." Once she was hooked, she charted a course for her future that allowed her to study her new favorite subject.

She received her Masters degree in Physics Education and Astronomy from Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest. When she was 25 years old, she came to the University of Texas where she earned a Masters degree in aerospace engineering, and later a Ph.D. in astronomy. She is currently a Research Engineer/Science Associate in the astronomy department at the University of Texas.

"The word ‘deductable'"
Judit came to Texas from Hungary, where she grew up. While she did speak English when she arrived here, there were still many new words and cultural nuances that she had to get used to. "Funny things like the word ‘deductable' didn't mean anything to me," she says, "because it was a totally different system." She adjusted quickly, however, and later married an American and settled in Austin. Her husband is an aerospace engineer at UT.

"When you turn, those skirts fly!"
Upon arriving in the United States, Judit found out about a Hungarian dance group that needed a translator for the non-English speaking instructor. She volunteered to help, and has been involved with Hungarian folk dancing ever since. The group Judit performs with, which includes people of Hungarian, Japanese, Taiwanese, American, and Belgian descent, has been invited to dance at international dance festivals in the United States and in Hungary. The dancers' costumes are all specially made. The dresses that Judit and the other women get to wear have very full skirts and petticoats so that "when you turn, those skirts fly!" It's an aerobic activity that's very enjoyable for all involved, she says.

"You need to catch it again."
In her astronomical work, Judit studies Near Earth Asteroids. She spends her time at the telescope looking for new asteroids and following up on new observations from other observatories. If a new object is found, it is very important to observe it again soon. "You need to catch it again close to the discovery," she says, so that astronomers can calculate its precise orbit. Staying up late at the telescope has never been a problem for Judit, who is a self-described night-owl. She loves to stargaze at McDonald Observatory, and she has even seen the Aurora Borealis from there. (It is unusual to see these so-called "Northern Lights" from such a far southern location.) An added bonus to Judit's work is that she's helping to keep the Earth safe from asteroid impacts. Whether she is watching the skies with a telescope or with her eyes, it is clear that Judit's passion for astronomy has provided her with a lifelong career that's perfect for her.

Judit Gyorgyey Ries
Research Engineer/Science Associate, University of Texas
Ph.D., Astronomy; University of Texas
M.E., Aerospace Engineering; University of Texas
M.S., Astronomy, Physics Education; Eotvos Lorand University,
Budapest, Hungary

Hooper

Eric Hooper grew up in California. He attended elementary and junior high school in Los Angeles and high school in the Mojave desert, where the kids "went a little stir-crazy." Eric's father worked for the United States Navy and, among other things, designed ejection systems for their elite force of fighter jets. His mother spent a career in education, teaching first deaf students and then later giving one-on-one instruction to some of the more dangerous teenagers in Los Angeles.

After graduating from high school, Eric went to the cold environs of Michigan State University where he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree. Then, he traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to the tiny island that houses what he calls our "mother culture," Great Britain. Working with the distinguished astronomer Michael Penston of Cambridge University, Eric earned his master's degree there and left the gray skies of England for the sunny mountainsides of Arizona. At the University of Arizona, Eric earned his doctorate in astronomy.

"I love Brits and have worked with mostly Brits since then."

From the University of Arizona, Eric moved to Boston to work at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics. While there, he worked for Dr. Belinda Wilkes, a native Brit. "I love Brits," says Eric, "and have worked with mostly Brits since [living in England]." Indeed, he has worked with almost a half-dozen British-born astronomers and continued to do so while a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Texas.

"It leverages my efforts."

Eric maintains a longstanding interest in education and outreach to the public. As part of an NSF Fellowship, he worked in the University of Texas' UTeach program for training the next generation of secondary science teachers. Eric finds it a stimulating and valuable program, "since it leverages my efforts, gives me a chance to work with students both in and out of astronomy, and I have a whole new set of friends and colleagues, including master teachers." He also continues to work at the Astronomy Camp in Arizona, a program to which he has contributed since early in graduate school.

"Basically, whatever I can find time to do."

In his free time, Eric has many interests. He enjoys reading, and his favorite authors include Shakespeare and Poe. He also enjoys reading science fiction novels, historical non-fiction, and other works of classical literature. Eric is interested in growing things as well. His garden includes lots of peppers, herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, and broccoli. Eric is an avid downhill skier and enjoys friendly games of volleyball.

Eric Hooper
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Arizona
M.Phil., Physics, Cambridge University
B.S., Astrophysics & Mathematics, Michigan State University

Endl

The best part of astronomy for Research Scientist Michael Endl is the "excitement of discovery," he says. Mike uses his time at McDonald Observatory to search for extrasolar planets, that is, planets around other stars. He says that nothing he has seen recently can compare to the moment in his student days when he discovered his first extrasolar planet. While working with another student at an observatory in South America, Mike says they looked on a computer screen at the signal from a star, and their jaws dropped. "We actually found a planet!" he recalls. And for a short time, they reveled in the knowledge that they were "the only guys on Earth who knew that there is a giant planet orbiting that star!" This, Michael says, is the greatest reward of doing astronomy. "It's the incredible feeling," he insists, "to have found something totally and completely new."

"I was an avid amateur astronomer."
Michael has always been a loyal astronomy enthusiast, even as a child in Vienna, Austria. At age 10, he built his own refracting telescope. However, it was not always obvious that he was destined to become a professional astronomer, especially towards the end of his high school career. "I became a computer nerd," he laughs, "but I really didn't like it." So much so, in fact, that after starting out with a job working on computers, he decided to attend the University of Vienna to study physics and astronomy. Later, he was able to spend two years studying in Chile before finally receiving his Ph.D. He came to the University of Texas as a post-doctoral fellow to look for extrasolar planets after finishing his degree in Vienna.

"It might have been ugly if I had really fallen in."
As a native Austrian, Mike is very familiar with big mountains. "I love mountain climbing," he says, "especially in the Himalayas and the Andes." The highest mountain Mike has ever climbed is called Aconcagua in the Andes. The peak rises almost 7000 meters (23,000 feet) into the air, and while there is an easy path to the summit, Michael and his partner chose to scale a more difficult ice route instead. "Up near the summit, I broke into a crevasse," he recalls. "It was funny because I saw it, but it was bigger than I thought." Michael pulled himself out on the other side and warned his partner about it. Because of the very thin air at that altitude, even jumping over the small gap was a true feat. "We had to laugh," he says, recalling the several minutes they had to spend panting and recovering from this mini-adventure. "But it might have been ugly if I had really fallen in."

"I think it's too early to tell."
Like his ability to work on different continents and climb in varied environments, Mike's opinions about life elsewhere in the universe are quite flexible. He certainly thinks that such life exists, but whether it is simply single-celled bacteria or beings that are intelligent remains to be seen. "I think it's too early to tell," he says, adding that new technology might shed more light on the subject. Better telescopes that will become available to astronomers within the next 20 years should allow them to find Earth-sized planets, and possibly even signs of primitive life. Michael, however, asserts that he "has an open mind." He is ready for anything.

Michael Endl
Research Scientist, University of Texas
Ph.D., Astronomy; University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

Tufts

Imagine holding your breath for six minutes while dropping in over 50 meters of water. At 30 meters, all light from the surface is gone; at 45 meters, your lungs begin to fill with fluids. You reach the bottom and turn for the ascent to life-giving air. Now, your heart rate has dropped to 25 beats per minutes, about one-third that of an average person, and you look enviously towards your safety diving partner equipped with SCUBA gear. As you come up, the pressure of the water gradually decreases, the temperature is noticeably warmer, and you can feel your lungs expanding again. A fish passes by your face; you recognize that the light is returning and then see the bottom of your boat. Finally, you break the surface of the water and gulp great breaths of air.

"Freediving has always been an interest."

For Joe Tufts, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Texas and nationally competitive freediver, this endeavor is not imagined. "Freediving has always been an interest," he says, but, in the past year, he has begun to hone his skills and compete for a position on the U.S. Freediving team.

"About one piece every two years."

Apart from his athletic hobbies, Joe enjoys building furniture ---"About one piece every two years," he jokes--- and finds the upkeep of his home in Austin, Texas to be an almost full-time job. With his wife, Heather, Joe cares for Geiger, a greyhound racing dog he rescued from death after Geiger was no longer able to race. They also act as a foster home to other dogs that are awaiting permanent owners.

"Yes, I am an Aggie."

"Like most astronomers, I don't know when I decided to be an astronomer," says Joe, but as a young student, he showed great interest in learning about the stars and actually constructed a telescope in high school. Later, as an undergraduate physics major at Texas A&M University, he worked diligently to design the control system for another telescope. He used this telescope to film the impact of the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 onto the surface of Jupiter in 1994.

"It is satisfying to build something and then use it."

Joe spends much of his time working on the Hobby Eberly Telescope. He has played an integral role in building the Low Resolution Spectrograph and on the calibration system currently used by HET observers. While he finds it gratifying to use instruments that he has made, he finds it far more satisfying to see another astronomer use his instruments to learn something new.

Joe Tufts
Post-doctoral fellow, Los Cumbres Observatory
Ph.D., Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Physics, Texas A & M University

Luck

Earle Luck earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia and then pursued his doctoral degree at the University of Texas, Austin under the advisement of David Lambert. While at UT, Earle learned the intricacies of stellar spectroscopy, skills that he has honed over recent decades. Following graduation, he worked at Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge) as a research assistant professor, then moved to Cleveland Ohio, where he rose to his current position of professor of both astronomy and physics at Case Western Reserve University.

Earle became interested in astronomy as a young seventh grader. His teacher gave him an assignment to learn about astronomy and, Earle says, "It piqued my interest." Indeed, since this thirteen-year old boy's revelation that we can learn about and not just wish upon the stars, astronomy has intrigued him in many ways. "It's what we're constantly thinking about," he says. Problems are constantly before him, even "on vacation," and he finds it difficult to divide himself into categories where astronomy only fills one slot.

R. Earle Luck
Warner Professor of Astronomy, Case Western Reserve University
Professor of Physics, Case Western Reserve University
Ph.D., Astronomy; University of Texas, Austin, Texas
B.S., Astronomy, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Marshall

Texas A&M astronomer Jennifer Marshall leads a group of scientists that build astronomical instruments at Texas A&M's Munnerlyn Laboratory. She is leading the effort to build a revolutionary spectrograph called VIRUS that will enable the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment.

Jennifer's interest in astronomy began in high school. "I took an astronomy class in high school which sparked my interest in the history of astronomy and observational astronomy. My high school astronomy teacher, Mr. Camosy, was a really good teacher. He taught us about the history of astronomy and also about how to be a good amateur astronomer."

She completed her undergraduate degree at Northwestern University where she began do astronomical research. "I ended up working for Dr. Giles Novak, with whom I built an instrument that I used to calibrate a submillimeter polarimeter at the South Pole."

Astronomers do a lot more than just look at stars, she says: "There is a lot of travel involved in being an astronomer: trips to the observatory, to meetings, to discuss projects with collaborators. I have been to every continent and to many observatories all over the world. I enjoy being able to experience different cultures while traveling, especially the food. Astronomers also write a lot: we write scientific papers, observing proposals, and all kinds of reports."

When Jennifer is observing she doesn't use coffee to stay up all night. Her secret is knitting socks! "I don't drink caffeine, so I have to keep busy to stay awake. I like to knit—it's hard to fall asleep while your hands are busy, but it's mindless enough to allow me to think about what to do with the telescope."

Jennifer Marshall
Texas A&M University, Research Scientist
The Ohio State University, Ph.D., Astronomy
The Ohio State University, M.S., Astronomy
Northwestern University, B.A., Physics and Integrated Science

Tomkin

Jocelyn Tomkin, Research Fellow at The University of Texas, has always been fascinated with astronomy. Even as a child, he enjoyed stargazing with his small refracting telescope. Little did he know, as he looked through the telescope in his backyard, that he would grow up to be a professional astronomer. "I didn't know I actually wanted to be an astronomer," he says. "I didn't decide that until I was in my last year of college."

"We immigrated to Tasmania"
Jocelyn spent the years leading up to that important decision traveling with his family all over the globe. He was born in his parents' native England and lived there until he was six years old. The family then immigrated to Tasmania, where his father took up sheep farming. Unfortunately, Jocelyn's mother missed the comforts of home. "She wanted a social life like she was used to back home in England," he says. After two years in Tasmania, the family moved to Ireland, where Jocelyn stayed until he graduated from college.

"Carved in stone like the Ten Commandments"
While in college at Trinity College, in Dublin, Ireland, Jocelyn was lucky enough to in a math class taught by his favorite instructor, Mr. Graham. Jocelyn remembers him as being informal, but also very instructive because he knew the subject well. Mr. Graham helped Jocelyn see math in a whole new way, he says. "I was able to think about math in more relaxed terms," he remembers, "rather than thinking that things were carved in stone like the Ten Commandments."

"The only person who knows that stuff"
While finishing his college degree in physics, Jocelyn decided that he wanted to do astronomical research. He went to the University of Sussex in England to earn his Ph.D. in astronomy, and he subsequently took up a position doing research at The University of Texas. For him, the best part about studying astronomy is the thrilling idea that it's possible to know or discover something completely new. "Sometimes you determine a very small piece of knowledge," he says. "Until you publish it, you are the only person who knows that stuff."

Jocelyn Tomkin
Research Fellow, University of Texas
Ph.D., Astronomy; University of Sussex, Sussex, England
B.Sc. Physics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Hill

Ever think about who is your model astronomer? How about a person who likes music, is in awe of old cathedrals, and first became interested in astronomy while having his appendix removed? Well, Gary Hill, a senior research scientist and Chief Astronomer for McDonald Observatory, is all of these things and more.

"Don't do biology."

Gary was born in Leeds, in northern England, the son to an architect and dress designer. As a child, his interests included model airplanes, marine biology, and ornithology, the study of birds. He attended a large new Comprehensive School, where, as Gary says, he "benefitted from many very eager teachers before they got beaten down by the system."

On a field trip to Oxford University, young Gary spoke with a marine biologist there about his interests in her area of study. However, she quickly warned Gary, "Don't do biology." She advised Gary that the study of physics and mathematics would prepare him for work in other areas, even marine biology. As he took physics classes the next year, Gary found that he had quite a knack for solving the problems put forth in physics. In fact, he found that these problems were even fun to solve.

While having his appendix removed.

As a young teenager, Gary had his appendix removed, and, while in the hospital, he began reading a book on astronomy by Isaac Asimov. Gary learned that his skills in physics could be applied to learn more about phenomena in astronomy. Especially, he was interested in the properties of neutron stars. This newly found fascination solidified Gary's plans to study physics as an undergraduate student.

A young but courageous student.

As a student in his second year at Oxford University, Gary sent letters to observatories around the world, requesting summer positions. After receiving offers from observatories in Green Bank, West Virginia, and New Zealand, Gary decided to go to Steward Observatory in Arizona. While at Steward, Gary discovered that he enjoyed working with astronomical instruments and decided that he needed to attend graduate school in the United States to pursue this interest. He graduated from Oxford in 1983 and left for The University of Hawaii.

"Through our mutual interest in music."

As a graduate student, Gary was disappointed because there were no opportunities to work on astronomical instrumentation. However, he did gain valuable experience in cosmology, the study of the properties and evolution of the universe as a whole. Also, while at The University of Hawaii, he met his wife, Yoshie Hasumi, through their mutual interest in music. After graduating in 1988, Gary and Yoshie moved to Austin, Texas.

"Do what you can with it."

Gary came to The University of Texas as The McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow, a prestigious research position, but, says Gary, "The instrumentation was too inefficient to do any of the projects I wanted to do." This prompted Gary to build his first instrument, the Imaging Grism Instrument (IGI).

At the time, IGI was supposed to be a short-term instrument. Basically, Gary says, he was told, "Here's 5,000 bucks. Do what you can with it." However, IGI is now one of the more heavily used instruments at McDonald even though it is more than a decade old. Subsequently, Gary led the team which built an instrument for The Hobby-Eberly Telescope -- the Low Resolution Spectrograph.

Music, architecture, and travel.

In his spare time, Gary enjoys the diverse live music scene in Austin. Gary also enjoys traveling around Europe and Japan. In particular, he has an appreciation for the cathedrals, temples, and mosques constructed many centuries ago. "The ability of people to build these enormous structures without any formal training in engineering is amazing," he says. When he's not building instruments, studying cosmology, catching a band, or traveling around the world, Gary finds that working on his house in Austin is "a full-time job."

Gary Hill
Senior Research Scientist, Chief Astronomer, McDonald Observatory
Ph.D, University of Hawaii
M.S., Oxford University
B.A., Oxford University

Silge

Julia Silge, astronomy graduate student at The University of Texas, has always had a love for reading, literature, and language. As a child in Fort Worth, Texas, she remembers choosing to focus on reading rather that science and math, and she even wanted to be a writer when she grew up. "I did a lot of independent reading," she recalls. "I wasn't really into science very much." In fact, her third grade teacher allowed her to pursue her own independent project for reading and writing. "I looked at different books from different time periods," she says. "I was not very interested in science as a little girl."

"It was definitely what I wanted to do!"
Having studied several foreign languages, while in high school she considered working in linguistics or translation. By the time she entered college, though, physics had sparked her interest, especially the physics of light and optics. "I started looking into astronomy and thought it was really cool! It was definitely what I wanted to do!" she says. After graduating from Texas A&M University, she came to The University of Texas to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy.

The surprise of a lifetime
One night, while observing at the 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope, Julia got the surprise of her life. Unknown to her, her boyfriend Robert had driven to McDonald Observatory to ask her a very special question. He sneaked up to the catwalk of the telescope building and waited for her. "I was walking around the catwalk, and I heard his voice," she says. "He told me he loved me and that he wanted to marry me! It was very romantic."

Now newly married, Julia spends half of her time in Austin at her office and the other half working from home in Irving, Texas where Robert is a medical student. While at home, Julia enjoys reading, sewing, and growing herbs. The couple also hopes to adopt a dog in the summer. "Up in Irving we have a condo that has a little backyard," she explains, "and we are interested in getting a retired racing greyhound."

Asking the important questions
For Julia, the best part about studying astronomy is its fundamental nature. "Astronomy gets to ask the important questions," she says. "It gets to ask questions about where we are and what the physical world is like. I get to spend my days studying something that is really fundamental and really getting at why things are the way they are." As for life on other planets, Julia doesn't think it's likely. "I'm not necessarily sure, but I would say there's probably not life elsewhere in the universe," she says. "The biggest reward for me is getting to study something that is really worthwhile."

Julia Silge
Graduate Student, University of Texas
M.A., Astronomy; University of Texas
B.S., Physics; Texas A&M University

Fanelli

Mike Fanelli's research interests include evolution of galaxies and their stars - and he looks for patterns in the formation of massive stars, both in three-dimensional space and over time. He has observed with telescopes at McDonald Observatory, Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, and with the Hubble Space Telescope. He is also a member of the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope science team.

Mike used McDonald Observatory telescopes for his research during his appointment as assistant professor at University of North Texas and research scientist at Texas Christian University. He has now moved to working on the NASA Kepler program.

Mike Fanelli
Support Scientist, Kepler Mission
Ph.D., astronomy, University of Virginia

Reddy

Bacham Reddy is an astronomer at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bangalore. In 2003, he finished up a postdoctoral fellowship at The University of Texas. Bacham works closely with Texas astronomer David Lambert in observing the spectra of stars within our galaxy.

Bacham grew up in India and received his Ph.D. from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics in Bangalore. Then, he worked as a researcher at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana. From there, he moved to Austin and the University of Texas, where he was an avid user of the Coudé spectrometer on the 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald Observatory.

Bacham Reddy
Astronomer, Indian Institute of Astrophysics
Ph.D., Astronomy, Indian Institute of Astrophysics

Gebhardt

If faculty member Karl Gebhardt wasn't an astronomer at the University of Texas, he would want to be a construction worker. In fact, he worked in construction while he was in graduate school, landscaping and building houses. What's the appeal? "You get to drive really big trucks!" he grins. Currently, this Associate Professor of Astronomy still likes to spend his free time working on his house and gardening. "We grow a lot of flowers and vegetables," he says. "Texas is a good place for that."

"Tossing a lot of good books at me" Karl grew up in Rochester, New York, where his mother worked as a hospital administrator. During his grade school years, his favorite teacher was Mrs. Tomoanovich who taught 11th grade English. "I appreciated her," he remembers, "for tossing a lot of good books at me." Among other works, the class read books by Herman Hess and Absalom, Absalom! and As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. "She had a good style of teaching, and the books had a big impact," he says.

"One person can make an difference." Although he started out studying physics in graduate school, Karl was drawn to astronomy in part because of its personal nature. While research in physics often involves hundreds of scientists working together on the same project, Karl saw astronomy "as a way where one person can make an difference." What's more, compared to the many people who work in physics, the astronomy community is rather small. As Karl says, "It's a small enough group in astronomy that you tend to know most of the people, and they're spread throughout the world. So pretty much anywhere you go in the world, there's someone you know and have interacted with. Astronomers tend to be pretty nice people so that works out quite well."

"A common misconception" Like a growing number of professional astronomers, Karl rarely sees a telescope anymore. Most of the telescopes he uses, such as the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope, are queue scheduled. Instead of having to be present at the telescope to make his observations, Karl simply waits for the telescope staff to make the observations for him. Data collected on his behalf are usually transmitted to him electronically, so he never even has to leave his office. The idea that he's spending nights in a telescope dome is, as he says, a "common misconception." "People think it's weird," he says, "but it's pretty typical."

Karl Gebhardt, Herman and Joan Suit Professor in Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin

Ph.D., Physics and Astronomy; Rutgers University

M.S., Physics and Astronomy; Michigan State University

B.S., Physics and Astronomy; University of Rochester

Harvey

Paul Harvey grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with two younger brothers. His dad was a mechanical engineer, and his mom was a draftswoman. From a young age, he was interested in science. "Been in physics and astronomy since elementary school," says Paul, who, in junior high, built his own telescope. Today, he continues to build instruments for telescopes both on the ground and in the air. In particular, he has constructed spectrographs for use at McDonald Observatory and at observatories on Hawaii's Mauna Kea.

Connecticut, California, Arizona, and Texas.

Paul attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, for his undergraduate degree in physics. From Connecticut to California, Paul traveled to continue his studies in physics at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. He earned his Ph.D. from Caltech in physics, but his dissertation focused on astronomical observing and instrumentation. Paul then worked at the University of Arizona for seven years as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a research scientist. After his work in Tucson, Paul came to Austin, Texas, where he was a professor of astronomy before switching to a full time research career.

Interests in astronomy.

Paul's interests in astronomy center around instruments that work in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some of these are part of space missions, such as Spitzer Space Telescope and Hershchel. For the Spitzer, Paul was a leading co-investigator in a major project to observe star-forming regions. He is a scientific advisor or mission scientist for the Herschel Observatory. In the past, Paul has worked with the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, an airplane that was equipped with an infrared telescope.

"Our climbing party became a rescue party."

Paul enjoys rock climbing and downhill skiing. In a trip to Mount Rainier, an active, snow-encased volcano in Washington, Paul and some friends were climbing the 4,000 meter peak when two of their group fell into a crevasse and the "climbing party became a rescue party." Certainly, Paul's dedication and endurance as an athlete render him more capable in astronomy, allowing him to be more patient in building intricate instruments and productive during long nights at observing at McDonald Observatory.

Paul Harvey
Senior Research Fellow, University of Texas at Austin
Senior Research Scientist, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D. Physics, California Institute of Technology
B. S. Physics, Wesleyan University

Benedict

Fritz Benedict, Senior Research Scientist at the University of Texas, loves to sail. "I've got a Catalina 22 on Lake Travis," he says, "and I get to go too darn few times." When he's not sailing, he likes to spend time with his wife Ann and their dog Darcy. "Darcy is a cross between a Dalmatian and a Basset Hound," he says, "and there's been much discussion about how that could possibly occur."

"I was lucky." While Fritz claims that he is "still in the process of growing up," his childhood years were spent in a variety of places. He was born in Northern California, and shortly thereafter his family moved to Saudi Arabia. For high school, he attended an American school in Beirut, Lebanon. "I was lucky," he remembers, referring to the fact that he could attend high school relatively close to his family's home in Saudi Arabia. "Lebanon was still a civilized place when I was in high school."

"Something snapped in my brain." Even as a child, Fritz knew where his future career lay. As he says, "When I was eight, something snapped in my brain and I decided I wanted to be an astronomer." In fact, that conviction is what got him through college. "College was a whole lot of fun," he remembers. "In my junior year, I had to decide whether I was going to continue to have a whole lot of fun or do some work and get a degree. But there was that promise I made myself, so I chose the astronomy."

"Kids playing in the sandbox" True to his personality, Fritz views the field of astronomy with good natured enthusiasm. He enjoys the process of astronomy – everything from observing at the telescope to getting an answer to a scientific question. And when it comes to collaborations with other scientists, Fritz has a mental picture in mind. "I equate doing astronomy to kids playing in the sandbox. You have certain kids that you like to play with and other kids that you don't. If you can find the kids you like to play with in the sandbox, it's golden. There's nothing you can't do."

Fritz Benedict, Senior Research Scientist, University of Texas at Austin

Ph.D., Astronomy, Northwestern University

M.S., Astronomy, Northwestern University

B.S., Physics and Astronomy, University of Michigan

 

Sneden

"I can remember the exact moment when I became interested in astronomy," says astronomer Chris Sneden, professor at The University of Texas. He was at his home in Pennsylvania, listening to a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game on the radio. During the commercial break, he heard an advertisement for Saturday morning astronomy classes at the Pittsburgh planetarium. Since then, he says he "never, ever wanted to do a single thing other than astronomy. There was never a Plan B."

"They gave me much encouragement."

Chris attributes much of his success to his parents, Harold and Alice Sneden, who encouraged him to pursue his interest in astronomy. "They knew I was so pigheaded that I wasn't going to be stopped anyway," says Chris. "They gave me much encouragement."

"The very next college on the list was Haverford."

As graduation from his small, mill-town high school loomed, Chris visited his career counselor and inquired about studying astronomy in college. "I don't know anything about that," his counselor said, and gave Chris a book with colleges sorted by academic major. Chris quickly turned to the astronomy section and scanned down the list. "I got to Harvard and said, 'Ahh, I can't get into Harvard.' The very next college on the list was Haverford."

"This decision turned out to be a very good one."

Haverford College is a small Quaker college in Pennsylvania, the oldest institution of higher learning in North America. Today, it's a leading liberal arts college. "This decision turned out to be a very good one," Chris says. While there, he studied astronomy and received his Bachelor's degree in 1969.

Deep in the heart of Texas.

Chris then traveled south to Texas where he worked as a graduate student for astronomer David Lambert who was, then, a fresh new faculty member at The University of Texas. Chris was David's first graduate student and he says that "two or three people after me said that they paid for my sins. He made them work a lot harder." However, Chris obviously worked hard because he left Texas for a string of prestigious positions.

Indiana, California, Wyoming, and Washington

He went to Indiana as a postdoctoral researcher for a year and, then, to Santa Cruz, California as a research astronomer and lecturer. For three years, he worked at the University of Wyoming's infrared observatory where he was an assistant professor. Finally, he worked as an assistant professor at The University of Washington before returning to The University of Texas.

The Town Crier

Chris now holds the Rex G. Baker, Jr. Centennial Research Professorship in Astronomy and, recently, led this astronomy department as its chairman. (The current chairman is his former advisor, David Lambert.) Chris is also the editor of the Astrophysical Journal Letters, a special publication of the Astrophysical Journal that features new and exciting discoveries. Effectively, he is a "town crier" for the astronomical community, making important announcements to eager astronomers.

Encouraging his children.

Chris has been married over 20 years to Gail Sneden and has four children: Alan, Lisa, Brett, and Jeff. Alan is a medical doctor. Lisa holds a Ph.D. in criminal psychology, and Brett is preparing to be a pilot. Finally, Jeff, the youngest, recently graduated from The University of Texas with a degree in computer science.

"Anything with a ball and racquet."

In his free time, Chris enjoys playing tennis with his wife and friends. He also plays squash and racquetball -- "basically anything with a ball and racquet, anything to fool myself into thinking that I'm not exercising," he says.

Chris Sneden Rex G. Baker, Jr. Centennial Research Professor, University of Texas Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Texas B.A., Astronomy, Haverford College

Robinson

Rob studied astronomy as an undergraduate at The University of Arizona. However, he had "more physics credits than any physics major that graduated that year. It wasn't astronomy instead of physics, it was astronomy in addition to physics," he says and stresses the importance of understanding the laws that govern our world.

Upon graduation, Rob came to The University of Texas at Austin where he received his Ph.D. in 1973 under the tutelage of Brian Warner, Ed Nather, and Paul vanden Bout. Afterwards, Rob was the Miller Postdoctoral Fellow at The University of California at Santa Cruz for a year. He then returned to Texas as an assistant professor where he has since become the William B. Blakemore II Regents Professor in Astronomy.

Rob's research interests have been varied throughout his career. He has studied pulsating white dwarf stars, cataclysmic variable stars, and neutron stars. Currently, he is most interested in studying black holes in binary star systems. He says that studying these binary systems is the best method current to determine one of the fundamental attributes of a black hole -- its mass.

Edward L. Robinson
William B. Blakemore II Regents Professor of Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
B.A., Astronomy, University of Arizona

Cianciolo

Let us be frank with you. The image that you hold of astronomers -- that they are nerdy guys and gals who sometimes wear black socks with sandals -- is mostly true. However, occasionally, you find someone who breaks this mold, someone like Frank Cianciolo. Frank is the "Senior Program Coordinator" of the McDonald Observatory Visitors Center. Basically, he ensures that the people who visit this mecca for astronomy have everything that they need.

"That's not a reason to go into medicine."

Frank grew up in southern Ohio and, at an early age, became interested in astronomy. He often attended the planetarium in Cincinnati, and his parents gave him his very first telescope before he could drive. After high school, however, he was a pre-medicine student at The University of Dayton in Ohio. His father was a medical doctor, so certainly Frank felt some expectation to be one as well. "That's not a reason to go into medicine," Frank says.

After Dayton, Frank "fooled around for a while." For two years, he worked as a bartender. Then, he moved to Alaska for a summer where he worked on a fishing boat. "I don't really recommend it," says Frank about this occupation that is usually grueling and often dangerous.

"I just never knew that you could know much about it unless you were Einstein."

In 1984, Frank heard that Halley's comet would become visible in 1985 (and become very bright in 1986, as it passed Earth in its 76-year cycle). He wanted to see it, but he realized that he barely knew where the Big Dipper was in the sky. Disappointed in his lack of knowledge but determined to learn, he started to read books about the constellations, learned star charts, and became well versed in amateur astronomy. Frank muses, "I had always been interested in astronomy. I just never knew that you could know much about it unless you were Einstein."

"What the heck? I'm not doing anything."

A few years later, one of Frank's friends was visiting Texas A&M University. He said, "Hey, why don't you come with me. I hear UT has a good astronomy program," to which Frank replied, "What the heck? I'm not doing anything." One of the first people Frank met was Dr. Mary Kay Hemenway, who became his mentor. She counseled Frank in what he needed to do before coming to study astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin.

"I fell in love with the Observatory and Ft. Davis."

As an undergraduate student in his first year, Mary Kay approached Frank with the suggestion he apply for a summer internship at McDonald Observatory. She knew of Frank's experience in amateur astronomy and thought he might enjoy such an job. "I fell in love with the Observatory and Ft. Davis," says Frank of that summer, and, in the subsequent semesters, he would travel there again and again to stare at the heavens and share this awe with others.

In 1994, a full-time position opened up which Frank applied for and quickly accepted. Since then, over 10 years have passed and Frank has seen the Visitors Center morph into the pride of Texas where thousands of people visit every year. This is awfully gratifying to Frank who revels in knowing that, for many, the first time they look through a telescope is under his guidance.

Frank Cianciolo
Senior Program Coordinator, McDonald Observatory

Wheeler

Astronomy professor J. Craig Wheeler has never been a stranger to science. Even before he began to study astronomy, he was certainly influenced by his father's physics-related career. "My father followed various defense industry jobs," he says. "We lived in Boulder, Colorado when he was working on the first thermonuclear bomb."

Later, his family moved to Idaho to be close to a nuclear reactor testing station. "Idaho was an interesting environment," he says. "Very rural in some sense, but very scientific in another. It was a real cross cultural sort of thing, with potatoes and a nuclear reactor."

"I've just been immensely lucky."

Craig decided to study astronomy at just the right moment in time. Funding for science was at an all time high after World War II and the launch of Sputnik, and looking back, Craig realizes that he was, as he says, "riding that post-war wave." After receiving his doctorate at The University of Colorado, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the California Institute of Technology, and later was an assistant professor at Harvard University. "I can look back now and see that in many ways I was very, very fortunate," he says. "Caltech was a great place to be a postdoc. There were all sorts of science going on, and there was just this intellectual ferment in the air. I've just been immensely lucky. It was really a great boost to my career."

"One mind-bending idea after another."

One of the greatest perks to being an astronomer, according to Craig, is "getting to write ‘Astrophysicist' on my IRS tax return. ‘I am an astrophysicist.' That just gets me every time!" Craig also likes being an astronomer because he enjoys finding out about new ideas in the field. "I'm a new idea junkie," he says. "I feed on new ideas. Lots of fields have new ideas, but astronomy is just one mind-bending idea after another!"

"I'm just not an observer."

Unlike most astronomers, Craig is never at the telescope. "I only observed with a telescope one time," he remembers. "It was cloudy for three days. And that was the end of that. I'm just not an observer." Instead, Craig is a theorist, meaning that while he plans and uses telescope observations, he does not depend on them for his work. It is also helpful that he studies supernovae, which are very unpredictable. Because astronomers never know when one may happen, supernova observations are usually made by whichever astronomer happens to be at the telescope at the time.

The Krone Experiment

When he's not doing astronomy, Craig is probably writing about it! He has written a popular book: Cosmic Catastrophes: Supernovae, Gamma-Ray Bursts, and Adventures in Hyperspace; as well as a science fiction novel, The Krone Experiment. As luck would have it, Craig's son Rob is in the process of turning The Krone Experiment into a movie. And currently, Craig is in the process of writing a sequel called Krone Ascending. "If I weren't an astronomer, I'd probably be a writer of some kind," he says. "It's something I discovered too late to make it into a career, but I do enjoy writing."

Craig is a member of The University of Texas Academy of Distinguished Teachers. He lives in Austin with his wife of 36 years. Their older son, Diek, is a neurobiologist at The University of Pittsburgh, and their younger son, Rob, is a filmmaker in Austin.

J. Craig Wheeler Samuel T. and Fern Yanagisawa Regents Professor of Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin President, American Astronomical Society (2006-2008) Ph.D., Physics, The University of Colorado B.S., Physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Drory

"I got interested in astronomy during my studies of physics," Niv Drory says. "I had a strong interest for astronomy as a teenager, but when I started studying physics, I wasn't actually sure I would end up as a researcher in astronomy. I just happened to end up in astronomy."

"An international and interesting environment."

Now that he is a professional astronomer, it's not only a fascination with the subject matter that keeps Niv interested. "The most reward I get out of astronomy is being able to work in a very international and interesting environment," he says. "It's actually more of a reason for me than the science itself, because there are interesting jobs all over the place. It's the people."

"I have always loved music."

When he's not spending time at work in front of his office computer, Niv likes to play "all kinds of sports," he says. These include running, basketball, and volleyball, among others. He also likes to cook Mediterranean and Asian food, and he enjoys music. "I have always loved music," he says, "both listening to and playing music." He plays classical and rock guitar, and he usually listens to both classical and pop when he's out at McDonald Observatory. Niv also likes movies, "literature in general," and biology, which he says he finds fascinating.

An international background

Niv was born in Haifa, Israel, and he and his parents moved between Germany and Israel several times when he was younger. They finally settled in Münich, where Niv attended high school and later college and graduate school. After finishing his Ph.D., Niv came to Texas as a postdoctoral researcher with The University of Texas at Austin. Following that, Niv returned to Germany and is now with the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching, near Munich.

Niv Drory
Astronomer, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics (Garching, Germany)
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Münich
M.S., Physics, University of Münich

Lacy

John Lacy did not consider himself an amateur astronomer. He's always liked looking at the stars, and his father pointed out constellations to him when he was a boy, but it wasn't until a friend in high school convinced him to join the astronomy club that he became more interested in astronomy. That friend is now a professor of music composition.

When John teaches undergraduate courses, he occasionally runs into students with mental blocks about science. They claim they can't understand astronomy because they are not science majors. John uses his friend the music professor as an example to show those students that they can understand science.

"A matchmaker for zoo animals."

John was born in Gary, Indiana, but moved to Connecticut when he was in the ninth grade. He has two brothers and two sisters. One brother, Bob, is a biologist who works at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. John describes his brother's work as, "a matchmaker for zoo animals." Bob studies the problems of breeding animals while in captivity, and often consults with biologists at other zoos.

"Ms. Kitty is still likely to toss her cookies."

Felines reign supreme in the Lacy household. John has three cats named Ms. Kitty, Tyler, and Eppie. Tyler was a stray that he found near Tyler, Texas. That location was the inspiration for the cat's name. Eppie is a recent newcomer, and the other cats are still adjusting. Tyler stays outside a lot, and according to John, "Ms. Kitty is still likely to toss her cookies when she sees her." Hopefully peace and harmony will soon prevail.

"It nearly knocked me over!"

John's favorite teacher was his tenth grade chemistry teacher, even though he can't remember the teacher's name. John has some very vivid memories of that class. During one laboratory experiment, he had to smell the contents of a test tube. Instead of gently wafting the odors to his nose, he inhaled the odor directly and, "it nearly knocked me over!" As in other high school chemistry classes, accidents were bound to happen. John recounts the time he accidentally dropped a still glowing match into a wastebasket and, "nearly burned down the school." The teacher didn't get too upset though, which is why John liked him!

"I'm pretty incoherent when I'm on that mountain."

As a graduate student, to complete the research needed for his dissertation, he built an instrument and used it to discover a black hole in the center of our galaxy. That success has led to a career designing, building, and using other instruments, including TEXES, the Texas Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrometer.

Many people may not realize how much engineering plays a role in astronomy. After all, someone has to design and build the instruments and telescopes that astronomers use. John and his team have used TEXES at McDonald Observatory and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii at 14,000 feet above sea level. It often takes John a couple of days to adjust to that higher altitude. In fact, John says that, "I'm pretty incoherent when I'm on that mountain."

John is an avid bicycler and has ridden a 75-mile loop in the Davis Mountains near McDonald Observatory. Someday he would like to bring his bike along and ride it from sea level to the summit of Mauna Kea. It is only a 40 mile ride, but it is all uphill!

John Lacy
Professor of Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D.; Physics; University of California-Berkeley
S.B.; Physics; Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Barnes

Tom Barnes, Senior Research Scientist of McDonald Observatory, grew up in Ohio, but now considers his hometown to be Austin, Texas. His father was an auditor, and the family moved a lot to accommodate the elder Barnes' job. They moved 13 times before settling in Marion, Ohio, where Tom graduated from high school.

Tom's son Eric and his wife Kari are the parents of Tom's grandchildren, Logan and Trevor, who Tom says are "likely to be spoiled sons of a gun." Tom's other son JB and his wife Nichole had grandchild Mollie. Tom also has two stepdaughters, Jennifer and Jessica, and is married to Cyndee.

"Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee."

While some astronomers may like to focus the telescope on a single astronomical object for several hours, playing video games or listening to music to pass the time, "That's not my style of observing," Tom says. He says he might change targets and adjust his observations every 15 minutes. The key ingredient that keeps him awake while observing at night, he says, is "coffee. Lots and lots of coffee." He prefers Starbucks when he is at home in Austin, but straight, strong, black coffee gets the job done when he is at McDonald Observatory.

"If you can't communicate, you can't do this field."

The foundation in language Tom says he received from a favorite teacher helps him tremendously in his career. "Writing is extremely important, " he states. "If you can't communicate, you can't succeed in this field." He recalls that his high school English teacher, Mary Calhoun, often gave students just one word on the board and asked them to write an essay on that word during the class period.

"Raise money."

One thing that Tom thinks the general public doesn't realize about astronomers is how much time they have to spend to "raise money." According to him, a lot of money is required for each observing run to cover travel, lodging, and equipment. While some people may think all these expenditures are magically covered, the truth is that astronomers are constantly selling their projects to various funding organizations to raise money to do the research. The writing skills Tom learned from Ms. Calhoun often come into play when he is writing grants or proposals to get time on telescopes.

"It just came to me."

Tom says one of the memorable events of his career was a time when he was reading about some observations of a star that showed strange a magnitude change. The researchers couldn't explain what happened. Tom says that while reading this article, the reason "just came to me. I just knew it." He sat down, wrote a paper explaining the behavior, and made a prediction as to what the star might do in the future. Sure enough, another astronomer later confirmed his prediction.

Tom retired from McDonald Observatory in 2014 but remains active in his research.

Thomas G. Barnes III, Senior Research Scientist, McDonald Observatory
Ph.D., Astronomy, The University of Toronto
M.A., Astronomy, The University of Toronto
B.S. (with distinction) Astrophysics, The University of Rochester

 

Vilas

Faith Vilas is a space scientist at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

At NASA, she pursues work in both observing astronomical phenomena and building her own instruments with which to observe.

Scientifically, she is interested in nearby objects like meteors, comets and asteroids, as well as distant objects like planets around stars other than the Sun. Currently, she studies asteroids with spectroscopy to learn their compositions and is interested in finding sources of near-earth asteroids.

Faith Vilas
Space Scientist, NASA Johnson Space Center
Ph. D., Planetary Sciences, University of Arizona

Shetrone

As a young child, Matt Shetrone loved to explore. He says he'd go hiking with his Boy Scout troop, marveling at archaeological finds. Later, he embarked on travels to Australia and Europe. Today, Matt has expanded his horizons to exploring extrasolar planets, massive galaxies, the early universe, and other phenomena. Truly, he is a Christopher Columbus of this era, forging into the darkest and least known areas of our world with the most cutting-edge tools available for today's explorers.

"See the broader world outside of science."

Matt is a Texan. He grew up in Dallas, attending W.T. White High School. He says there he was most impacted by his teacher Gale Cope. Matt says Ms. Cope pushed him "to see the broader world outside of science: theater, art, athletics, nature, and culture. She wanted all of her students to be well-rounded people and active community leaders." Her influence on Matt shines today as he loves to experience foreign cultures by traveling, backpacking the trails of Big Bend National Park, and run on the isolated trails surrounding McDonald Observatory.

Matt completed his undergraduate degree in astronomy here at The University of Texas at Austin. He then attended The University of California at Santa Cruz where he completed his Ph.D. in astronomy and astrophysics. From his experience with optical telescopes at McDonald Observatory as an undergraduate and at the Keck and Lick Observatories as a graduate student, Matt was hooked on optical astronomy. Ph.D. in hand, he went south of the equator to the European Southern Observatory in La Silla, Chile.

"It was going to be a success."

By far, Matt says his most gratifying moment in his astronomical career occurred when was as a graduate student. He worked for a couple of years to simulate the production of a particular element in the nucleosynthesis that occurs within stars. The existence of this element in stars had been proposed but never observed. Finally, after a year of hard work, Matt was granted time on the three-meter telescope at Lick Observatory. On the first night, he had good weather and observed a spectrum of a star. Eureka! The spectrum showed that, as he predicted, this element was present in the star. "I knew at that moment that even though I would have two more long years of work to finish my thesis that it was going to be a success."

"Who could have a better job than me?"

Matt has returned to McDonald Observatory where he is the resident astronomer for the Hobby Eberly Telescope. He is in charge of running the night-to-night observations at the HET, collecting data for both himself and other astronomers. Regarding his job, he says, "In a single night I might start working on a search of planets around other stars, then work on finding the distance to nearby galaxies and end the night with looking for the most distant objects in our universe. Then I can walk home watching the sun rise over the beautiful Davis Mountains. Who could have a better job than mine?"

Matthew Shetrone
Research Scientist, McDonald Observatory
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of California at Santa Cruz
B.A., Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin

Handler

The tunes of Judas Priest wafted from the 0.9-meter Telescope dome at McDonald Observatory while Gerald Handler observed pulsating stars. That's what he likes most about observing; he says he can "turn up the music really loud and just party away all night."

On this night, however, David Lambert was walking on the catwalk outside the dome of the nearby 2.7-meter Smith Telescope and heard this famous metal band rocking away. He called Gerald and threatened to "shine a torch (flashlight) into his telescope." Gerald, of course, complied and turned the volume down, but, fortunately, his enthusiasm for music is almost as infectious as his excitement about exploring the stars that he observes.

"Jupiter, Lord of the Sky"

Gerald was born in Mödling, Austria, a small town just south of Vienna. His father owned a "petrol station" and had hopes that Gerald would eventually take over the family business. Gerald had his doubts, but he enrolled in automobile engineering as a high school student to follow his father's wishes. "I was always interested in astronomy," says Gerald, but his devotion to the study of astronomy waned until his last two years of high school.

One night, while waiting for the bus, he noticed a bright object in the sky. Thinking it was possibly the star Sirius, he dug out all his old astronomy textbooks and ruled out Sirius as a possibility. He just couldn't figure out what this object was, so he spent weeks poring over astronomy charts and books. Finally, he realized that the object was moving in the sky and concluded it was none other than the "lord of the sky," Jupiter.

"He won't be of any harm."

Because he read about nothing but astronomy, Gerald almost failed his final year in his studies of automotive engineering. Fortunately, one teacher realized his aspirations and went to the head of exam commission and pleaded for Gerald to graduate. In defense of his inadequate skills as an auto mechanic, he said, "He won't be of any harm because he's going to be an astronomer anyway." Gerald laughs as he recollects this because, while he is excellent with numbers and studying the heavens, the cars of Austria would have been in dire straits had he become a mechanic.

"Peel a whole bag of onions without crying."

Gerald did graduate from high school and then studied astronomy at The University of Vienna. He received his undergraduate degree there and stayed on for his doctoral work. During his graduate career, he made a couple of detours. First, he enrolled in his mandatory civil service for Austria for which he worked in the kitchen of a refugee camp. "I learned how to chop potatoes and peel a whole bag of onions without crying." Gerald, also visited, for a couple of years, at The University of Texas at Austin where he became famous for enduring long months of observations on the 0.9-meter Telescope, over 200 nights in all.

"She was down there to fetch me."

Ph.D. fresh in hand, Gerald traveled to South Africa where he worked at the South African Astronomical Observatory as a postdoctoral researcher. He enjoyed the work there but pined somewhat to be back at home. In fact, his Austrian girlfriend moved to South Africa to be with Gerald; "basically, she was down there to fetch me," he says. A year later, they did return to Europe.

Gerald Handler
Postdoctoral Fellow, Copernicus Astronomical Center
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Vienna, Austria
B.S., Astronomy, University of Vienna, Austria

Cochran

Twelve-year old Anita Cochran visited Brookhaven National Laboratory near her hometown of New York City. Although she had been encouraged to explore science by her father and several teachers, Anita remembers this visit as a pivotal point in her aspiration to be a scientist. She had become fascinated and enamored by the simple fact that people can look at the world and deduce some order. In contrast, she recalls her older brother's response to the same trip, "Oh, I remember that trip. It was the most boring thing ever." Anita sheepishly grins---"He's not a scientist."

"I was hooked."

Anita attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she satiated her desire to study the physical sciences. As an undergraduate student there, she focused on physics, but, fortunately, her advisor required that she take classes outside of the strict study of physics. "I didn't have any intention of going into astronomy," says Anita, but, after enrolling in an astronomy class, "I was hooked." Indeed, she would then move on to the land of "Hook em Horns," the University of Texas at Austin, which came in high regard with her Cornell mentor,Joe Veverka, because of the research environment and "lots of good biergartens."

"We went there bunches of times."

As a young graduate student, Anita was to begin under the advisement of Larry Trafton. Eager to work, Anita knocked on Larry's door in prospect of a project. He sent his new student to his postdoctoral researcher, Bill Cochran. Two weeks later, these two astronomers went together on a date. Where do astronomers go on their first date? Well, Bill and Anita enjoyed going to the Armadillo World Headquarters, a music hall in South Austin. In fact, "We went there bunches of times." Two years later, Bill and Anita were married and have recently celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Astronomer and Woman

As a graduate student during the 1970's, Anita found herself to be one of few women in the department. "Certain people were inhospitable at the time," remembers Anita, but the department, in general, has become more open to women. "In those days, it was a major event to get a new woman in the department, but, today, there are many more women in the program." Today, Anita says of the situation for women in astronomy, "It is really different."

"It was a very bad day."

During her tenure her as a researcher, Anita has spent many years studying bodies in our solar system. Mostly, she enjoys exploring comets, balls of ice and dust that orbit our Sun, but, occasionally, she likes to observe asteroids from the telescopes at McDonald and elsewhere. Anita has also been part of the CONTOUR mission (Comet Nucleus Tour) a space project that was intended to visit Comet 2P/Encke and study its makeup. Unfortunately, this space observatory was lost just one month after launch. "It was a very bad day," sighs Anita as she remembers hearing of the explosion.

"Chewy"

In their spare time, Anita and Bill enjoy many things together. The two are avid bicyclists and find a week incomplete without at least a few hours out on the road together. They often sponsor departmental participation in the many charitable rides and have even formed an impromptu team, Team Astro, whose motto reads, "Nuclear Powered, Stellar Performers." This couple also enjoy square dancing every Tuesday night with their fellow square dancers. Both have pursued this interest since 1984 and are considered advanced in their skill of this art. Further, the name of Anita's computer, Barolo (a region in Italy known for its wine) reflects her fancy for good wines. "Barolos tend to be really big, massive wines---chewy," says Anita. Finally, although she doesn't own a dog, Anita is a godmother to many of her friends' pets. She speaks fondly of Skye, a white Aussie; Sox, a friendly beagle; Honey Girl, a sweet terrier-like dog; and Sarah, a dog, dear to Anita, who just recently passed away.

Anita Cochran Research Scientist, Assistant Director, McDonald Observatory Ph.D., Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin B.A., Physics, Cornell University

 

Redfield

"Tell them life is worthwhile when you come from a place like Nebraska," sings the state ballad for the Cornhusker State. Indeed Nebraska-native Seth Redfield's contentedness with life is obvious as he muses on the people and events that have passed through it. He speaks fondly of his fascination with music. Likewise, the songs of the heavens have caught his ear, so he now tries to untangle their tune as an astronomer.

Seth says he had always been interested in science, particularly in astronomy. In his last year of high school, he says his musical interests became more intense. So he decided to study both science and music in college, through joint program involving Tufts University and The New England Conservatory of Music, both in Boston.

At Tufts, Seth studied physics and astrophysics, while at the New England Conservatory, he majored in Theoretical Studies and focused on mastery of the oboe. "Musicians will spend hours and hours in the practice room. You can see that same behavior in scientists. That's what I liked about the double program," Seth says.

"Great opportunities"

In his second year of college, Seth worked in a research program for college students at the National Solar Observatory near Tucson. "I think these programs are great opportunities," he says. Through his work with Dr. Charles Lindsey, Seth says he discovered that he enjoyed working in the astronomy research community. In the next few years of his college career, Seth worked at Harvard's Center for Astrophysics and at the Very Large Array in Socorro, New Mexico.

"I decided that I would do astrophysics in grad school ... and I really enjoyed Boulder," Seth says. Fortunately, the university at Boulder not only has a world-class astrophysics program but also "anything you want to do out of doors," he says. Apart from his work on mapping the material within a few quadrillion miles (that's a thousand trillion miles) of our Sun, Seth says he also enjoyed backpacking, hiking, and playing ultimate frisbee with friends in Boulder.

In 2003, Seth came to the University of Texas at Austin as a Harlan J. Smith Postdoctoral Fellow. After that, he won a prized Hubble Fellowship from NASA and continued his research at UT-Austin.

Seth has recently left Austin to become an assistant professor of astronomy at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Seth Redfield
Assistant Professor, Astronomy, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT
Ph.D., Astrophysics, University of Colorado, Boulder
M.S., Astrophysics, University of Colorado, Boulder
B.M., Theoretical Studies, The New England Conservatory of Music
B.S., Physics & Astrophysics, Tufts University

Evans

In the search for the origins of stars and planets, there are few who can match the invested time, interest, and enthusiasm of astronomer Neal Evans.

His newest project will provide insight into the formation of low-mass stars and their accompanying planets, using data from NASA's newest Earth-orbiting observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope. The Spitzer is sensitive to infrared light, and will be used to gather information on regions opaque to visible light. Neal works with a team of 50 scientists from around the globe on this project.

Life, Intelligence, and Technical Civilizations

Neal's interests, however, are not solely in stars and planets. He has long been intrigued by how life, intelligence, and even technical civilizations have come to be. Neal's interest in these subjects is in understanding how they became what they are today, whether that process might occur elsewhere, and how the outcome might differ. He frequently teaches a seminar that compares ideas about origins drawn from philosophy, religion, history, and science, exploring the different perspectives that each field of inquiry contributes.

Neal is particularly well suited for this seminar, which falls into an honors Liberal Arts degree program at The University of Texas, due to a long-standing interest he has in the study of English. This interest dates back to his years as an undergraduate at Berkeley. Before settling into physics, Neal considered pursuing a career in English, and has maintained a close affinity for the subject.

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in physics, Neal went on to receive his Ph.D. in 1973, and did a year and a half of post-doctoral work at Caltech. Although initially interested in high-energy and particle physics, he was dissuaded from entering these fields by the large groups of collaborators, often hundreds of researchers, that had begun to dominate many aspects of research in those fields. He became interested in astrophysics and worked with a research group started at Berkeley by Nobel laureate Charles Townes.

The journey outweighs the destination

Neal joined The University of Texas faculty in 1975, and has worked here since. In addition to his research and coordinating work for the Spitzer project, Neal teaches several astronomy courses at the University, including a class about the search for extraterrestrial life. As with his honors Liberal Arts seminar, one of his overarching goals in teaching these classes is to share his interest in how things have come to be – an interest that takes precedence over the facts of how things are. For Neal, and his students, the journey is more important than the destination.

Neal's personal life is as varied as his professional. He's an avid reader of both fiction and nonfiction, and has a particular interest in novels. He and his wife Leslie enjoy backpacking and hiking in the Sierras and Cascades of the west coast and in the Rocky Mountains. They hope to visit the Appalachian Trail some time in the near future.

Neal Evans

Edward Randall, Jr., M.D. Centennial Professor in Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin Astronomy

Ph.D., Physics, University of California, Berkeley

B.A., Physics, University of California, Berkeley

Kilic

Mukremin Kilic grew up in a city outside Istanbul. After attending a math and science high school, he majored in physics at the Bogazici (Bosphorus) University. Following his graduate career at The University of Texas at Austin, he completed a Spitzer Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and another post-doctoral appointment at The Ohio State University. Mukremin does research on white dwarf stars.

Mukremin says his interest in astronomy began after viewing the 1999 total solar eclipse in Turkey. He enjoys the fact that his work brings him into intimate contact with the vastness of the universe, and the relative smallness of our Earth and its civilizations. He says it's the enormity of what lies around us that captured and holds his interest.

Mukremin's work probes not only the enormity of space, but also time. By studying white dwarfs -- the dead remains of stars like the Sun -- Mukremin and his fellow researchers are able to discern the ages of different parts of our galaxy.

Like a Stove

In essence, a white dwarf is like a hot stove; once the stove is off it decreases in temperature slowly over time. By measuring how cool the stove is, you can tell how long it's been since it was last on. Mukremin works to do precisely that. In understanding how different parts of the galaxy differ in age, we can better understand the processes by which it formed.

Mukremin says he enjoys playing informal soccer and basketball games with his friends. He also enjoys reading, and has an affinity for poetry, both romantic and modern. He listens to a great variety of music, but doesn't care for classical.

"I'm astonished at what we can do."

But most of his time is spent either on his work or in thinking about where we fit into the picture. "The universe is so big that I'm amazed with it. When I look at the galaxies in my images, I know that the Sun is only one of the billions of the stars in the galaxy, and I feel very small and weak. But at the same time, I'm astonished with what we can do with astronomy."

Mukremin, a spring 2006 PhD graduate at Texas, accepted the 2006 Columbus Prize Fellowship at Ohio State University to continue his research on white dwarf stars. He is currently the Spitzer Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Mukremin Kilic
Assistant Professor, Astronomy, University of Oklahoma
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Physics, Bogazici University

Wilson

Jody Wilson is senior research associate at the Imaging Science Team in The Center for Space Physics at Boston University. Her research involves imaging and numerical modeling of the atmospheres of solar system bodies, including the Moon, the planet Mercury, Jupiter's satellite Io , and comets.

Jody Wilson
Senior Research Associate, Boston University
Ph.D. in Astrophysical, Planetary, and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Colorado
M.S. Planetary Science, University of Colorado, Boulder
B.S. Physics, Astronomy, Ohio State University, Columbus

Cochran

The explorers of old forged into new lands and uncharted territories, pursuing conquests for their queens and kings and forming a legacy of adventure to follow them for centuries to come. Over the next few hundred years, the feats of these explorers will slowly be forgotten and replaced with those of the likes of Bill Cochran, an astronomer at The University of Texas.

Like his counterparts during the age of discovery, Bill also charts unknown territories. Unlike them, he does this from the confines of a telescope control room, searching for planets around stars other than the Sun. "You can discover new worlds," says Bill, "very strange and interesting worlds."

"I had no interest in astronomy as a kid."

Bill was born and raised in Schenectady, New York. He says he enjoyed camping and hiking and, in high school, wrestling on the varsity team. His colleagues often were amateur astronomers as children, but, Bill says, "I was the opposite. I had no interest in astronomy as a kid."

As a student at Duke University, Bill first tried his hand at engineering but quickly found, "No, that's not it." He liked physics, but Bill wanted to pursue some particular application of the physical sciences. He first tried biophysics because "it was an up and coming field," but a single biology course swayed him from this path. "Astrophysics sounded good," but Duke didn't offer any astronomy courses. During one summer at home, Bill enrolled in an astronomy course at the local university and, right away, was hooked. He then decided to study astronomy in graduate school and went to Princeton where he would finish his Ph.D. in four years.

"They haven't thrown me out."

After graduation, Bill came to Texas to work as a postdoctoral researcher with Larry Trafton. Since coming here, "they haven't thrown me out," says Bill who is now a Senior Research Scientist who often uses McDonald Observatory telescopes for his research.

Also, during his time as a post-doctoral researcher, Bill worked with a young woman, Anita. Soon thereafter she become his companion and wife. Together, they enjoy square dancing, cycling (about 30 miles per week) and oenology, the art and science of wine tasting. Bill and Anita have been married more than twenty-five years.

These days, Bill is forging ahead with his program of exploration and employing the help of others. Current and former graduate students have devoted many hours of work under his tutelage and guidance. With their work, we look forward to learning of their "new and interesting worlds."

William C. Cochran
Senior Research Scientist, McDonald Observatory
Ph.D., Astronomy, Princeton University
B.S., Physics, Duke University

Johns-Krull

Chris teaches astronomy at Rice University, in Houston, Texas. Most of his current work is devoted to studying T Tauri stars, which are low-mass, young stars that have only recently emerged from their birthplaces – clouds of gas and dust – to become visible to optical-light telescopes like those at McDonald Observatory. Many of these young stars show a host of unusual features which appear to be related in one way or another to the fact that they are surrounded by active accretion disks, Chris says. These are the Classical T Tauri stars, and the disks that surround them are sites where planetary systems are currently forming. Much of Chris' work has been centered on trying to understand the (sometimes very extreme) variability found in Classical T Tauri stars.

Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Rice University
Ph.D., Astronomy, The University of California, Berkeley
M.A., Astronomy, The University of California, Berkeley
B.S., Physics, The University of Texas at Austin
B.A., Math, The University of Texas at Austin

Federman

As a graduate student in physics at the New York University in Manhattan, Steve Federman says, "somebody showed me pretty pictures" of astronomical phenomena. Sparking an interest in the discipline, he attended monthly meetings of an amateur astronomy group in New York City. Steve says these two things were probably what influenced him most to find a career in astronomy.

Steve received his bachelor's degree in physics at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now Polytechnic University) and his master's and doctorate in physics from New York University. After doing post-doctoral studies at the University of Texas at Austin, he worked for a while at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Since 1988, he has been on the faculty at The University of Toledo.

Studying the Stuff Between the Stars

Steve says he spends much of his research effort in understanding the nature of material between stars, called "the interstellar medium." In these regions where gas and dust have collected into molecular clouds, new generations of stars are formed. Steve, through his work, says he hopes to better understand how the physical environment offered by the interstellar medium affects this star formation. Steve often uses the telescopes of McDonald Observatory as well as the Hubble Space Telescope. He collaborates with many astronomers in the United States and around the world including David Lambert, the current director of McDonald Observatory.

One of the things Steve says he likes best about his job is "seeing all the pieces [of a project] come together and understanding why things are the way they are."

Tennis and a Teenage Daughter

In his spare time, Steve enjoys playing tennis and also enjoys hiking and biking occasionally. He has one daughter who is in her beginning year of high school. He regards this time as "an exciting event for them."

Steve Federman
Professor, Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, University of Toledo
Ph.D., Physics, New York University
M.S., Physics, New York University
B.S., Physics, Polytechnic University, Brooklyn

Dunn

With the intention of steering clear of astronomy as a profession, Jacqueline Dunn says she began her undergraduate education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth with an astronomy minor paired with a major in environmental science. According to Jackie, many of her family members had already gone down the physics/math route, and she had the desire to try something a little different. She took an interest in marine biology, she says. Due to a family history of military service, Jackie thought of joining the Navy. But after her first astronomy class, Jackie says she realized that the love for the stars must be in her blood and she couldn't deny her interest.

"Just going to the observatories is cool."

Having finished graduate school, Jackie is in the early stages of her career. When asked about the most exciting parts of her job, she says that "just going to the observatories is cool." One thing she didn't know would be a large part of being an astronomer is the amount of computer programming she is required to do. Staying alert during the late hours that an astronomer must work can also be difficult, but Jackie combats that with lots of caffeine and music, ranging from Broadway tunes to hard rock. The genre really makes no difference she says, so long as the music is loud.

Feynman the Dog

In what little spare time she has, her and her husband, Austin, enjoy participating in dog shows. They own a Pembroke Welsh Corgi, and although they are relatively new to the hobby, little Feynman (named after the Nobel-prize winning physicist) has already brought home the honor of third in his class.

When asked what she thinks about the possibility of life on other planets, Jackie says that's one of her favorite questions she asks others because of all the interesting responses. She adds, "I do believe there's life somewhere else in the universe, but I doubt we'll ever find it."

Jacqueline Dunn
Assistant Professor, Physics, Midwestern State University
PhD, Texas Christian University
Masters, Physics, Texas Christian University
B.S. Physics and Astronomy, Texas Christian University

Cornell

Astronomer by day, astronomer by night, Mark Cornell, is one of those lucky people whose careers intersect their hobbies. For him, this stems in part from a longstanding interest of his: amateur astronomy. "There are two types of astronomers, those who got interested in physics and astronomy in college, for one reason or another… I'm the other type -- afflicted from youth."

Originally from Alton, Illinois (just outside St. Louis) Mark graduated from Caltech with an undergraduate degree in astronomy. He went on to do graduate work at the University of Arizona, before coming to The University of Texas. After years of heading the computer group -- the team that writes data acquisition software for use at McDonald Observatory and which supports and services the computers in the Astronomy Department -- he has recently gone back into full-time research.

Working in conjunction with Professor John Kormendy and undergraduate student David Fisher, he is investigating the relatively new field of galactic pseudobulges. Overall, he says he feels that his career path has been fairly unconventional. "I've always been more on the technical side of astronomy," he says. Though never formally trained in computer science -- both his graduate and undergraduate degrees are in astronomy -- he has had long experience with computers and writing software, and is intimately acquainted with the systems that the Astronomy Department runs on.

Though an astronomer by day and night, amateur and professional astronomy are hardly the limit of Mark's interests. On the contrary, he enjoys a wide variety of literature, ranging from classic hard science fiction to more modern historical fiction. He has an interest in classical music, with a preference for full orchestra, and he greatly enjoys the theater and films. Perhaps his most surprising non-professional interest is furniture making. Mark builds furniture to aesthetically simple and minimalist designs, making chairs, stepladders, dressers, and cabinets, among other pieces. When observing on his 16-inch Dobsonian telescope he uses a two-foot stepladder built from a traditional Shaker design.

Mark and his wife love animals, a fact attested to by their stewardship of a cat, a dog, and a tank of tropical fish. Mark has always liked shelties, though he doesn't have one now, and though not much of a cat person, he has a great fondness for their once feral cat. His wife breeds and cares for the saltwater fish.

Mark Cornell
Research Scientist, McDonald Observatory
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Arizona
B.S., Astronomy, California Institute of Technology

Kumar

Pawan Kumar perhaps does not fit the popular conception of an astronomer -- he is rarely to be found burning the midnight oil in an observatory. Rather, you'd more likely find him working at the desk in his pleasant 17th floor office. Pawan does not observe astronomical objects with telescopes; his forte is the theoretical side of astronomical phenomena. Using data gathered by other astronomers, he strives to understand and solve some of the big questions of modern astronomy. Currently, his attention is fixed on gamma-ray bursts -- extremely concentrated, intense, and short lived emissions of gamma rays.

From India to Austin via CalTech, MIT, & Princeton

Born in north-central India, Pawan spent his early academic career at the Indian Institute of Technology, earning degrees in computer science and physics. Though he did not end up in the software industry, the physics degree provided a platform for his jump into astronomy. After working for a year he went back to school, eventually receiving a PhD in astrophysics from the California Institute of Technology. He subsequently worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and now does research at The University of Texas at Austin.

Training Science Teachers

Pawan also participates in the UTeach program, which trains future elementary and secondary-school science and math teachers. In particular, he teaches these future science educators how to think critically, how to read scientific literature, and how to carry out independent research.

Over the course of his career, Pawan has entertained interest in several astronomical subjects, including helioseismology (the study of the Sun's interior) and gamma-ray bursts, but he is more broadly interested in figuring things out. That is to say that the most exciting part of his job is discovering the solution to a puzzle, and being the first to do so. Referring to his work, Pawan remarks, "The most enjoyable part is to understand something that nobody knew before or that you had no idea was going on."

A Passion for Reading

Pawan says he also has a passion for reading, with a particular fondness for current affairs and literature. Eighteenth and nineteenth century classics are his favorites.

Pawan Kumar
Professor, Department of Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D. Astrophysics, California Institute of Technology
M. Tech, Computer Science, Indian Institute of Technology

Yong

From New Zealand, to Thailand, to Denmark, you name it, David Yong's been there. He says his best trip was to India and Nepal, where he trekked around the monstrous Himalayan Mountains. During the trip he got to listen to teachings straight from the mouth of the Dalai Lama and oddly enough, bumped into two people he knew from school. The next trip that he has planned will take him to Chile for some observing opportunities. As David says, astronomy is really good for a person interested in travel.

Live Music Capital

Starting out from his home in Australia, David's love for travel has taken him all over the world, and was a key factor in convincing him to do his graduate work in Austin. It turns out that Austin had more to offer David than just a trip to the other side of the globe. In his free time, he likes to listen to acoustic-based, folk and country music, preferably performed live, making the "Live Music Capital" the perfect city for him.

He considers Austin "a great place" for many other reasons as well, such as the paths around Town Lake that he enjoys running, and the vegetarian options that local restaurants offer. David decided to become a vegetarian in December 1997, tracing his desire to do so back to an early trauma. He remembers watching a cartoon in primary school where baby seals were clubbed to their unfortunate death. Not being able to shake this image for the last 20 years or so, David embraces the joys of tofu and says he "has no regrets." The only thing that stands in his way is "Stubbs," a Texas-style restaurant that all his visiting friends want to experience, but that offers absolutely nothing that isn't meat-based.

"I didn't like anything else I tried."

David is from Melbourne, Australia and received his undergraduate degree in English Literature, Math and Astrophysics from Monash University. What's his attraction to astronomy? "Well," says David, "I didn't like anything else I tried." So, due to process of elimination, David happily works the late hours of an astronomer, which for him requires the loudest music possible, drifting from the folk songs into techno as the night progresses.

David Yong
Graduate Student, University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Astrophysics and Mathematics, Monash University, Australia
B.A., English Literature, Monash University, Australia

Marcum

Pam Marcum says she first became interested in astronomy in her early teens after reading a book on stellar evolution. She was fascinated by the idea the Sun wouldn't always be the same as it is today and "that stars change in a very predictable way." From that point, she didn't entertain the thought of becoming anything else and knew that she wanted to be an astronomer.

She attended the Florida Institute of Technology for degrees in Physics and Space Science and then received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. For her post-doctoral work, she went just across the Appalachian Mountains from her Kentucky home to the University of Virginia. As a faculty member at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, she spent many nights at the telescope, passing the time on her computer. Now, her observing will take place on the SOFIA aircraft.

Blown away by nature's beauty.

Pam says growing up in the mountains gave her the opportunity to "enjoy the Shenandoah Valley." She still likes to spend her spare time outdoors enjoying the beautiful things that nature has to offer. She's taken two field trips to Big Bend National Park with some of her TCU students and has many fond memories of the good time that they had there. She's also been to Hawaii a couple of times and has driven with friends to the panhandle to visit Palo Duro canyon, whose beauty "blew her away." She also enjoyed a trip that she took to an Oklahoma park where the wild animals were permitted to run free in their natural habitat. "It was neat to see all the animals as they might have existed in the past," says Pam. Besides traveling to national and state parks, Pam enjoys other outside hobbies such as biking, hiking and canoeing.

Pamela Marcum
Project scientist, NASA SOFIA misssion
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Wisconsin - Madison
M.S., Space Science,Florida Institute of Technology
M.S., Physics, Florida Institute of Technology
B.S., Space Science, Florida Institute of Technology

Kormendy

Well known for his work on supermassive black holes in galactic nuclei, John Kormendy has done substantial work in other areas as well, notably the study of galactic bulges, the evolution of elliptical galaxies, and dark matter halos of galaxies.

Born in Austria, John has long been interested in the sciences. As a teenager growing up in eastern Canada, he performed chemistry experiments in his basement, trying -- for example -- to make nitroglycerine. His efforts were only partly successful, because he had no centrifuge to purify the reaction products. "I had to spin a test tube around my head on a string. So I never succeeded in making pure nitroglycerine; I could never get it to explode, the most it would do is ‘whoosh' like a blowtorch. Maybe this wasn't entirely a bad thing."

Although interested in chemistry, biology, astronomy, and other natural sciences, John gradually focused more and more on astronomy. While in high school, he had an observatory with a roll-off roof and an eight-inch telescope that he assembled out of prefabricated parts. By the time he enrolled at the University of Toronto's Honors Math, Physics and Chemistry program, he was clearly headed for a career in astronomy.

From Plates to Pixels

John's career has bridged a number of transitions in the field of astronomy. None has been as important, he says, as the change from photographic plates to electronic light detectors. He was one of the last generation of students to carry out his doctoral thesis using photographic plates. Most of these observations were made on the Mt. Wilson 100-inch Hooker Telescope. Soon thereafter, he was introduced to electronic detectors during a postdoctoral fellowship at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson. These provided much more sensitive and reliable measurements than did photographic plates.

John's career has also encompassed a wide range of extragalactic research areas. While continuing to work on black holes and dark matter halos, in recent years he has ramped up another long-term interest, namely the gradual evolution of disk galaxies as they are rearranged by the gravitational effects of bars. He has just completed a major review article on this subject for the Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics. He also continues a long-term program to study the formation and evolution of elliptical galaxies. Recently, research scientist Mark Cornell and proto-graduate student David Fisher have joined both of these projects.

Bird Photography, and Opera, Too

Outside of his astronomical research, John's interests range from travel and photography to scuba diving and bird watching. Birding, in particular, has become a major passion. John and his wife Mary have now birded widely in the USA, including Hawaii, as well as Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Brazil, Ecuador, Australia, and Europe. Another long-term passion is opera; his personal favorite is a March 1983 production by the New York Metropolitan Opera of Don Carlo by Giuseppe Verdi.

John Kormendy Professor at The University of Texas at Austin Curtis T. Vaughan, Jr. Centennial Chair In Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin Ph.D., Astronomy, California Institute of Technology B.S. Honors Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry (Astronomy Division) University of Toronto

 

Odewahn

Whenever Steve Odewahn needs to relieve a little stress, he heads for the woodpile and the power tools. His furniture building hobby began while he was doing post doctoral work at Caltech. Wanting a Mexican tiled-top table, but not wanting to pay a steep price for it, he decided to make his own. That project led to more and more, landing him in a cabinet making class while at Arizona State University. Steve also took up weightlifting extensively as a graduate student to work off tension.

Ducks and Cats

One Easter afternoon, Steve saw a duckling crossing the street all by itself. He scooped it up and took it home, even though it was too young to survive without its mother. The duck didn't last long, but Steve ended up visiting a woman who worked in duck rescue and ended up with two new ducks of his own, now named Diego and Frida. Steve also has two cats, Bob and Kitty, but they keep their distance from the birds. When the ducks were little, the cats might have bothered them, but now "the ducks are pretty tough."

Early astronomy work

Steve has been interested in astronomy since childhood. As a teenager, he began to be an amateur astronomer by grinding and polishing two of his own telescope mirrors. This inquisitive nature and interest in astronomy motivated him all the way from childhood experiments to obtaining a PhD under the direction of Gerard de Vaucouleurs at the University of Texas in the 1980s.

Stephen C Odewahn
Resident Astronomer, McDonald Observatory
Research Associate, McDonald Observatory
Ph.D., Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin
M.A., Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Physics, The University of Alabama

Ge

Jian Ge a Research Foundation professor at the University of Florida.

His research interests are concentrated on developing and applying new instrument techniques and instruments for new astronomical observations with ground-based and space-based telescopes.

Jian was a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He's also worked at The University of Arizona's Steward Observatory and Beijing Astronomical Observatory, and Penn State University. He is part of a large collaborative that uses the Hobby-Eberly Telescope.

Jian Ge
Research Foundation Professor, Astronomy, University of Florida
Ph.D., Astronomy, The University of Arizona
B.Sc., Theoretical Physics, University of Science and Technology of China

Lester

Whenever research scientist Dan Lester needs to blow off some steam he turns to the relaxing powers of dough. Since watching his mother when he was child, one of Dan's favorite hobbies has been to bake bread from scratch. This is no passing fancy; Dan has installed an outdoor oven specifically for those hot, summer days when cooking inside is not an option. When Dan's not baking, he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, climbing, running and swimming. He also spends a lot of time as a recreational soccer coach for children and following around his two daughters, Jenna and Amanda.

An Astronomical Marriage

Dan and his wife of almost 20 years, Harriet Dinerstein, are well suited to each other. One a research scientist, the other an astronomy professor, they both spend a lot of their time looking at and thinking about the night sky. When asked if the children seem to be moving in that direction as well, Dan replies that it really doesn't matter much to him. He encourages them to pursue whatever they are curious about and says, "It warms my heart when they come home from school and are excited about something they learned in science." For him, the focus should not be with turning children into astronomers, but raising them as curious and inquisitive people."

An important issue for Dan is public outreach, so just as with his children, his goal to see more people experiencing and understanding science. He uses "astronomy education as a tool for greater science education."

"We're a country defined by exploring."

Currently, Dan is involved in the early stages of planning and designing new telescopes to be built in the next decade. From working with scientists at NASA all the way to politicians at Capitol Hill he makes recommendations about what direction astronomical engineering should move toward in the coming years. Dan says that sometimes it's hard for people to understand the national need for astronomy. Most people explain that it's "just like art or music: beautiful and that we do it because we are curious." But Dan thinks the need is better defined with one word: exploration. The love of exploration is both an American tradition and adds value to everything we do. It goes well beyond astronomy, but Dan thinks it's a great place to start.

Dan Lester
Research Scientist, McDonald Observatory
PhD Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California-Santa Cruz
B.A. Physics, University of Oregon

Wills

Bev Wills, an astronomer at The University of Texas at Austin, is brimming with excitement as she talks about the loves of her life: her husband Derek, baroque music, a recent interest in running, painting abstract and impressionistic art, and, of course, astronomy.

Love at First Light?

Bev and Derek met in the control room of the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia. Bev, then a graduate student of radio astronomy at the Australian National University, was observing other galaxies at this 100-foot radio telescope, which helped to transmit the first images of a man on the Moon, when Derek was slated to observe there immediately after her. Also, sharing an interest in music, they played together with other musicians at a local farmer's house. Fortunately, Bev's love of music still thrives today. She plays the violin, recorder, and viola da gamba, a type of baroque cello, with several groups in Austin.

A few years ago, another astronomer asked Bev to go running with her to which Bev says she thought, "Gosh, that's ridiculous." However, Bev did start running with her friend and, since, has formed a love for this sport. As she relates the results of her latest race and her most recent personal record, she talks with great exuberance. Her joy with running, however, is merely a glimpse of the fascination that Bev holds for her study of astronomy.

"I assume you mean other than astronomy."

Ask Bev what she likes to do, and she will tell you excitedly about music and running and art -- for she holds intense interest in all -- but her enthusiasm for astronomy is like a pot of boiling water, with great bubbles of steam wildly rolling over themselves. When asked about her interests, she says, "I assume you mean other than astronomy," probing whether or not she has an attentive ear for her latest findings. Truly, Bev Wills is the epitome of romance in astronomy; she is infatuated with her cosmic investigations.

Studying active galaxies at all wavelengths

In the course of these investigations, Bev has explored active galactic nuclei (AGN) immensely bright galaxies that are thought to contain supermassive black holes within their central regions. As a graduate student, she spent much time studying the radio waves from these objects and, as a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University, began studying the correlation between the radio properties of AGN with those properties that are inferred from the observations of visible light. Recently, Bev has been using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope to study AGN more closely and has continued to investigate light of many different wavelengths -- radio waves, visible and infrared light, X-rays, gamma-rays, and more -- so that she might fully understand the physical processes that drive AGN.

Beverley Wills
Research Scientist, The University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, Australian National University
B.S., Physics, University of Melbourne (Australia)

Roman

Brian Roman is a Research Engineer/Scientist Associate at McDonald Observatory. Brian first came to the Observatory to become a telescope operator for the HET, and then moved into a position as a resident astronomer for the HET. Before coming to Texas, he was an assistant astronomer for the Planet Crossing Asteroid Survey at JPL in California. During this time, he co-discovered four comets. He also worked on the Solid State Imaging team for the NASA Galileo probe of Jupiter. He worked on obtaining the first resolved visual images of asteroid Gaspra -- and discovered that he liked asteroids as a subject.

A change of careers brought Brian to Austin to work on designing robotic lighting fixtures and creating manufacturing techniques in industry, but he missed astronomy. The position at McDonald Observatory offered him an opportunity not only to become involved in astronomy, but also an opportunity to continue his education. Brian is working towards a M.S. degree in Space Studies through an on-line program with University of North Dakota. If his research projects on McDonald telescopes are successful, he expects his degree in August 2004.

Brian lives at the Observatory with his wife, Dona, and two sons Eric and Jason. Brian met Dona while both were in college and working at a restaurant. Brian's skills as a professional cook get regular practice at his home. He likes to try new recipes for foods that are unusual for the area -- Indian and Vietnamese cuisine. Living at a remote place like the Observatory has its own challenges. Brian coaches Jason's Little League team every spring; recently they drove 120 miles to Terlingua for a game.

Brian Roman
Research Engineer/Scientist Associate, McDonald Observatory
B.S., Astrophysics, University of Oklahoma

Allende Prieto

Growing up in Northern Spain, Carlos Allende Prieto went to many schools there including the Universities of Oviedo, Santander, and La Laguna. His wife Elena is also from Spain.

When it was finally time to pick a discipline of further study, Carlos says he was drawn to astronomy. He had always enjoyed physics and says he thought that astronomy was "exotic and weird." He said to himself, "This could be exciting!" and now each day at work he finds that intuition to be true.

He moved to Austin to the University of Texas as a W.J. McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow. His research interests include spectral line formation and model atmospheres and the structure and evolution of the Milky Way.

Carlos Allende Prieto Instituto de Astrofısica de Canarias, Tenerife, Spain Ph.D., Physics, University of La Laguna, Spain

Komatsu

Eiichiro Komatsu, professor of astronomy at the University of Texas, loves to play and watch baseball. He says he feels a kinship with the current Japanese baseball players playing for the major leagues here in America because they came to U.S. about the same time he did.

"As the baseball players were trying to fit in to the baseball community, I was trying to fit into the astronomy community in the U.S," he says. Eiichiro found the player's success to be encouraging and says it helped him to overcome the obstacles of a new culture and language. He first came to the U.S. to work on his doctoral dissertation at Princeton University.

Although he hasn't had a chance to play on a baseball team since high school, Eiichiro says he follows his favorite team, the Seattle Mariners, closely. One of their players comes from a team in Japan which had a franchise in his hometown. Eiichiro hoped that since the player's name was Ichiro, as he became famous, Eiichiro wouldn't ever have to worry about people misunderstanding his name. He soon realized, however, as he was doing graduate work at Princeton, that Ichiro the baseball star's fame didn't quite reach the East Coast. But, when visiting Seattle for a game, he finally received the recognition that he hoped for and didn't have to repeat his name when reserving a table at restaurants.

"Austin's just like western Japan.

Eiichiro and his wife, who came to Austin in early 2004, say that the atmosphere is surprisingly similar to the western part of Japan. Eiichiro says that the differences between the east and west of Japan parallel the differences between the northern and southern United States. The culture and the people are different, but he feels like Austin is more congruent with his childhood home.

"Also similar," says Eiichiro, "is the weather, which is hot and humid." It always feels like summer in the western part of Japan, Eiichiro says, so he feels right at home in the wet Texas heat.

Creative Science

Eiichiro remembers that when he was in the fifth grade, he saw a picture of the Orion nebula (his favorite) for the first time. So impressed by the textbook's pictures, he decided then and there to become an astronomer. Never wavering for a moment from this dream, he entered Japan's Tohoku University to study astronomy. He says one of his favorite things about being an astronomer is the aspect of creativity that astronomy encourages and that other practical sciences can't allow.

Eiichiro received the 2004 Young Astronomer Award from the Astronomical Society of Japan for his work on constraining inflation models of the early universe.

Eiichiro Komatsu
Director of Texas Cosmology Center
Professor, The University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, Tohoku University, Japan
B.A., Astronomy, Tohoku University, Japan

Hemenway

Mary Kay Hemenway conducting a teacher workshop at the observatory

During the 1960s, most college women were strongly advised to get a teaching certificate. In order to do this at Notre Dame of Ohio, Mary Kay was required to take a certain psychology class, which she adamantly refused because, as she says, "I was so sure I didn't want to teach." Instead, after rejecting a possible major in chemistry and receiving encouraging advice from physics professor Sallie Watkins, she says she decided to pursue physics.

During college she participated in a program sponsored by the National Science Foundation that provided research experience at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. She says she realized there that "all these people were getting paid to do astronomy" and that it "looked more fun than physics." She then applied to graduate school in astronomy.

Between college and graduate school, Mary Kay spent six weeks at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, which gave her the rare opportunity to live and work in the Herstmonceux Castle. During graduate school she once again found herself overseas to do part of her dissertation in the Netherlands. One of her fondest memories, she says, is from a class she didn't even pay to attend. "I was happy to sit in on "Galactic Dynamics'" since it was the last time it would be taught by the famous astronomer Jan Oort.

Her dissertation focused on astrometry, the study of the positions and motions of stars. By studying certain variable stars, astronomers can discern important distances and thus accurately scale the galaxy.

Coming to Texas over thirty years ago, she made a career in Astronomy Education focusing on innovation and support for college undergraduate non-astronomy-major courses and Teacher Professional Development for K-12 teachers in projects such as the American Astronomical Society Teacher Resource Agent program. The question from her college years about teaching was answered with a career focused on education issues.

Taking some family time

During the ’70s Mary Kay taught part-time and started her family. She worked part-time as her children, Anne and Sara, grew up. She also has one granddaughter who is keenly interested in linguistics.

Bridge and Basketball

In her free time, Mary Kay says she enjoys playing bridge with the 25 year-old Astronomy Bridge Group. Since they've run out of astronomers interested in playing, they have extended membership to people from other disciplines. Mary Kay is also an avid fan of Texas Women's Basketball.

Mary Kay Hemenway Research Associate and Senior Lecturer, University of Texas at Austin

Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Virginia

M.A., Astronomy, University of Virginia

B.S., Physics, Notre Dame of Ohio

Powell

"I don't even remember what we looked at, but I fell instantly in love," says William Lee Powell as he reflects on his childhood encounters with astronomy. Following his father, a pipeline engineer, Lee spent two years during grade school in Saudi Arabia, where "light pollution was unheard of." On desert camping trips with the Boy Scouts, Lee would get a chance to gaze through what he thought at the time were "large" telescopes. In reality they were probably only 8- to 10-inch telescopes, but what they offered was enough to captivate Lee and entice him to study astronomy in college.

Although he had many interests, ranging from English to oceanography, Lee found the study of physics to be "like learning a new language." While majoring in physics and English, he minored in astronomy. Torn between being accepted to graduate school in physics, oceanography, and English and also being accepted to law school, Lee finally made the decision to follow his boyhood dreams into astronomy.

A Growing Family

Lee and his wife Julie, a high school science teacher, have two children, a boy Conor and his younger sister Delaney Grace. The happy family has two dogs, Belle and Tess, and an aquarium full of South American Cichlids. As for his wife, Lee says, "Julie is great; how many spouses would let their spouse quit a good paying permanent teaching position to return to graduate school for a PhD?"

Novel Teaching Techniques

Before beginning graduate school, Lee was the science department chair and taught physics and astronomy at the Louisiana School of Math, Science and the Arts. He says, "I loved the teaching environment there, and I will always be very teaching focused, but I missed research, and the possibility of mentoring serious research."

Lee also served on the National Astronomy Education Committee of the American Association of Physics Teachers because he is "interested in novel teaching techniques that lead to greater understanding on the part of the students."

The Big Tension Releasers

In Lee's spare time, he enjoys writing and singing folk music and playing the guitar. He also enjoys golf, which he plays once or twice a month, "just enough to keep my single digit handicap" and to a lesser extent, enjoys other sports like tennis, ultimate Frisbee and mountain biking.

William Lee Powell
Asst. Prof. of Physics, Texas Lutheran University
PhD, Physics, Texas Tech University
M.S., Physics, Stephen F. Austin State University
B.S., Physics/English, Stephen F. Austin State University

Maas

University of Texas Postdoctoral Fellow Thomas Maas was always good at math, he says. Growing up in Belgium, he attended the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (the largest Flemish university in the world) to receive the equivalent of an American undergraduate degree in mathematics. After that, he was given three choices. He could either study pure math, applied math, or astronomy. He had no real interest in the first two, he says, and two of his good friends had chosen to go into astronomy. Thomas also noticed that interesting and challenging courses, like quantum physics, were offered in the astronomy department, so he decided to follow that path.

While working on his thesis on the chemical processes in evolved stars, he realized that he was "very pleased and interested with his subject." At that point, he says he decided for sure that he had made the right choice and that he would continue in astronomy. He went to the French part of Belgium for a year to take an astronomy course and then, upon receiving a scholarship to work on a PhD, returned to Leuven. When he finished his PhD, he wasnt quite sure where to head next. After sending out his thesis to various astronomers around the world, McDonald Observatory Director David Lambert asked him to come to Texas.

Favorite parts of the job

Thomas says there are two things about his job that he enjoys most. Going out to McDonald Observatory is particularly enjoyable for him because, he says, because "its a beautiful place to be and its nice to be able to work with a large telescope and a good instrument." He also appreciates the silence that the Observatory offers. His other favorite part comes after all the reducing of the data is over and "you get to draw conclusions."

Texas life and spare time

Thomas hasn't been in Texas long but he's already enjoying Austin. He says he likes the place and the openness of the people. He also likes the international community that Austin supports.

In his spare time, Thomas likes to play soccer and chess. In his younger years he played in chess tournaments, but now he plays only for recreation. Other than that, he enjoys watching movies and listening to a variety of music. In general he says his favorite genre is probably rock, but his interest in music is much broader than that.

Thomas Maas
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas, Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium
Master in Astrophysics and Geophysics, Universite de Liege, Belgium
Undergraduate degree, Mathematics, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven,
Belgium

Prato

Lisa Prato was an English Literature major for much of her college career. By her third year, she reasoned that while reading and writing could be done anytime, science would be more difficult to learn independently. After taking a class on solar system astronomy, she "got hooked" and decided to take advantage of the structure of a university and changed majors. She enjoyed the subject matter so much that she surpassed the various challenges that resulted from the switch in studies late in her college education.

The "Eureka" Moment

Lisa is currently a tenure track astronomer at Lowell Observatory in Northern Arizona. She primarily studies star formation and specifically focuses on binary systems. Since "most stars are in a binary system," she says, "these multiples are very important to catalogue and characterize." Young binaries are particularly important because of their potential impact on planet formation.

Lisa says that the instant she finishes reducing a piece of data, she sees "something that no one else on Earth has ever seen." Even a tiny discovery is an "incomparable thrill." The "eureka" moment of figuring out what is going on in a young star is Lisa's favorite part about her work.

Cat Herding

In her spare time, Lisa enjoys outdoor activities like road biking, hiking and running. She hopes to someday take her bike with her to McDonald Observatory so that she can cycle on the West Texas roads. She also enjoys reading, eating a good meal, and drawing. However, her free moments are spent more with "herding" her two cats than with her other hobbies. Lisa explains that her feline companions live in Flagstaff, Arizona and "graciously allow [her] to live with them."

Lisa Prato
Astronomer, Lowell Observatory
Ph.D., Astronomy, State University of New York, Stony Brook
B.S., Astronomy, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
B.A., English, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

O'Neal

Doug O'Neal says he remembers perusing children's books on planets when he was as young as eight years old. He was later encouraged by one of his middle school teachers who suggested all the students spend some time gazing at the night sky. They were given some information about what they would see, and Doug took advantage of the opportunity to learn more through amateur observation.

As Doug's interest in astronomy grew, several things convinced him that he should pursue it as a career. He says a book by Carl Sagan came out when he was 11 years old and reinforced the "exciting and romantic" aspects of astronomy that already intrigued him. As school continued, he realized that he had no trouble with math and physics problems and that there was no reason why he should not follow his dreams.

First a Teacher, Then a Researcher

Doug received a bachelor's degree and his doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics from Penn State University. Still in the classroom, he now teaches these subjects at Allegheny College. His second priority concerns research in which he focuses on cooler stars with starspots or flares and magnetic activity.

Amateur Science Fiction Novelist

Doug is an amateur science fiction novelist. He also enjoys classical music and reading non-fiction books. His favorite topics consist of various sciences including biology, archaeology, geology, math and history. He especially likes to read about the history of science.

Another one of Doug's passions is watching the Penn State women's volleyball team. He runs an e-mail list for fans of Big Ten Conference women's volleyball.

Douglas O'Neal
Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Keystone College
Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics, Allegheny College
Ph.D., Astronomy and Astrophysics, Penn State University
B.S., Astronomy, Penn State University

Fisher

David Fisher grew up in Waxahachie, Texas -- a mile from the now defunct main campus of the Texas Superconducting Super Collider. Little did he know then that Physics would become a part of his life. In high school, his favorite subjects were history and English. As an undergraduate at the University of Texas, David was sure that journalism was in his future. After a year of college, he was inspired to explore the US. Working in factories, such as the largest Styrofoam factory in the world, and sleeping on floors, convinced him that completing his college education was a good idea. Enrolled in an astronomy class, David went to a Star Party and saw the rings of Saturn. "It was all over! I knew I had to study astronomy," David said. With no background in physics or calculus, David began a physics degree. Working with John Kormendy in the Astronomy Department on a galaxy research project, David decided to apply to the University for graduate study in Astronomy. He also participated in an exchange program in Germany - doing astronomy for a summer, and sleeping on the floor while traveling through Germany.

David's interest in galaxies eventually led to his dissertation. David also received the David Allen Benfield Memorial Scholarship in Astronomy for excellence in research.

David Fisher
Research Associate, University of Maryland
Ph.D, Astronomy, University of Texas
B.S., Physics, University of Texas at Austin

Bauer

Astronomy always fascinated Amanda Bauer as a child, but she never thought that it could be a feasible career. Although she enjoyed the math club in high school, she really didn't see herself using those skills in later life. In college she studied French as a major for almost a year, but after unsuccessfully attempting to organize a study abroad program at her university, she recognized the tediousness of studying the mechanics of a language while not being able to experience the culture where the language is spoken. She quickly decided to change her major.

Amanda wanted to get into science, but she was unsure of which particular science interested her since her college had no Astronomy department. Since she was enrolled in an introductory astronomy course, she contacted her professor for advice. He offered her a job testing a CCD chip (that is, taking pictures of a blank wall in his basement laboratory) so she accepted the opportunity and changed her major to physics, having no real idea of what she was getting herself into!

She says that inspiration from the stars was severely hampered by the degree of light pollution in the Midwest, but she was convinced that she made the right decision during her first hiking trip to the mountains of California when she saw the Milky Way for the first time. Amanda received her undergraduate degree in physics from the University of Cincinnati in 2002, and her graduate degree at the University of Texas where her major area of study was galaxy assembly and evolution. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Nottingham in England, Amanda moved to Australia. She maintains a lively blog on astronomy and her travels under the title "astropixie".

Best of all worlds

When Amanda first came to Austin for graduate school, she was excited to find green rolling hills in place of the plentiful cactus and tumbleweeds she naively expected. With the exception of the fire ants that she has unfortunately encountered, she really likes the Austin landscape and wildlife.

Amanda loves live acoustic music and enjoying outdoor activities. She regularly finds time for camping, hiking, and swimming in the abundant fresh water swimming holes around Austin and the Hill Country. She says that the best of all worlds is when she goes camping at music festivals, enjoying the companionship, the great music, the campfires, and sleeping under the stars.

Amanda Bauer
Super Science Fellow at Australian Astronomical Observatory
Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin
M.A., Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Physics, University of Cincinnati

Miroshnichenko

Anatoly Miroshnichenko was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg, Russia). As a teenager, he became an amateur astronomer.

He went on to study astronomy in college, and explains that his training took place in the math "faculty" — the Russian equivalent of a college — "because of a belief of Academician Sobolev that math is the basics for astronomy."

Sobolev, he says, was well known for the theory of moving envelopes of stars, and reigned over astronomy in Leningrad and later St. Petersburg from the 1950s to 1999. "At other Soviet universities, astronomy was always within the Physics faculty," Anatoly says.

His university thesis was on galactic supernovae. Anatoly explains that his initial degree corresponds to something in between a bachelor's and master's degree in the United States. He did his doctoral work on hot emission-line stars, finishing in 1992.

From the USSR to US

Anatoly has worked for the historic Pulkovo Observatory near Leningrad, which is called the Main Astronomical Observatory of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. He worked one summer at the University of Kentucky, and later accepted a one-year post-doctoral position at the University of Toledo in Ohio. Next he spent a year-long stint back in Russia, before receiving a NASA grant which he used to return to Toledo. He stayed there for the next five years, holding several different research positions.

In August 2005, Anatoly joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He and his wife Tatyana have three daughters (Anya, Olga and Nadya) and two sons (Valdimir and Alexander).

Anatoly Miroshnichenko
Associate Professor, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Ph.D., Astronomy, Pulkovo Observatory, St. Petersburg, Russia
M.S., Mathematics and Mechanics, Leningrad State University, Leningrad, USSR

Wilhelm

By the tender age of four, astronomer Ron Wilhelm already knew what he wanted to be. From gazing at the night sky with his family, to reading Astronomy magazine, to building his own telescope when he was 12, Ron was well on his way to being an astronomer. "I was always amazed by the endless universe of stars and multitudes of possible worlds," he says.

In high school, Ron had to fill out a standardized career test, and finding that "astronomer" wasn't on there, he says he answered every question with "absolutely do not want to do." He was promptly counseled about his lack of motivation and direction. But Ron knew where he was going and is still happy. "I'm excited by all aspects of my job," he says. As an assistant professor, he says he enjoys working with his students in an investigative curriculum, and also loves the challenge and support he receives from his colleagues.

Ron has taught introductory astronomy, introductory physics, modern physics, and advanced electricity and magnetism at several institutions including Western Kentucky University, Southwestern University, and Texas Tech. From 1997 to 2000 he was a research associate at McDonald Observatory. Today he is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky.

"I have no hobbies anymore. Just kids."

Ron and Jennifer, his wife, have quite a lot in common. They met in a quantum mechanics class at Bowling Green University, and found their interests to be perfectly aligned. They both received master's degrees in physics from Michigan State. Jennifer is an associate professor at University of Kentucky in the College of Education, specializing in middle and high school mathematics instruction; she has also done research on moon phases. Ron went on to earn his doctorate from Michigan State, and Jennifer received hers from The University of Texas at Austin.

They have two children, Olivia and Sam, and an array of pets, including three dogs, four cats, a Guinea pig, a gerbil, five fish, and two parakeets. Ron says his family doesn't leave him much time to indulge in his hobbies, but he tries to find a few minutes to play his guitar or piano. Most of his time is spent as a dad, coaching his daughter's basketball team and playing computer games with his son.

Ron Wilhelm
Professor of Physics and Astronomy, University of Kentucky
Ph.D., Physics, Michigan State University
M.S., Physics, Michigan State University
B.S., Physics, Bowling Green State University

Winget

"I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in astronomy and horses," says Don Winget. Don is a professor of astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin.

"One of my most vivid early memories was watching a parade, after dark in Champagne, Illinois, where I grew up," he says. " I forgot all about the parade and lay on my back on the curb, wondering about those points of light on the sky."

Don says in his later school years, he and a friend went to monthly Open House nights at the University of Illinois. There, professor Stan Wyatt gave public lectures and also talked to Don about a career in astronomy. Dr. Wyatt advised Don to study physics in college, and that is what Don did.

Don received a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Illinois. He went on to receive a master's degree in physics from the University of Rochester, and a PhD in physics and astronomy from Rochester, as well.

Today, Don studies white dwarf stars, using them to study all different kinds of things. These include the physics of matter at high temperatures and densities, as well as the structure of galaxies, and the evolution of star populations in galaxies. He even looks for planets orbiting white dwarf stars, which would be the remnants of solar systems like our own, after its Sun had died.

Don has won many awards for his teaching at Texas, as well as several prizes for his scientific work, and he says McDonald Observatory is his "favorite spot on this Earth." He is a member of the University of Texas Academy of Distinguished Teachers.

Don Winget
Harlan J. Smith Centennial Professor in Astronomy,
University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester
M.A., Physics and Astronomy, University of Rochester
B.S., Physics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaig

Montgomery

If he weren't an astronomer, Mike Montgomery says he would have become a professional musician. Mike plays violin, and enjoys playing what he calls "root-based music. Old-time music, bluegrass, blues, and jazz."

Mike was born in Tennessee, and grew up in Oklahoma and Texas. He attended high school in Victoria, Texas. It was during high school that he attended a summer workshop at Ball State University. "They said 'If you want to be an astronomer, major in physics'," Mike recalls.

Mike attended The University of Texas at Austin, where he indeed majored in physics. He went on to obtain a master's degree in physics from Princeton University. Finally, he returned to UT-Austin where he received a PhD in astronomy in 1998.

Since then, Mike has worked as an astronomical researcher at The University of Vienna, in Austria, and also at Cambridge University in the U.K. He returned to The University of Texas in 2004.

His favorite hobbies include playing music, tennis, foosball (sometimes called "table soccer") pinball, and bowling.

Mike Montgomery
Research Scientist, McDonald Observatory
PhD, Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin
M.S., Physics, Princeton University
B.S., Physics, The University of Texas at Austin

Christian

Astronomer Damian Christian of California State University, Northridge, can remember wanting to be an astronomer as early as age 12. Growing up, he had a small Tasco telescope and did the occasional sketch of Jupiter or a lunar eclipse. This childhood passion for space would eventually evolve into a career.

Native New Yorker

Damian is a native New Yorker — born in the Bronx. Shortly thereafter, his family moved to what he calls "the metropolis of Scranton, Pennsylvania," where he spent most of his youth. He attended Pennsylvania State University, where he received bachelor's degrees in astronomy and physics. Later, he attended graduate school at the University of Maryland, where he received both a master's degree and Ph.D. in astronomy.

Motorcycle Racing

Damian has a newfound enthusiasm for racing motorcycles. Although he still considers himself a novice, he says he enjoys the thrill of seeing his lap times marked down as he races against time.

"In the end it's just you against the track and time," he said.

If Damian wasn't an astronomer, he says he would want to swap places with professional motorcycle racer Colin "The Texas Tornado" Edwards in the 2005 MotoGP. More realistically, he says, he would have been an electrical engineer. He considers himself good at taking things apart, but perhaps not so good at putting them back together.

An X-ray Comet

According to Damian, one of the most exciting moments of his career was when, in July 2001, he measured X-rays coming from a comet, which as far as anyone knew, weren't supposed come from comets. A theory was established as to what had caused the X-rays, which was later confirmed.

The rewards of being an astronomer are simple for Damian. He says he enjoys traveling to the telescope and adding knowledge to the astronomy community.

Damian describes himself as a night owl — that's how he can spend so many long nights observing. That and a constant supply of Mountain Dew.

Damian Christian
Professor, California State University, Northridge
Ph.D., astronomy, University of Maryland
M.S., astronomy, University of Maryland
B.S., physics and astronomy, Penn State

Castanheira

The profession of astronomy comes with both rewards and sacrifices. When post-doctoral student Barbara Castanheira decided to study abroad in America, she left behind her family and her native Brazil because the rewards of her profession were just that great.

Barbara came from the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil to The University of Texas as part of a Brazilian fellowship opportunity, coupled with the chance to study with Don Winget - a leading scientist in her area of study. The program she worked under is sponsored by the Brazilian government.

Barbara was born in Alegrete, a small town deep in the southern heart of Brazil, although her family did not stay there for long. Six months after she was born, they moved to Porto Alegre, where she has been ever since.

Before she had even decided that she wanted to be an astronomer, she was already working with Professor Kepler de Souza Oliveira Filho, her current advisor, on the science behind pulsating white dwarf stars. After completing her studies, she won a post-doctoral appointment at the University of Vienna, Austria, which allows her to continue her research at McDonald Observatory.

Cooking, Sports, and Dancing

Barbara says she has a passion for cooking, and is fond of experimenting with different dishes. Although she tends to stick to Italian food, she can cook anything from sushi to Brazilian food.

As a native Brazilian, soccer runs in Barbara's blood. Her favorite team Gremio Football Porto-Alegrense is a local favorite and a source of pride for citizens of Porto-Alegre. Besides soccer, Barbara enjoys volleyball and swimming (she learned how to swim before she learned how to walk). She also likes to try knew sports, like her latest challenge, tennis.

For some, the secret to staying awake late at night on an observing run would be several cups of coffee, but for Barbara, dancing is the perfect adrenaline rush. She is proficient in quite a few forms of dancing, including samba, lambada, forro, and axe.

Barbara Castanheira
Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Texas at Austin
Post-doctoral associate, University of Vienna
Ph.D., Astronomy, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (Porto Alegre, Brazil)

Jogee

Just east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean lies the tiny island republic of Mauritius, birthplace of University of Texas astronomer Shardha Jogee. With a blossoming career that just doesn't seem to know any bounds, Shardha has followed an exciting path since completing her high school education. She was a Physics scholar and fellow at the University of Cambridge in England, a graduate scholar in astronomy at Yale University, and received numerous awards including an Amelia Earhart Fellowship and a prestigious long-term space astrophysics (LTSA) grant from NASA. She is generally considered one of the foremost experts in the evolution and structure of disk galaxies, and her research is frequently covered by the popular press, including ABC, MSNBC, Sky & Telescope magazine, Science magazine, and Reuters.

Mauritius to England to the U.S.

Mauritius has a unique history. It was discovered by the Portuguese, named by the Dutch settlers after the Prince Maurice of Nassau, colonized by the French and British, and finally gained its independence in 1968! Its local population derives primarily from immigrants who came from Europe, India, China, and Africa in the late 1700s. Shardha's own ancestors are believed to have come from India, perhaps 150 years ago. Today, Mauritius is an elite tourist destination for Europe: the entire island is basked in a cerulean blue ocean, embraced by coral reefs, wonderful landscapes, chic hotels, cosmopolitan hosts, and sophisticated cuisine. No wonder Mark Twain (1863-1910) said "You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then heaven, and that heaven was copied after Mauritius"!

While Shardha's native spoken language is French, she also speaks three others, including English. Once Shardha finished primary schooling in Mauritius, she left in 1989 for Cambridge University, England, where she was an undergraduate scholar and Fellow in Physics. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in physics by 1992 from Cambridge. Thereafter, she arrived in America to pursue graduate school at Yale University. There, she earned her M. Phil.(1994) M. S. (1994) and Ph.D (1999) and received the Yale University J. F. Enders Research Grant and Fellowships, a Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research, and the Amelia Earhart Fellowship.

CalTech, Space Telescope and UT-Austin

After Yale, Shardha took up a position as a postdoctoral research fellow at Caltech from 1999 to 2002. During that time, she expanded her research activities to address observational and theoretical aspects of the evolution, structure, and activities of disk galaxies over a wide range of cosmic lookback times. Following a national competitive process, NASA awarded her in 2003 a long-term space astrophysics (LTSA) grant of $558,000 in order to support her research.

In 2002, she was offered a tenure-track astronomer position at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, the institute directing the scientific mission of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. At STScI, she gained recognition as an expert on disk galaxies and bars, and soon joined the international GEMS, GOODS, and HUDF teams to conduct some of the most powerful galaxy surveys to date.

Shardha stayed at STScI until 2004, when she obtained a professorship at The University of Texas at Austin. Today, she leads an active research group there consisting of five undergraduate and graduate students and two postdoctoral fellows. She is also currently the Department of Astronomy's undergraduate advisor and is working with science educators with the goal of attracting excellent college-bound students into the sciences at UT-Austin, and in particular, into astronomy.

In her free time, Shardha enjoys dance, theater, music, yoga, and travel. She has indulged in rock, jazz ballet, swing, and now wishes to master the Latin flavors. She attends several astronomy conferences each year, giving her opportunities to travel all around the world.

Shardha Jogee Associate Professor, The University of Texas at Austin PhD, astronomy, Yale University M Phil, astronomy, Yale University MS, astronomy, Yale University MA, physics, Cambridge University (England) BS, physics, Cambridge University (England)

Siegel

Mike Siegel is research associate at Penn State University; previously he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Virginia in 2002 working with Steve Majewski and completed postdoctoral work at Space Telescope Science Institute working with Howard Bond. His primary research uses photometry, spectroscopy, and proper motions of field stars, globular clusters, and dwarf galaxies to reveal the formation history of the Galaxy. He is also studying the potential use of Pop II Post-Asymptotic Giant Branch stars as standard candles the derivation of stellar information from narrow-band photometry and properties of RR Lyrae variable stars in dwarf galaxies.

Mike enjoys baseball and books — lately he's been reading about American history, as well as reading his way through the Patrick O'Brian "Aubrey-Maturin" series.

Michael H. Siegel
Research Associate, Astronomy, Eberly College of Science at Pennsylvania State University
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Virginia

Sobeck

As a young girl, Jennifer Sobeck had the same dream that many young children had — she wanted to be an astronaut. While most children eventually grew out of that phase, Jennifer's love of the heavens never subsided. Her career goals occasionally changed back and forth between medicine and astronomy, but in the end, her path led her back to where she began — as an person dedicated to exploring the stars.

Jennifer's own pursuits are not limited to the day-to-day rigors of being an astronomer; she is also heavily involved in youth education. As a teacher for an organization called Expanding Your Horizons, Jennifer uses science experiments to teach young girls about the opportunities that await them in scientific fields of study. At the last conference, she froze a carrot with liquid nitrogen.

"All those stupid stereotypes about women — I'm trying to get rid of those," she said.

Typically held twice a year on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin, the Expanding Your Horizons Conference is host to hundreds of sixth-, seventh-, and eighth- grade girls from around Texas.

"At this point in their lives, society is starting to tell them that they can't do these things," she said.

Currently a graduate student in astronomy at UT-Austin, Jennifer has been down a long road to get to where she is today. After having received her bachelors degree in physics from UT-Austin, she attended a biomedical program at The University of Houston, and then at Rice University. While her passion for medicine is still high, it was eventually outweighed by her love for astronomy.

Today, Jennifer studies the chemical compositions of stars. Much of her work is centered around the idea that you can use the various amounts of different chemical elements within a group of stars to trace the history of our Milky Way galaxy. She says the most exciting moment of her career came when she gave a presentation in Paris about her work.

In April of 2004, Jennifer married her husband Emre, a lawyer from Cypress. As soon as she gets her doctorate, Jennifer plans to find a research job in Europe to be with her husband.

Jennifer Sobeck
Graduate Student, Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
BS, Physics, The University of Texas at Austin

McArthur

Barbara McArthur is a Research Scientist at McDonald Observatory.

Roederer

In Indiana, basketball is a way of life. Both of Ian Roederer's parents are Indiana University alumni and gave him the name Ian Ulysses, or "IU". As a child growing up on Indiana basketball, the first song Ian learned was the Indiana fight song. Now, as an IU alum himself, he still follows Indiana basketball, but Ian has also adopted Texas football since he came to The University of Texas as a graduate student in astronomy.

In his work, Ian uses telescopes around the world. "As an observer, I am forced to go to exotic locations such as Hawaii and Chile," he said. "Once there, we have to lock ourselves in the dome and work, rather than going to the beach or going hiking."

Ian first learned the night sky constellations in fourth grade. He had little other exposure to the field until high school, when he encountered a few astronomy problems in his physics class. After taking a few astronomy classes in college at Indiana University, he eventually decided to major in both astronomy and physics. After graduating with degrees in physics and astronomy, he came to the University of Texas to pursue a PhD in astronomy.

"One of the things I love about this field is the friendliness of the people I work with," he says. "You can go crazy if you sit in your office and don't talk with anybody, but in astronomy you see the same people all over — at conferences and observing runs — throughout the course of your career. It's a small community."

Ian also has always had a passion for music. Through elementary school and high school, he was deeply involved with piano and did some of his own composing. Today, he and his wife Renee sing in their church choir.

Before becoming an astronomer, Ian says he considered being a teacher. Both of his parents teach — his mother teaches math at a community college and his father teaches sixth grade social studies. While being an astronomer is his profession, he says he has always felt somewhat of a familial calling to educate others.

Today, Ian studies the chemical evolution of the galaxy as a way to understand how it was formed. "We are all made from the remains of stars," he said, "and it is rewarding to take an active role in understanding and contributing to our knowledge of that."

Ian Roederer
Carnegie Post-doctoral Fellow, Carnegie Observatories
Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin
B.S., physics, Indiana University
B.S., astronomy, Indiana University

Ramirez

In Lima, Peru, there aren't too many stars to see in the sky. With a population of about eight million, the bustling city isn't very good for stargazing. Despite this, it's the place where astronomer Ivan Ramirez grew up, and calls home.

Ivan says he can remember being deeply into astronomy as early as age 10. Around that time, his father used to take him to camps out in the Peruvian countryside, where they would sit and watch the stars. At first it was a hobby, but by the end of high school, Ivan says he was convinced that astronomy was what he wanted to do with his life.

From college in Peru to graduate school in Texas

After high school, Ivan attended the National University of San Marcos in Lima. Though Peru has no astronomy degree programs, a small group of professional astronomers met regularly at Ivan's university. He joined the group, and decided to major in physics.

Ivan was very excited when he was accepted to The University of Texas at Austin to pursue a graduate degree in astronomy in June 2003. He worked under the guidance of David Lambert and Carlos Allende Prieto, who helped him develop his graduate thesis on the evolution of thin and thick disk stars in the Milky Way. After receiving his degree, he went to Germany as a post-doctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics.

Guitar and Soccer

In his free time, Ivan plays bass guitar in a band with a group of friends. He says they play for themselves, just to enjoy the music. Whenever the group meets, anywhere from 15 to 20 people will show up and together, and they play whatever they feel like playing.

Ivan also says he enjoys soccer. He likes both playing and watching the sport, and is a fan of his home team Alianza in Peru. He says he especially likes going to see a professional soccer matches, which he has attended in both Peru and Paris.

Ivan Ramirez
Sagan Fellow, Carnegie Observatories
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Physics, National University of San Marcos, Peru

For

You could say that gravity drew Bi-Qing For into studying astronomy. When she was a young student growing up in Malaysia, she recalled being awestruck when she watched comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crash into Jupiter, and knew then that she wanted to study physics and astronomy.

"I was amazed by the gravitational force that perturbed the orbit of the comet so much that it crashed into Jupiter instead of passing by the planet," Bi-Qing said. "I was only 12 years old, and naively decided to study physics and astronomy when I grew up."

Although she said astronomy wasn't a popular subject when she was growing up in Malaysia, "I twisted my parents' arms to buy me a small Newtonian telescope and subscribe me to astronomy-related magazines to learn the basic stuff," Bi-Qing said.

She has since made the jump from that small personal telescope to work on projects using the 2.7-meter Smith Telescope at McDonald Observatory.

Bi-Qing loves to travel, and has made trips to Germany, Luxemburg, the Canary Islands, and the Netherlands. She hopes soon to travel to Australia and New Zealand, as well as many national parks in the United States.

"I love nature and the outdoors," Bi-Qing said. "I like to go hiking, backpacking and leisure cycling." She's also a fan of many recreational sports that involve a racquet: tennis, badminton, table tennis, and racquetball.

Bi-Qing For
John Stocker Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Western Australia
Ph.D., Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Astronomy and Physics, The University of Arizona

Quimby

Robert Quimby didn't plan on being an astronomer. In fact, as he was growing up, he says he was encouraged by his family to take up engineering. But when he graduated from high school and it came time to pick a direction for his life, he didn't feel that engineering was what he wanted to do. Instead he decided to follow astronomy, then only a fun hobby, and make it into a career.

"I like to know how things work," Robert says. Influential physics teachers also helped in this decision because not only were they good teachers, but they piqued his interest in other ways as well by bringing to class items such as climbing gear or bikes. One teacher in particular shared Robert's interest in the trombone and they would play together after school.

From Billiards and Basketball to Arts and Entertainment

Robert hasn't played his trombone in several years, but he says music is still an enjoyable hobby for him. "Music helps with focus and your level of concentration," he says, adding that his experience with music helped him develop skills that are beneficial in everything he does, including work.

As for other hobbies, Robert enjoys playing pool and basketball and watching good movies. He also likes photography, featuring mostly landscapes because "people are hard." He sometimes uses black and white film but says he always feels like he's cheating because everything looks good and particularly dramatic in black and white.

Robert grew up in Long Beach, California and received his undergraduate degree in astrophysics from UC Berkeley before coming to Texas to complete his education. Robert received the Trumpler Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for his outstanding dissertation research.

Robert Quimby
Post-doctoral Fellow, Caltech
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
M.S., Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
A.B., Astrophysics, University of California-Berkeley

Montgomery

Sharon Montgomery is an associate professor and chair of the Physics department at Clarion University in Clarion, Pennsylvania.

Sharon received her bachelor's degree in physics from Allegheny College, and her doctorate in astronomy at Case Western Reserve University.

Sharon Montgomery
Associate Professor, Clarion University
Ph.D., Astronomy, Case Western Reserve University
B.S., Physics, Allegheny College

Hwang

One of the first things that Sehyun Hwangadmired about the United States was the snow. "In the winter in Wyoming, we had lots of snow, almost every day, and I loved to go skiing with my friends."

Sehyun grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and completed his undergraduate degree at Seoul National University. After getting his Master's degree in physics from the University of Wyoming in 2006, Sehyun moved to the University of Texas to pursue his Ph.D. in astronomy.

The white powder in Wyoming was replaced by watching sunsets on Lake Travis.

Sehyun said his childhood experiences guided his quest to study astronomy. "In the eighth grade, I read books on our solar system, the Universe, and the life in it. I was so absorbed that I stayed up all night reading the books, not getting any sleep. Even now I remember that night," when he was in awe of what he called "the Wonders of the Universe."

Since attending UT-Austin, Sehyun says he enjoys doing research on planetary nebulae, "some of the most beautiful objects in the sky."

When he's not relaxing while watching the sunsets over Lake Travis from the Oasis Restaurant, Sehyun said he enjoys exploring the intriguing city of Austin and planning future road trips across the country. He already has two immediate routes planned out: one that will take him east from New Orleans to Florida along the Gulf Coast, and another that will allow him to explore the Wild West, taking him from New Mexico to California.

Sehyun said, "I am very pleased to work with Prof. Harriet Dinerstein on planetary nebulae, diffuse gas, and the interstellar medium, unveiling the secrets of the Universe, like that night I was fascinated by the Wonders of the Universe."

Sehyun Hwang
Ph.D., Astronomy; The University of Texas at Austin
M.S., Physics; University of Wyoming
B.S., Astronomy; Seoul National University

Williams

The Williams family's home videos capture a 2-year-old Kurtis looking through a cardboard tube as if it is a telescope. For as long as he can remember, Kurtis has been fascinated with the heavens. One morning, as he got ready for first grade, Kurtis watched the first space shuttle launch with his parents. "I thought, ‘that's so ugly it will never work,'" he says. When it finally did soar out of sight, Kurtis was amazed.

That initial enthusiasm still has not worn off for Kurtis. He says the excitement of observing (as well as black coffee with sugar) keeps him awake when using telescopes in the dark of the night.

Kurtis' sixth grade general science teacher, Mr. Lanese, encouraged him to develop the skills needed to pursue his interest in astronomy. Now as a teacher himself, Kurtis tries to pass on his passion to his students. "I think it is the excitement more than the knowledge that is the most important thing for a scientist to convey," Kurtis says.

Kurtis also has a keen interest in music. He is a talented singer; as a member of a male chorus in Arizona, he sang "everything from classical opera to cowboy tunes." He also plays the string bass, and his wife is a classically trained pianist.

Kurtis Williams
Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University, Commerce
Ph. D., Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz
M. S. Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz
B.S., Physics, The Pennsylvania State University
B.S., Astronomy and Astrophysics, The Pennsylvania State University

Silvotti

Roberto Silvotti is a research astronomer at the Observatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy. His research focuses on several areas involving pulsating stars, especially white dwarfs, which are extremely small and old stars at the end of their life cycles.

Roberto also studies cataclysmic variable stars, which occur when a white dwarf star and a companion star orbit one another, usually causing the companion star to donate some of its mass to the white dwarf. His most recent work at the McDonald Observatory involves studying HS2201+2610, a distant old star orbited by a large planet.

Roberto Silvotti
Researcher, Observatorio Astronomico di Capodimonte (Italy)

Chandler

Dean Chandler loves astronomy, he says, even though he's "not a vocational astronomer." Dean spends most of his daylight hours doing electronic design work for the consulting firm that he founded. The other things that occupy most of his time are the wonders of the night sky.

As the current president of the Central Texas Astronomical Society, Dean is able to nourish his love for astronomy while also earning money from his day job.

"I got interested in the business side of life," he says of the consulting firm he owns. "But I've always been interested in astronomy, too. It helps us ask those big questions: who we are, where we're going."

Dean grew up in Chicago, where he had an interest in science from a very young age. When he was 12 years old, he joined the Chicago Astronomical Society, which met at the local planetarium. He graduated from Harvard College and received his PhD in chemistry from Northwestern University. He then taught college chemistry for 10 years before starting his own business.

"Astronomy is a great hobby because it's so fun," Dean says. "It's one of the only ways to do science with other people, as opposed to chemistry, where most of your work is done in a lab. For instance, I like to take people with me when I observe. It helps to pass the time, and it's lots more fun that way."

As the president of the Central Texas Astronomical Society, Dean aims to help young people learn about and love astronomy from a young age like he did. The Society conducts educational outreach programs in classrooms in the Temple, Waco, and Killeen region of Central Texas, as well as collaborating with McDonald and conducting investigations with their own research-quality 24-inch telescope.

Dean and his wife, Gail, live in Temple, Texas, where they love to go ballroom dancing. They share their home with their dog, Rascal, and their cat, Sadie.

Dean Chandler
Amateur Astronomer, Temple, TX
Ph.D., Chemistry, Northwestern University
B.S., Chemistry, Harvard University

Cairos

Luz Marina Cairos Barreto, "Luzma" to her friends, knows what it's like to be away from home. She grew up in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, where she was born five minutes from the beach and learned to love swimming. However, she is currently working in a post-doctoral position at the Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam in Germany, when she isn't traveling for astronomy.

"This job allows us to live with a certain kind of freedom," Luzma says. "Usually, one can move from one country to another, and one can decide when and how long." Luzma also enjoys other aspects of the job. "All the academic jobs have a clear advantage," she says. "We are always learning. That's fun."

However, the job does have one downside in Luzma's eyes. "We definitely work too much with computers," she says. But staying up late observing isn't a downside at all, as long as she has some music to listen to or somebody to talk to. "I never go early to bed, so it is not so difficult for me," she says.

As a child, Luzma never thought she would study astronomy. "I wanted to study science," she says, "but probably mathematics or physics. Astronomy came to mind only after I was already at the university."

She thinks she would probably be a journalist or a writer if she weren't an astronomer. "In my free time mostly I read, write, and watch movies," she says. "But always in the cinema. I do not like watching TV."

Luzma Cairos Barreto
Humboldt Fellow, Astrophysikalisches Institut Potsdam
Ph.D., Astrophysics, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias
B.S., Physics, La Universidad de La Laguna (Tenerife)

Frebel

There was a time in Anna Frebel's life when she had to choose between sewing and science.

"I love fashion design," Anna said. "I love to take a piece of cloth and make some fancy clothes out of it." She seriously considered fashion design as a career option in the past. "Everyone told me that since I was a girl, I should go ahead and become a fashion designer, because girls don't do science or anything like that. But now here I am!"

Anna grew up in Göttingen, a town in central Germany with a university observatory nearby. "I always wanted to be an astronomer," she said. "I love discovering new things and finding out new things about the universe. I took astronomy in the seventh year of school, and I had a test where I had to draw the constellations on a blue piece of paper with a white pencil. I loved it."

Now working as an astronomer at McDonald Observatory, Anna made an important discovery earlier this year. She used a telescope in Chile to identify one of the oldest stars ever found and calculated its age: more than 13.2 billion years, almost as old as the universe itself, whose age is believed to be 13.7 billion years.

A Few of My Favorite Things

Anna loves Indian food, vegetarian pizza with extra cheese and mushrooms, and dancing Argentine tango with the University of Texas Tango Club. "I don't have as much time to practice tango as much as I would like to because I travel so much," Anna said. "But I do like to see new places."

Her favorite place on Earth, however, has nothing to do with astronomy: She has spent a few vacations in the Whitsunday islands off the northeast coast of Australia and fell in love with the beautiful scenery and the Great Barrier Reef. "You can just jump in the beautiful blue water and swim with clownfish and all these bright tropical fish," Anna said. "It's heaven on Earth."

Anna Frebel
Clay Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Ph.D., Australian National University
B.S., Physics, University of Freiburg, Germany

Murphy

Graduate student Jeremy Murphy loves astronomy because it's dark and mysterious. "Astronomy is one of the oldest and most mysterious of all the sciences, and dark matter is one of the most mysterious aspects of astronomy," Jeremy said. "I love working on something that people know so little about, because every discovery is brand new and exciting." Jeremy's work involves dark matter, the non-shining objects in space that we can't see but detect by their mass.

Jeremy grew up in Plentywood, Montana, a town, he says, "where everyone knew everyone." Unlike many astronomers, he said, he didn't have an epiphany moment where he knew he had to be an astronomer. "I just sort of fell into it," he said. "And now I love it."

Photographer
When Jeremy isn't doing astronomy, he loves to take photographs. "I have a darkroom set up in a closet at home, and I do all my black-and-white printing," he said. His favorite subject matter to photograph is all the junk at a junkyard. "There's always something interesting to see," he said. "Nature photographs are too hard; they require so much time to get it right. And I don't like portraits because people are so uncomfortable having their pictures taken. Junk never complains, and for some reason, junkyards have the most amazing angles of light for photographs."

A Crafty Pastime
Jeremy also enjoys making wallets, coin purses and checkbook covers out of gaffer tape, the slightly thinner and softer cousin of duct tape. "There really is an art to it," he said. "You can tell when people haven't been making these wallets a lot because they're still using duct tape, or because they don't care about the seams," he said, gesturing to a wide roll of gray tape and two regular-sized, but oddly colored, rolls of tape. "With this big one I can make a seamless wallet. It's going to be great."

Jeremy also loves the Boston Red Sox baseball team and hiking in the wilderness. "Anywhere but the desert," he says, "because in the desert you have to carry all your water. And then you can't stay as long."

Jeremy Murphy
Graduate student, Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Physics, The University of Texas at Austin

Schuler

Simon Schuler grew up in Hastings, a small town in southern Michigan, but now he finds himself on the other side of the world. Simon is working in a post-doctoral fellowship at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. He enjoys his job, he says, though he says the challenges of living in a foreign country were hard to adjust to at first.

"I'm having to learn Spanish very quickly," Simon said. "But the people are very nice and patient with me while I figure things out."

The one inexcusable thing about Chile, he says, is the quality of the beer. "Oh, it's terrible!" he said. "But the wine is great. So I've come to appreciate the local wine a lot."

When Simon isn't working at the observatory, he enjoys running, eating Chinese, Thai, or Japanese food and watching sports.

"Since I'm in Chile, there's always a soccer game on somewhere," he said. "I've really gotten into soccer from being down here."

Simon wasn't always interested in astronomy. In fact, he studied physics all through college until one day he decided to switch gears.

"I was reading a lot about physics, and I just naturally gravitated toward astronomy," Simon said. "Learning about one often leads you to the other. But I was fascinated by the vastness of astronomy. It includes and encompasses parts of so many other sciences, trying to answer the questions of the universe."

Simon has been a part of some interesting discoveries in the astronomy world lately. One of his latest projects included measuring an abundance of fluorine in a very old metal-poor star, which answered some questions about how carbon was formed in the oldest stars.

"What I love about astronomy is that it's essentially trying to find a better understanding of who we are, what our place is in the galaxy and the universe," Simon said. "What could be better than that?"

Simon Schuler
Leo Goldberg Post-Doctoral Fellow, Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory
Leo Goldberg Fellow, National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Ph.D., Physics, Clemson University
M.S., Physics, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
B.S., Physics, University of Miami

Hatzes

Artie Hatzes is an American astronomer who works as a professor in Germany. For many years prior, he worked at McDonald Observatory, collaborating with Bill Cochran on searches for extrasolar planets. Artie still frequently collaborates with McDonald Observatory astronomers.

Born in Havre de Grace, Maryland, Artie Hatzes' family moved to Fort Worth soon after. His family's background is Greek — Artie's father shortened their name from Hatzigeorgios to Hatzes.

Artie enjoys a fishetarian diet, eating lots of fruits and vegetables and fresh sushi. He also loves to sail, bike, and stay fit. When not observing, he says he greatly enjoys being out on the open surf. "I'd rather be sailing," he says.

While at the telescope at night, Artie says he likes to listen to loud rock and roll, and he drinks coffee to stay awake.

Artie Hatzes
Professor, Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg, Germany

Green

When things start going wrong with the telescopes at McDonald, there is a team of engineers that work to keep the machinery — some of it decades old — running smoothly so astronomers can continue to get their data. The head of the observing support team, Earl Green, is in charge of three areas: computing, instruments and optics, and electronics. He helps to track and fix mechanical, coding, and wiring problems with the telescopes. And, to top it all off, he sometimes works at the Visitors Center.

"I'm a jack of all trades here at McDonald," Earl said.

Earthship House

When Earl isn't fixing telescopes, he is working on the house he and his wife are building in Limpia Crossing, Texas. But this is no ordinary house. He and his wife have been working for more than 14 years to build an "Earthship"-style split-level house constructed mainly from old tires and dirt.

"This has literally been built from the ground up," Earl said. "It's like building a house out of doughnuts. Well, 2,200 heavy, rubber, dirt-filled doughnuts."

Earl and his wife salvaged tires from neighboring ranches and junkyards, filled them with dirt, and used them as the "bricks" to build the walls. Then, another layer of dirt was added to the outside, making the outside of the house looks similar to an adobe with dirt walls.

"It's building something useful, one of the most useful things in the world, actually, out of, essentially, trash," Earl said. "Plus, the walls are 36 inches thick. You can't get insulation like that in just any house."

Though the house is now livable, Earl says the living conditions would be "marginal" at best. He and his wife live in a different house nearby, but hope to move into their creation in "a couple more years."

Dog Show Circuit

When Earl isn't filling tires with dirt, he and his wife like to frequent dog shows to show off their purebred saluki dogs. They have had as many as six at one time, though they only have two now: Kis and Tinkerbell.

"The house has been our first priority for a while," Earl said. "But soon we hope to get back into the dog showing circuit."

Earl and his wife also love traveling and Japanese food.

"When I was in the Air Force, we were stationed for three years in Tokyo, and we fell in love with the place," Earl said. "We would bicycle to shrines, take trips on the local trains. Most of my colleagues went to work, and then went to the American bar to drink, and so they hated Japan. We loved it because we really experienced it."

When Earl was stationed with the Air Force in Boston, he took a lot of business trips to Germany to work on radar projects.

"I spent a lot of time in what was then West Berlin," Earl said. "Now, recently, I went back to Munich, Germany, to help with a factory acceptance test for the MONET Telescope project. So it's funny how your life goes full circle."

Earl Green
Research Engineer, McDonald Observatory
Observing Support Manager, McDonald Observatory
Major, U.S. Air Force (retired)
M.S., Electrical Engineering, Texas Tech University
B.S., Electrical Engineering, Texas Tech University

Yoachim

Peter Yoachim learned in college that his two loves, math and astronomy, would never work together. "Astronomy has ruined my math skills," Peter said. "I can't do a formal proof to save my life anymore. In astronomy, as long as you have the right order of magnitude, it's right. Not so in math. Finally, I had to choose between the two, and I chose astronomy, because to me it was more fun."

Peter's love of astronomy runs in the family; his grandfather was a space shuttle engineer. Growing up in Olympia, the capital of Washington state, a town which, he says "is really boring if you can't drive," Peter enjoyed playing with space toys as a child. He also liked to play with Groo, a red and black box turtle he's had since the second grade and is still alive up in Washington.

Peter loves to travel. So far, he's enjoyed visiting Las Vegas and Vancouver, close to home, and in Europe, Switzerland, Prague, Rome, and Copenhagen. He says he was also on the subway in London the day it was bombed. "We didn't realize what was happening until later. They just evacuated us all, and it was a two-mile hike back to the hotel."

Peter says his favorite place to visit so far has been Kutna Hora, in the Czech Republic, which is the site of a church, the Sedlec Ossuary, which is completely decorated in human bones from the ages of the plagues. "That was just out of this world," Peter said. "There is nothing like that anywhere else in the world." Peter also loves to go downhill skiing on vacation. "You can't do much of that in Austin," Peter said. "I've been here a year, and it's hot!"

One bad thing about modern technology, Peter said, is that it sometimes keeps you from traveling. "I have ‘observed' using telescopes in Chile and Hawaii, but because of remote observing, I didn't actually go there. I just logged into my computer in my office in the middle of the night. It's definitely more convenient, but nowhere near as fun."

Peter Yoachim
Science Fellow at The University of Washington
Post-doctoral researcher, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Washington

Blanc

Guillermo Blanc says he wasn't interested in astronomy as a kid, but that all changed when he was 15 years old. "My dad gave me a book called Ancient Light by Alan Lightman," he recalls. "It's basically a brief history of 20th century astronomy. I thought it was fascinating so I just started reading more and more books on astronomy. When it came time for college, I knew I wanted to study astronomy."

Firefighting in Santiago

Guillermo studied astronomy at the University of Chile. While in school, he worked as a firefighter and paramedic in the 5th Fire Company of Santiago. "I would say that firefighting is one of the activities I enjoyed the most in life, and I really miss it."

He then came to The University of Texas at Austin to obtain a doctoral degree. "Good things have happened. I got into grad school. Once in grad school, publishing your first paper is a rewarding experience," he says. "That's what professional astronomers do, so it is rewarding to see that you can become one."

He's recently reached an exciting stage in his career where he was able to come up an idea for a research project, and see it put into action. "Many times your advisor gives you a project that is interesting, and other people think it's interesting. But this was my idea." He's very proud of having his own project studying nearby galaxies and coordinating a team effort.

When asked on the path he would have chosen if he wasn't doing astronomy he said, "I would probably be doing biochemistry or genetics."

Cooking and Kayaking

Guillermo and his wife Isidora enjoy cooking, especially Asian and Italian food. Sometimes he makes sushi, but usually not Chilean food. He also enjoys playing squash and kayaking.

Guillermo Blanc
Carnegie Postdoctoral Fellow, Carnegie Observatories
Ph.D., astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
M.S., astronomy, University of Chile
B.S., astronomy, University of Chile

Wetzel

Marc Wetzel found his passion and love of astronomy during one summer at McDonald Observatory and never looked back.

Marc has been so inspired by finding his own passion in life that his message to everyone, included in the talks he gives to K-12 graders, is to "find your passion and don't worry about money. Making a living will come naturally with your passion."

At age 10, Marc says he first "became interested in nature." He says he always sought a connection between nature and himself, but it wasn't until high school that he got interested in astronomy and became an amateur astronomer.

Marc is from Arlington, Texas and began a physics degree at The University of Texas at Arlington in 1988. "I applied for a summer job at McDonald Observatory. I didn't think I would get in because it was for astronomy majors at The University of Texas at Austin." As if fate stepped in, Marc was accepted. He started working in the Visitors Center in the summer of 1989. "It's been a long summer — I'm still here," he says.

He decided to stay at the observatory instead of continuing his degree in Arlington. Shortly after, he joined the public programs team. While working at McDonald, he changed his major to communications and received his degree at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. In 2001, when the observatory's new Frank N. Bash Visitor Center opened, Marc became the education coordinator.

Marc says he finds the most rewarding part of his career to be that it's something he's "passionate about and that it led to meeting [his] wife." She was on a guided tour and Marc started talking to her after the tour was over. They crossed paths two years later, and shortly after married. They now live at the observatory and have two boys, Haden and Shadix.

Marc says he is delighted now to be training summer college students working at the observatory, remembering his first summer there and how it changed his life completely.

Marc Wetzel, Education Coordinator McDonald Observatory
B.S. Communications, Sul Ross State University

Frinchaboy

Peter Frinchaboy says he has always been interested in astronomy, even as a young boy. He had a small telescope and enjoyed looking at the Moon. He also read science fiction books, which further piqued his interest in astronomy.

Peter went to Sacramento State University and was originally an architecture major. After taking some of the required physics classes, he says he realized he was more interested in astronomy and physics. He went on to get a degree in physics.

Peter then went to the University of Virginia to get his master’s degree and doctorate in astronomy. He then did postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin. Currently, Peter is now an assistant professor at Texas Christian University.

“I enjoy being in Texas but I miss my family and my wife’s family, who are both in Sacramento,” Peter said.

Peter met his wife in high school, and they have been married for 11 years. He says he spends most of his free time with his kids, who are currently six years old and one and a half.

Peter currently does research on stars in open clusters. When he travels to observatories for research, he says he likes to listen to books on tape to help him stay awake through the observing runs.

Peter Frinchaboy
Assistant Professor, Texas Christian University
M.S., Ph.D, Astronomy, University of Virginia
B.S., Physics, Sacramento State University

Mahmud

Rice University graduate student Naved Mahmud grew up in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a city with a lot of light pollutution. So he was not able to observe stars growing up, but he says he read and watched a lot of science fiction.

"Astronomy always seemed to me the field closest to what I was reading about. I was also, and still am, a big fan of Carl Sagan, who has inspired a whole generation of people to go into astronomy and space science," Naved says.

In his free time, Naved says he enjoys photography. "Astronomy gives me great opportunities for photography by taking me to many remote locations for observing," he explains. Out of all the places Naved has visited, he says he has particularly enjoyed the American Southwest.

"There are wide open spaces, great color palettes, great diversity of both people and culture, as well as geological structures." He also enjoys aviation and playing poker.

The thing that Naved says he enjoys most about astronomy is the fact that astronomy is in many ways the world's first and oldest science. "Being an astronomer, you feel a kinship with all those who have come before you and stared up at the same sky."

He also enjoys the fact astronomy may be an old science, but is also a very cutting-edge science. "In many ways we are just getting started in answering the big questions that people have always wondered about," he says.

Naved Imran Mahmud
Graduate Student, Rice University
M.S., Astrophysics, Rice University
B.S., Physics, Vanderbilt University

Breger

Once a mathematics major, Michel Breger was instantly won over by astronomy. "I was a math tutor and one of my students was an astronomy major. I think he taught me more about astronomy than I taught him about math," Michel says. "I became an astronomer within minutes."

Michel says his favorite thing about astronomy is that you can do real research early on. "When I first became an astronomy major, I started doing research within six weeks. It was real, hands-on research." Now, as a professor who takes on new students, he encourages his students to learn by doing and allows them to start research projects immediately.

In his free time, Michel is an international dance teacher. He says he loves Austin for its music and dance. He is married to a professional musician.

Michel Breger
Adjunct Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley
B.S., Astronomy, University of Capetown

Chonis

Taylor Chonis loved astronomy from a young age. "I started building my own telescopes in fourth and fifth grade. We lived far enough outside Kansas City to see the bright part of the Milky Way."

Taylor went to the University of Nebraska in Lincoln and received a bachelor's degree in physics. He participated in programs for students at Kitt Peak National Observatory and at the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii. "It was a truly rewarding experience." Both projects involved astronomical instrumentation.

He then got a job at the University of Texas at Austin as a junior engineer for McDonald Observatory's upcoming project to study dark energy, a project called HETDEX.

"I take a lot of pride in the telescope itself," Taylor said, referring to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. "I don't know if I like what I see through the telescope more or the telescope itself." His goal is to one day work as an instrument scientist at a major astronomical observatory or as an aerospace instrument scientist on space telescopes.

"I'm an astronomy freak," says Taylor. "I'm getting a degree in astronomy and in my free time I'm an amateur astronomer." He also enjoys visiting his fiancé in Maryland. "She's a graduate student in Baltimore working on a degree in genetic counseling. I fly out to see her sometimes on the weekend."

As well as astronomy, Taylor enjoys sports, photography, and computers in his free time. He particularly enjoys photography of astronomical objects. "I vastly enjoy recording my version of the sky. The images are as beautiful as they are inspiring."

Taylor Chonis
Graduate Student, Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
B.S., Physics, University of Nebraska in Lincoln

Heiderman

After taking a high school class in astronomy, Amanda Heiderman was asked what she was going to do for a job. "I didn't really know the answer but I said I was going to work on astronomy because I enjoyed that class so much."

Amanda grew up in Carson City, Nevada and went to Western Nevada Community College. "I found a physics professor and walked up to him and said, ‘I want to be an astronomer.' Apparently, people just don't do that." He became her mentor for the rest of her time there.

She soon went on to University of California at Berkeley and now is at the University of Texas at Austin as a graduate student.

In her free time, Amanda is a "live music junkie. I love going downtown and listening to all of the bands. When I can get out of town, I like to go biking and camping." She also makes Halloween costumes for herself and her friends. "I don't get to use the creative side of my brain very much so this is a good way to do that."

When asked what she misses most about Nevada she replied her family, who lives near Lake Tahoe. She also misses how Nevada had all four seasons. "In winter we had snow, and it was hot in the summer, but it cooled off at night."

Amanda's favorite part about astronomy is that she gets to travel and meet new people. "I can travel to telescopes and work side by side with people from all over the world and that's amazing. I'm not stuck in one town."

Amanda Heiderman
Graduate Student, Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
B.A., Astrophysics, University of California at Berkeley

Afsar

For years, Melike Afsar had no idea she was going to be an astronomer. "I was always interested in astronomy and watched space-related documentaries with a lot of enthusiasm. I just never thought I would be an astronomer," Melike says. "When I was a high school student, I just decided to become an astronomer. And now, I know how right that decision was." Today, she is an astronomer in her native Turkey.

Melike says, "I was born at the city called Konya but I grew up in different cities since my father was a banker. We've now been in Izmir for almost 18 years." Growing up in so many cities took a toll on Melike as a kid. "I've kind of always envied people who can start a friendship when they were kids and have it for years. I could never do that. I would end up losing my friends all the time because we always had to move to another city for my father's job." Melike has also found astronomy to be a way to travel. She was a post-doctoral fellow at University of Texas at Austin.

When Melike was in high school, the first money she ever earned was because of astronomy. "There was a radio show and they had this sort of contest asking people questions and paying money to the winners. There was an astronomy question and the answer was Mars. That's how I got the money," describes Melike. "I remember going shopping and buying a Levi's jacket. They were really famous back then."

Besides astronomy, Melike enjoys dancing. She also likes hiking and swimming. If she wasn't doing astronomy, Melike says she would still be doing something science related. "My favorite classes have always been math, physics, chemistry and biology. Maybe I would do genetic engineering. I am really glad to be doing astronomy, though. I'm just fascinated by it."

Melike Afsar
faculty, Department of Astronomy and Space Sciences, Ege University, Izmir, Turkey
PhD, Astronomy, Ege University, Izmir, Turkey
MS, Astronomy, Ege University, Izmir, Turkey
BS, Astronomy, Ege University, Izmir, Turkey

Weinzirl

"I'm into power lifting," said University of Texas graduate student Tim Weinzirl. "I have a strong interest in physical culture. I train with weights — squat, dead lifts, bench press — three times per week and can dead lift almost 350 pounds, more than twice my body weight."

Tim was born and raised in Minnesota. His interest in astronomy was piqued in seventh grade when he was invited to participate in an independent study project for English. Tim chose to do his research on the "race to the Moon between America and the Soviets."

His favorite teacher in high school was Mr. Kelly, who taught 11th grade chemistry. Tim says Mr. Kelly did a hilarious "impression of an egg beater with his legs, at least one time per class." Later, Tim attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa where he majored in both physics and astronomy. He says his desire to be an astronomer is fueled by his belief that astronomy is a "selfless, noble pursuit," answering questions about the universe and "advancing the collective knowledge of the species."

Tim says he believes wholeheartedly that life exists in other places in space, saying it's "absurdly unlikely" that Earth is the only planet to have a livable habitat, and speculates there might be life "under the surface of Mars." Tim says he'd be glad to volunteer for a man mission to that neighboring planet, and predicts that humans will go there within the next 20 to 30 years.

Tim said the most fun he's had as an astronomer has been on observing runs. During the summer of 2004, he visited an observatory in Wyoming that was located 10,000 feet in the air. Another of his most memorable events was meeting authors of the textbooks he'd read in class.

If he couldn't be an astronomer, Tim said he'd be a computer programmer. In addition to power lifting, his hobbies include reading science fiction and playing video games. "Japanese-style role-playing" games are his favorite. Tim shared that he has a natural late schedule so overnight observing runs are easy for him to handle. If he does get sleepy, loud music and amusing videos help keep him awake. His favorite pizza topping is sausage.

Tim Weinzirl
Graduate student, University of Texas at Austin
BS in Physics and Astronomy, Drake University

Im

In third grade, Myungshin Im made a Kappa-monster costume by himself out of carton papers and received first prize for it. "Other kids had commercially produced costumes which looked better in my eyes, but the teacher gave me the first prize valuing my hard work and originality of costume." Supported by his favorite teacher, Myungshin came to believe that "it pays off when you work hard and make something new."

Growing up in the urban areas of Korea, he says he had few chances to look at the night sky and wonder about the mystery of the universe. "I was more interested in science fictions where heroes and heroines wandered around the universe."

Myungshin says finding new kinds of stars and astronomical phenomena is exciting. "I feel fortunate for getting paid to study ‘the evolution of galaxies' or ‘the growth of super-massive black holes.'" He says he also likes traveling to places like Mauna Kea in Hawaii with an observatory 12,000 feet in the air.

To stay awake late at night during observing runs, Myungshin says he consumes lots of caffeine from coffee, soft drinks, and chocolate. If he gets bored or needs to rest his eyes, he will step outside to watch the night sky or look for interesting creatures.

As a kid, Myungshin says he thought about becoming an artist and still likes painting. He says his other hobbies are hiking and watching movies. "Meng-gu" is his six-month-old cat's name. Also, his favorite pizza toppings are extra cheese, anchovies and "bulgogi," a Korean barbeque beef.

Most of the time, Myungshin says he is analyzing data he collects from observing runs, writing papers, and preparing for his next observation. "Making new discoveries always excites me," he says. "Seeing my students finish PhDs makes me happy, too."

As for life on other plants, Myungshin says, "With so many possible places where life can appear, I think that there is life somewhere in the universe other than on the Earth."

Myungshin Im
Associate Professor, Physics and Astronomy, Seoul National University
PhD, Johns Hopkins University
MS, Johns Hopkins University
BS, Physics, Seoul National University

Weijmans

Anne-Marie Weijmans grew up in the Netherlands. As a child, she says she wasn't yet a stargazer, but did show interest in the stars and planets. She says she read everything she could about them. It was in high school that she decided to become an astronomer.

"I am really glad that I became an astronomer because I don't know what else I would be doing now," Anne-Marie says. If she had to choose a different job, Anne-Marie says she'd like organizing science events at a museum or writing for a science magazine.

As an astronomer, "most of my time is spent in the office behind a computer screen," she says. Working with data is one of the tasks she does that most people don't realize astronomers have to do. "Observing at the telescope is only a small part of the job," Anne-Marie says.

Music and Knitting

Apart from astronomy, Anne-Marie also engages in non-science related activities. "I play the oboe," she revealed. "I'm a member of the North Toronto Community Wind Band." Knitting is another hobby she enjoys, especially during observing runs. "So far, I've knitted one cardigan and two scarves at McDonald Observatory."

Besides knitting late into the night, Anne-Marie says she eats stroopwafels to stay awake while observing. She described them as "traditional Dutch cookies with a large amount of sugar and butter, which are great for keeping you awake."

Small and Big Surprises

Anne-Marie says she feels most rewarded by "all the small and big surprises you encounter every day when doing research." On life in the universe, she says she "really hopes" there is life on planets other than Earth. "The universe is always a very interesting place to live in," she says. "But discovering that there is some other life around would make it even more wonderful and exciting."

Anne-Marie says her favorite teacher was her high school English teacher. "His lessons were never boring," she says. "I still use his little red book of English grammar."

The most exciting moment in her career, Anne-Marie says was "going to La Palma Observatory and seeing the Milky Way for the first time." She says she was also very excited about "reducing my first galaxy spectrum."

On her pizza Anne-Marie says she likes spinach with goat cheese and tomatoes.

Anne-Marie Weijmans
Dunlap Fellow, Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto
MSc, PhD, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Im

In third grade, Myungshin Im made a Kappa-monster costume by himself out of carton papers and received first prize for it. "Other kids had commercially produced costumes which looked better in my eyes, but the teacher gave me the first prize valuing my hard work and originality of costume." Supported by his favorite teacher, Myungshin came to believe that "it pays off when you work hard and make something new."

Growing up in the urban areas of Korea, he says he had few chances to look at the night sky and wonder about the mystery of the universe. "I was more interested in science fiction where heroes and heroines wandered around the universe."

Myungshin says finding new kinds of stars and astronomical phenomena is exciting. "I feel fortunate for getting paid to study ‘the evolution of galaxies' or ‘the growth of super-massive black holes.'" He says he also likes traveling to places like Mauna Kea in Hawaii with an observatory 12,000 feet in the air.

To stay awake late at night during observing runs, Myungshin says he consumes lots of caffeine from coffee, cokes, and chocolate. If he gets bored or needs to rest his eyes, he will step outside to watch the night sky or look for interesting creatures.

As a kid, Myungshin says he thought about becoming an artist and still likes painting. He says his other hobbies are hiking and watching movies. "Meng-gu" is his 6-month old cat's name.

Most of the time, Myungshin says he is analyzing data he collects from observing runs, writing papers and preparing for his next observation. "Making new discoveries always excites me," he says. "Seeing my students finish PhDs makes me happy too."

Myungshin Im
Associate Professor, Physics and Astronomy, Seoul National University
PhD, Johns Hopkins University
MS, Johns Hopkins University
BS, Physics, Seoul National University

Mason

"Since the age of seven, I wanted to be an astronomer," Paul Mason says. Growing up in Lakeland, Florida, he used to watch the Apollo Moon launches. "I could see them from my house," he says. Inspired, Paul says he saved up money and bought his first telescope.

As a young man, Paul was lucky enough to have people who kept him motivated toward his goal. "I had a math teacher named Mr. Wei in high school," Paul says. "He taught me that I could reach my goals in life, if I worked hard and had patience."

Paul graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in astronomy, and a second degree in physics and math. He received his masters degree from Louisiana State University and went on to finish his doctorate at Case Western Reserve University.

He enjoys spending nights working at a telescope, saying he rarely has trouble staying up at night. "Staying awake during the day is more of a challenge," Paul jokes.

That hard work at that telescope is rewarding, Paul says, because it leads to "making discoveries and solving research problems." He describes one of the most exciting moments of his career: "I went to a meeting in South Africa and met a theorist who had done some work which verified my related model. I'd been observing a particular binary star for many years and trying to convince others that my ideas were correct." After the discussion with that theorist, he says, "I was too excited to sleep that night."

When he isn't analyzing data or teaching, Paul says he enjoys being a soccer coach for a kids team, The Superkids. He also shared that he has three dogs, six cats, eight chickens and two horses.

Paul Mason
Professor, Math & Physical Science, New Mexico State University
Research associate and lecturer, University of Texas-El Paso
PhD, Case Western Reserve University
MS, Louisiana State University
BS, University of Arizona, Physics & Math
BS, University of Arizona, Astronomy

McConnell

"I dreamed of studying stars and outer space," graduate student Nicholas McConnell shares. "That I'm actually doing it for a job? I can't believe it sometimes."

"It's like solving puzzles and riddles," he says. "I like the day-to-day problems in science and using my mind to solve a problem." Nicholas is originally from Chicago where he says his parents got him a book in second grade that had remarkable illustrations of different planets and galaxies. "I was fascinated just from reading about it."

His teachers in school were all great, but his art teacher in elementary and middle school sticks out in his mind. "In her classroom, I had a chance to express myself and it was different from feeling I had to conform to the right answers in other classes. I looked forward to the freedom." Nicholas ran track in high school and college and is still very athletic today.

After attending Boston University where he received his bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics, Nicholas went on to gain a master's degree at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently working on his PhD. A few summers ago, he had the opportunity to attend an international conference in Rio de Janeiro. "I saw the southern hemisphere's sky for the first time in my life."

As an astronomer, Nicholas spends a fair amount of time in meetings and sending emails, something most people wouldn't realize an astronomer does. "There's a lot of communicating with people and staying in touch with them around the world." When he's scheduled for late-night observing runs, he has an interesting technique for staying awake without caffeine. "I try to stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. the night before I'm actually observing to switch my schedule. That way I can sleep all day and then be ready to stay up all night."

Outside of astronomy, Nicholas says, "If I woke up tomorrow and someone said I couldn't be an astronomer anymore, I would go very far in the opposite direction and do bicycle repair! I spend a lot of time fixing my own bike." When he isn't stargazing for a living or playing Frisbee competitively, Nicholas says he definitely loves pizza, sausage pizza specifically, Chicago-style.

Musing about life in the universe, Nicholas shares, "I don't think there is anything quite like human life. If we ever come into contact with some other form of intelligent life, it's going to be completely different from our expectations."

Brugamyer

If Erik Brugamyer wasn't an astronomer, he says he'd be a dog trainer. He describes his dog Gus as a "Frisbee dog that does tricks." When he isn't training his somersaulting pet, he also enjoys disc golf, which is a combination of Frisbee and golf. For milder entertainment, Erik says he likes reading.

Growing up in Amarillo, Texas, Erik agrees that he was definitely a stargazer as kid. "I spent a lot of time just staring at the stars and imagining what might be out there. It's what got me hooked."

He's completed both of his bachelor's degrees and his master's at the University of Texas and recently advanced into candidacy for his PhD. "I received a High Pass on the qualifying exam which is a big test. I'm relieved to have it over and I can now call myself an astronomer."

"It's truly a joy doing this job. I wouldn't want to be stuck with an ordinary nine to five." As an observational astronomer, Erik gets to spend nights at the telescope, actually pointing it at the distant light of stars and seeing the project through to the end. "My secret to staying up: coffee."

Erik Brugamyer
PhD Candidate, University of Texas at Austin
BS, University of Texas at Austin, Physics
BA, University of Texas at Austin, Astronomy
MA, University of Texas at Austin, Astronomy

Dodson-Robinson

University of Texas astronomer Sally Dodson-Robinson lived in many different places growing up. "Born in LA. Lived in Orange County, Utah, Colorado and Round Rock [Texas]," she says. As a kid, Sally says she thought about being an astronomer, but didn't know how to go about becoming one.

"I was really into astronomy, especially planets. I loved learning about them." In school, Sally says her 12th grade English teacher Mrs. Palmer was her favorite teacher. She taught AP English and Sally says she learned to see English with its novels and poems and plays as interesting and creative.

Even if she wasn't an astronomer, Sally says she'd still be a scientist of some sort, possibly working with animals or the environment. In college, she met an astronomer on the faculty at the Rochester Institute of Technology and Sally decided to venture into the field herself.

Obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Imaging Science, Sally went on to receive both a master's degree and a PhD from the University of California-Santa Cruz. She is now an assistant professor of astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin.

As much of her current work is entirely theoretical, Sally says she hasn't had to stay up all night using a telescope in a while. But while working on her master's degree, Sally says, "I did one month of observing at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I was up all night for a month of time." Though staying up all night is difficult for her, Sally says, "I really love discovering things. I love it when I think about a problem and can figure out something new."

Her first major discovery came when she first realized that the element silicon affects planet formation. This discovery has led several of her colleagues onto discoveries of their own.

When she isn't observing, Sally likes reading mysteries and swimming in the hot summer months.

Sally Dodson-Robinson
Assistant Professor, University of Texas-Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California-Santa Cruz
M.S., Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California-Santa Cruz
B.S., Imaging Science, Rochester Institute of Technology

Hermes

Astronomy graduate student JJ Hermes grew up Houston and New Orleans, and says he did not spend much time looking at the sky. He didn't even have a telescope. As a student at The University of Texas at Austin, he studied physics and was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Daily Texan.

He also took an astronomy class from Dr. Volker Bromm. That class showed him, he says, that "there are elegant solutions to understand things that are happening hundreds of light-years away." He was hooked, and decided to work toward degrees in both physics and astronomy. He also worked for McDonald Observatory as a writer for this website.

After graduation, JJ worked as a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington, D.C. One of his assignments was to investigate the earmarked funds set aside by congress for colleges and universities. He also covered floor votes and hearings on Capitol Hill.

JJ sees a connection between journalism and astronomy. In both, "you've got to try to experience something from a global perspective, and teach people things they didn't know before," he says.

After a year in Washington, JJ returned to The University of Texas to pursue a PhD in astronomy. He researches white dwarf stars. He is often at McDonald Observatory observing stars with the Otto Struve Telescope.

To stay up all night observing, JJ says he drinks coffee, watches baseball games, and walks around the dome's catwalk. "I stand on the catwalk and get dark adapted and sink into what is happening. It gives you a new perspective on what you're doing and how little you know about the universe. You get this feeling when you look straight up and you're motionless. Every now and then a meteor goes off."

When he's not observing, JJ likes to play on the astronomy department's softball team, the Ultra-Deep Fielders.

JJ Hermes
BS, Astronomy, The University of Texas at Austin
BS, Physics, The University of Texas at Austin

Freeland

Emily Freeland grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. "I really liked physics in high school and had a great teacher. One day I realized that astronomy was just using physics to find out information about stars, and then I decided I would be an astronomer because that sounded like fun."

Emily found the challenging aspects of physics as a motivation to learn more about it. She explains: "As a high school student, I was horrible and ... often couldn't predict or understand the physics that was going on during in-class demonstrations or homework problems. This was unlike my other classes and I was really interested in improving." Her physics teacher, Cindy Kvale at Bloomington High School South, helped her improve her intuition for physical phenomena, and helped turn a class that she did not understand very well into one that she liked.

Now Emily has a PhD in astronomy and studies galaxies at Texas A&M University. She likes astronomy, she says, because, "it is exciting to discover new things and to use all kinds of different telescopes to do so."

Although she says she likes observing, Emily spends most of her time sitting in front of her computer trying to understand what is actually happening in the data she took at the telescope. She says that she likes that part too. "I find it particularly satisfying to write papers and work on projects with friends because those experiences are truly collaborative."

Emily says she likes to bake. If she weren't an astronomer, she says, "I would be a pastry chef or a small farmer or a middle school teacher."

Her secret to staying up all night at the observatory is eating chocolate.

Emily Freeland
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Texas A&M University
Ph.D. Astronomy, University of Wisconsin
M.S. Astronomy, University of Wisconsin
B.S. Honors, Astronomy, Indiana University
B.S. Mathematics, Indiana University

Green

Joel Green is a research associate at the University of Texas at Austin.

Joel grew up in Westchester County, New York, first in a 200-year-old farmhouse, then in an ultramodern cube-shaped building constructed right across the street. He became interested in astronomy by reading science fiction, he says. This sparked his imagination to question the possibilities in outer-space like, 'Are there really habitable worlds around every corner, as a show like Star Trek would suggest? What does a typical alien world look like, and how rare is Earth? Is it possible to warp through a black hole? What are stars, galaxies, and clusters made out of? and What is dark matter?'

"I loved reading of alien worlds, civilizations, and ability to explore phenomena far away," Joel says. "I loved advanced technology. So what really got me into astronomy was a desire to understand how the universe works, rather than simply speculate through fiction."

Now, as a research associate at The University of Texas at Austin, he is leading a project to observe dramatic flaring events in protostars. He is also involved in projects that use state-of-the-art space telescopes like Spitzer Space Telescope and the Herschel Space Observatory.

When Joel is observing at the telescope overnight, he says, "I couldn't fall asleep if I wanted to, as observing with great telescopes is a very tenuous process; one never knows when something will go wrong! ... [Most people] do not know how crucial good weather, low lighting, and low humidity are to successful observing."

Joel is an avid barbecuer. He co-founded and plays on the UT Astronomy Department's intramural softball team "The Ultra-Deep Fielders." He is also a musician. He starting playing as a child, and can play oboe, clarinet, saxophone, and English horn. Even though astronomy takes up much of his time, he says that, "I still manage to play two or three concerts every year in Austin, as part of community groups or assisting local high school groups for premiere concerts."

Joel Green
Research Associate, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D. Astronomy, University of Rochester
A.M., Astronomy, University of Rochester
B.A., Astrophysics, Cornell University

Overzier

Roderik Overzier

Roderik Overzier is a postdoctoral fellow in astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. He hails from the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

As a teenager, he did some amateur astronomy. "I had an 11-centimeter telescope," he says. "Even with that you can't see much. We didn't have dark skies ... I looked at things like Jupiter and Saturn and Mars and the Moon."

 Roderik says he became interested in astronomy because "it was exotic and cool. Then at some point I went through a phase where I wanted to build satellites or spacecraft, but then I realized that I really wanted to use the satellites, not build them and let the astronomers have all the fun."

 He says that the most exciting time of his career is right now. Roderik is working on a project to synthesize theoretical observations with real ones.

 "I've been doing observations for about 10 years now, and I've always been interested in comparing them with models and simulations," he says. "The comparison I wanted to do was never there. What I wanted to get from simulations is a real simulation of what it would look like through my telescope. Something like this just didn't exist, so I did it myself."

 

Roderik Overzier
Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D., Astronomy, Leiden University
M.S., Astronomy, Leiden University

Williams

Michael Williams at McDonald Observatory

Michael Williams' favorite thing about being an astronomer is the opportunity to travel all over the world and live in interesting places. “I have had the opportunity to visit places like California, West Texas, and the Canary Islands," he says, "and thanks to my work I've lived in Australia and Germany.”

When asked if he was a stargazer as a child, he explains, “I grew up in Sheffield, which is a city surrounded by lots of other cities in the industrial north of England. Which is to say, my home town is in a country where it always rains, in an area where light pollution is especially bad. So no, I wasn't a stargazer! In fact, I didn't see the Milky Way until the first time I came to the McDonald [Observatory] in 2010!”

Sometimes spending the night observing in the middle of West Texas can be peaceful and quiet. Other times, things can get pretty exciting. Michael had once such exciting night. He says, “The most exciting night I spent observing was probably the time I was asked to go out on the catwalk of the 107-inch [Harlan J. Smith] Telescope in between my astronomical observations to keep an eye on a wild fire in Mexico!” Wildfires are a huge threat to observatories all over the world. Although the Mexican border is approximately 30 miles away, the glow of the fires can been seen against the dark skies at the observatory. 

You can bet that if Michael is observing this week, he will be drinking tea. The hot beverage plays a large role during Michael's observing run. He says, “I drink lots of cups of tea! Last summer I had to drive the 40 miles to Alpine to buy an electric tea kettle for the control room of the 107-inch telescope! And of course to make a good cup of tea you need water at 206 Fahrenheit. The McDonald is at 7,000 feet, so water boils at 200 degrees Fahrenheit and the tea here is dreadful. Somehow I survive though!”

Michael Williams
Post-doctoral Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics
PhD, Astronomy, Oxford University

Aguilar

Jesús Aguilar is an undergraduate studying astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin. He was president of the Astronomy Students Association from fall of 2010 through spring of 2012.

“I became fascinated with astrophysics on the day that I stumbled upon online educational material from the Public Broadcasting System," he says. "Doctors Brian Greene and Neil de Grasse Tyson's presentations of the material were more than enough to spark a tremendous curiosity in me.”

Jesús is interested in the way mathematics, physics, and the natural world relate to each other.

“My favorite high school teacher is my former pre-calculus teacher, Mr. Jim Robarge. His experience in teaching made him a master at creating a 'need-to-know' experience at the beginning of each class," Jesús says. "He would often post warm-up exercises on the overhead that weren't directly tied to the day's lesson plan but nonetheless had amazing mathematical significance. ... I remembered [those] high school moments years later [in my math studies] in college.”

Jesús has had a lot of interesting astronomy experiences since coming to UT-Austin.

“I've been privileged to go to [McDonald] Observatory many times as an undergraduate, and on one occasion I was directly involved in collecting data that would later help researchers discover a new planetary system around a white dwarf star," he says. "Believe it or not, I've met Sally Ride here at UT. Too, I've been blessed to lead a group of undergraduates on a summer trip to the observatory. I think all of these were equally exciting.”

In addition to astronomy, Jesús loves music. “I've played the clarinet for ten years in various ensembles. At the university, I've played in the Basketball Band, the Longhorn Band, and the Symphony Band," he says. "I also enjoy studying other languages, reading poetry, and playing ultimate disc.”

Jesús Aguilar
Undergraduate student, University of Texas at Austin

 

Poppenhaeger

Katja Poppenhaeger grew up in Germany. She says she liked science and stargazing as a child, and knew by the age of 10 that she wanted to be a physicist. She didn't decide on a career in astrophysics until graduate school.

"I did my master's degree in theoretical physics," Katja said. "However, I was looking for something more connected to 'the real world' after that, and found that astrophysics is exactly the right mix of big questions, real data, and model building for me."

Katja is an avid musician. In fact, if she wasn't an astrophysicist, she said that she would like to be a professional musician.

"My big hobby is music," Katja said. "I play the violin and used to sing in a band in Hamburg. I just moved to the US, so I will have to start a new band now."

Katja said her favorite thing about being an astronomer is getting "to solve the mysteries of the universe for a living." Right now, she says her work is very exciting because "I am working on some fresh data to characterize the outer layers of an exoplanet. More to come soon!"

Staying awake during the long observing nights is not a chore for Katja. She says, "My sleep cycle adjusts rather easily — I can sleep almost anytime and anywhere, so I try to get enough sleep before the first observing night. Also chocolate helps."

Katja Poppenhaeger
PhD, Astronomy, Hamburg University (Germany )
MS, in Physics at Goethe University (Germany)

Zhao

Ming Zhao is a post doctoral researcher at Penn State University. He grew up in the city of Kunming in Southwest China.

“I was fascinated by stars and planets when I was young," Ming says. "I remember I tried to stabilize a 50X binocular my father bought me and used it to observe Venus and Jupiter. I even tried to look for the moons of Jupiter with it. I always wanted to see what the Milky Way looked like by eye when I was young, but the city lights prevented me from seeing it.”

Ming finally saw pictures of the Milky Way when he was 18, when he went to an observatory. He got the idea to be an astronomer during his last year in high school. He says, “My high school physics teacher was my favorite, because he brought me into the world of physics and I got really interested. He had a strong influence on my decision to study astronomy in college.”

Ming says his favorite thing about astronomy is interacting with the public. He says, “Every time when I tell people I am an astronomer and I am working on exoplanets, people get fascinated and kids get interested. These are probably my best moments as an astronomer — to intrigue the public.”

The most exciting moment of his career so far, Ming says, was when “a [research] paper of our team was published in Science [magazine] and it got onto the major news websites like BBC.”

In his spare time, Ming says he likes to read, watch movie,s and go hiking.

Ming Zhao
Ph.D., Astrophysics, University of Michigan
M.A., Astrophysics, University of Michigan
B.S., Astronomy, Peking University (China)

Required Technology

Participation in our videoconferencing programs requires either a hardware/codec system (Polycom, Cisco/Tandberg, LifeSize, etc.) or a device with an eyeball camera and compatible software (Zoom, ClearSea, Jabber, RealPresence, Vidyo, BlueJeans, Acano, etc.). We cannot connect via Skype or Google Hangouts. If you're uncertain whether you possess the required technology, please contact your campus/district IT personnel.  Schools located in Texas can contact their local Education Service Center for assistance or anyone can contact Lori Hamm-Neckar at (817)740-7516 or lhamm@esc11.net with connectivity questions. If you are registered for a McDonald Observatory videoconference through www.Connect2Texas.net, then Connect2Texas will act as a central hub (bridge) for your connection to McDonald Observatory.

Pricing for Student Programs

Per student $10
Per adult (one adult free per five students) $6

Minimums - We charge for a minimum of 12 students (although you may bring fewer).

Evening Programs - Your entire group may purchase tickets for a public Star Party on Tuesday, Fridays, and Saturdays evenings for an additional $7 per student, and $12 per adult. This ticket price is additional to Student Field Experience program fees.

Your entire group may also join our Twilight Program for an additional fee of $5 per student and adult. The public Twilight Program is an engaging 50-60 minute learning experience that takes place in the theater inside the Visitors Center before the public Star Party.

Support Science Education!

Join or Renew Give a Gift

Join or give a gift membership today. Call 512-475-8843 or email friends@mcdonaldobservatory.org.

Know Before You Go

Dress warmly (especially for evening programs) and bring your reservation confirmation with you. The Visitors Center is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Central Time (and additional hours on Star Party nights) every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. The phone number is 432-426-3640.

Directions
Reservations
Calendar
Weather
When to Visit
Special Needs & Concerns
Visiting with young children
Cell Phone Usage
StarDate Café Hours of Operation
Frequently Asked Questions
General Information Printout

Downloadable Descriptions

Student Sheet

Student sheets are designed for your students to fill in during the videoconference. You will need to copy one for each student or group of students.

Required Activity Materials Ready In Your Classroom

A list of materials you must have on-hand in addition to the student sheets for students to complete during the show. Go through the list at least one day in advance so that you can be sure that they are available.

Teacher Guide for Videoconference Content

The document that supports you as the classroom teacher. It includes ideas about potential student answers, detailed descriptions of content found in Student Sheets, and links that support your classroom instruction.

Pre-Conference Assessment

Each student should complete the assessment prior to the videoconference. The drawings and words that they use will help you gauge their pre-conceptions as well as prepare them for encountering new information.

Pre-Conference Activity

A pre-conference activity that encourages students to discuss and organize the questions they might ask during the conference.

Post-Conference Assessment

Each student should complete the post-conference assessment after the program. You should compare this assessment to the student pre-assessment sheet (all grade levels).

Post-Conference Activity

The post-conference activity will help your students transfer their McDonald Observatory experience back to the classroom science curriculum. If you did not complete the suggested pre-conference activities, you can still enrich your students' learning experience by doing our suggested post-conference activities. These activities are designed to provide linkage between the videoconference and your classroom science program.

Related TEKS, NSES

This is a document that lists related Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and National Science Education Standards curriculum linkages for each videoconference.

Videoconference Evaluation Form

We ask that you complete this evaluation form following the videoconference.

Additional PDF’s

Any additional PDF’s or supporting Powerpoints contained within an activity.

 

 

Prepare for your Teacher Workshop

Well in advance of your workshop you will be notified of a website specifically meant for your workshop.  When you are provided the URL, please carefully review the information provided for your workshop.  The URL will be provided in future email coorespondence from the K-12 Education and Outreach staff at the UT McDonald Observatory.

CAST Meeting 2019

Join us at CAST in Dallas this November

 

Friday November 22
10:30 AM - 11:30 AM
Mysteries of the Universe - Dark Matter & Galaxies
Hilton Anatole, Room: Stemmons C, half circle

What is the Universe made of? We now know that most of the mass of the Universe is dark and not very well explained. So what is Dark Matter and how does it influence our own Milky Way Galaxy, its formation, and its neighborhood? Join McDonald Observatory educators as we explore these big ideas with hands-on models and activities. Handouts and resources will be provided.

4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
ISEA Presents: Elements of the Cosmos with McDonald Observatory
Hilton Anatole, Room: Obelisk A

The present-day universe owes its rich tapestry of elements and chemistry to the stars. What have new observations related to gravitational waves and neutron star mergers taught us about the production of certain elements? Learn about the synthesis of various elements in the cosmos, with hands-on models and activities.

Saturday, November 23
12:30 PM - 1:30 PM

TESTA Presents:  Solar System Models with McDonald Observatory
Hilton Anatole, Room: Stemmons A, half circle

Join McDonald Observatory as we present and model a series of scale-model astronomy lessons. Activities will be presented on the following content areas: sizes and distances in the solar system, modeling positions of solar system objects in the night sky, and lunar phases. All activities will focus on scale modeling, and some will emphasize active learning. Learn how these activities fit into content in Earth and Space Science TEKS in Grades K-5 and 6-8.


K-12 Professional Development Opportunities and Acknowledgements

Thanks to our workshop sponsors

The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation, the Permian Basin Area Foundation, and the following educational endowments help to support McDonald Observatory's K-12 teacher programs: Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, Carolyn Frost Keenan and Charlie Gaines, Hugh Gragg, Lynn Lyles Brill, Leopold Tedesco, Pam and Rom Welborn, Mesa Engineering in honor of David L. Lambert, Bill and Alice Wright, Mary Ann Rankin Endowment for UTeach Workshops, and Mary Kay Hemenway. Additional support is proivded by the National Science Foundation. Click here for more information on creating an education endowment or making a planned gift to create an endowment.

Price Increase Effective June 1, 2013

Important information for future visitors: Starting June 1st, 2013, prices for program passes purchased at the Visitors Center on the day of your visit will increase and no group discounts will be calculated. Passes purchased online in advance will remain the same as they are now and will receive the various group purchase discounts. To receive the best value for your money, we strongly encourage you to plan to purchase your passes in advance online.

As of June 1, 2013, tickets purchased at the Visitors Center, will be priced as follows:

Day Pass: Adult $9, Military/Senior/UT $8, Kids 6-12 $8
Twilight Prog: Adult $6, Military/Senior/UT $6, Kids 6-12 $6
Star Party: Adult $14, Military/Senior/UT $12, Kids 6-12 $10

Astronomy Day! McDonald Observatory's 75th Birthday Party! FREE Videoconference Programs.

The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory and RETN Connect2Texas invite students and their teachers to celebrate "Astronomy Day 2013! McDonald Observatory's 75th Birthday Party!" by participating in free videoconferences in September and October 2013.  In addition to McDonald Observatory's proud milestone, NASA has proclaimed 2013 as the Year of The Solar System.  During these free videoconferences, students will make live observations of the moon using McDonald telescopes, complete a cratering activity, learn about lunar surface features, and ask their questions to facilitator Marc Wetzel.  Classroom teachers will receive pre- and post-videoconference materials, student activity sheets, and more.  We hope that our Astronomy Day 2013! McDonald Observatory's 75th Birthday Party! videoconference will excite your students about science and technology. We've designed this videoconference session to align with TEKS for grades 3-8.

Dates:
Thursday, Sept. 26.
Friday, Sept. 27.
Monday, Sept. 30.
Tuesday, Oct 1.

Times:
Each day starting at 9am, 10am, and 11am.

There is no limit to how many classrooms can view a single videoconference.

Register for the dates/times you would like to participate.

By the Numbers: Audiences and Media

2.1 MILLION daily radio listeners in more than 300 markets nation¬wide

3.3 MILLION annual page views via StarDate.org

MILLIONS via international, national, state, and local media awareness

250 Board of Visitor members and 1,000+ Friends of McDonald Observatory

60,000–80,000 visitors a year at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center

10,000+ K-12 students and their teachers reached onsite and via videoconference

 

Present & Past

Directory
Want to find an astronomer, staffer, or student at the Observatory or in the UT Austin Astronomy Program? Check the Astronomy Program Directory.

Timeline
Learn more about the history of the Observatory through our interactive timeline, and suggest milestones to add to it.

Memories Blog
Have a favorite memory of McDonald Observatory? Share your stories and photos of the Observatory on our interactive blog, and read others' stories from the 1930s right up until today.

Scout Night Behavior Expectations


YOU and your fellow leaders are responsible for your scouts' behavior at all times. Please have your scout leaders with your scouts at all times and particularly while they shop in the Gift Shop or eat in the Café. By making reservations, you are agreeing to abide by the following behavioral expectations:

Please share the above rules with each member of your troop. It only takes poor behavior on the part of one scout to ruin the night for the entire group.

Only troops agreeing to the above will be permitted to remain at the program. If you do not agree to comply with the above requirements and wish to leave now, please see the staff at the Information Desk to arrange a refund.

A formatted PDF document of these expectations suitable for printing and distributing to your scouts and leaders is available via this link.




StarDate Cafe menu items available on Scout Nights:

 

 

Mysteries of the Universe, Dark Matter, Galaxies, & More

San Antonio Teacher Training Astronomy Academy

June 12-14, 2019

 

General Information

Information relating to your specific workshop

Site Map

Packing List

Astronomers Lodge Guidelines

Link List

NealFest 2013 Registration Payment

Thank you for registering for NealFest: Observing the Universe from Molecules to Galaxies being held at The University of Texas at Austin on April 24-27, 2013. We are looking forward to your participation in this exciting symposium honoring Dr. Neal Evans and recognizing his outstanding and distinguished career.

Your Registration Confirmation and Invoice reflects the activities you and your guest (if appliciable) are registered for and the fees associated with those activities. Please review your registration confirmation and fees and if correct, enter the total due amount in the remittance box below.

If you have any questions or need to make changes to your registration, please contact Kelly Quinney at kquinney@astro.as.utexas.edu or 512-471-7304.

BashFest 2013 Registration Payment

Thank you for registering for BashFest: New Horizons in Astronomy being held at The University of Texas at Austin on October 6-8, 2013. We are looking forward to your participation in this exciting symposium honoring Dr. Frank N. Bash and bringing together young researchers on the cutting edge of astronomy and astrophysics.

Your Registration Confirmation and Invoice reflects the activities you and your guest (if applicable) are registered for and the fees associated with those activities. Please review your registration confirmation and fees and if correct, enter the total due amount in the remittance box below.

If you have any questions or need to make changes to your registration, please contact Kelly Quinney at kquinney@astro.as.utexas.edu or 512-471-7304.

Support Astronomy Education & Outreach

Did you enjoy playing Super Planet Crash? Great!

Your donation in any amount will help support McDonald Observatory's astronomy education and outreach programs, including StarDate and our programs for teachers and students. Thank you!

South by High Redshift Payment Form

Annual Fund

Gifts made to the Annual Fund will ensure a stable base of operating funds for McDonald Observatory’s work in science education and public outreach. Hands-on science lessons for students, teacher professional development workshops, Visitors Center programs, and our flagship StarDate Radio program, which reaches 700,000 listeners a day, are a few of the programs that Annual Fund gifts support.

Through these contributions, McDonald Observatory gives life-changing science experiences to students who otherwise lack access to science and technoglogy. Teachers, who often do not feel qualified to teach difficult science concepts, are trained and prepared to engage students in the classroom. 

To give a 100% tax-deductible gift to the Annual Fund, simply donate online or mail in your contribution to the address below. Thank you for partnering with us in this important work.

Mail
The McDonald Observatory Annual Fund
2515 Speedway C1402
Austin, TX 78712

Call: 512-475-8843
Email: friends@mcdonaldobservatory.org

Donate Online

Cost of a one-year subscription to StarDate magazine

Public Viewing at Painter Hall - 7 pm

Public Viewing at Painter Hall - 8:30 pm

Public Viewing at RLM Hall - 7 pm

Public Viewing at RLM Hall - 8:30 pm

Thanksgiving - Visitors Center Closed

Public Viewing at Painter Hall - 9 pm

Public Viewing at RLM Hall - 9 pm

75th Anniversary Kick-off

Dr. Frank Bash, McDonald Observatory director 1991-2003

Join us on Saturday, October 19, for a free reception and talk by Dr. Frank Bash to celebrate the kick-off of McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary year!

The reception will begin at 6 p.m., followed by a talk by Dr. Frank Bash at 7 p.m. The event will be held at the Blanton Museum's Edgar A. Smith Building on The University of Texas at Austin campus. A map and directions are available from the Blanton website.

Dr. Bash's talk will be on "The Frontier and McDonald Observatory." Dr. Bash writes, When McDonald Observatory was founded in the 1930s, it was located in remote West Texas — at the frontier. Today, we actually can measure what we don’t know about the universe. We understand less than 4% of its content. One sees a picture of astronomers at the edge of a new frontier peering into a truly vast unknown. I will discuss my view of some important problems in astronomy and McDonald Observatory’s contributions to solving them. The last one of those is a project to better understand dark energy, which comprises 73% of the universe. The future is truly exciting."

Small Stars in a Large Context: All Things White Dwarf

Join Dr. Don Winget on Tuesday, January 14, for a Distinguished Lecture Series presentation at The Houston Museum of Natural Science celebrating McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary. A free 5 p.m. reception will be held prior to his 6:30 p.m. lecture on white dwarf stars and their many uses. Tickets are required for the lecture, and are available from the museum.

Dubbed “Impossible Stars” by the famous astronomer Arthur Eddington, white dwarfs are the simplest stars with the simplest surface chemical compositions known. At McDonald Observatory's May 5, 1939, dedication, it was announced that, "One of the first tasks to be undertaken by the staff of the McDonald Observatory will be to investigate further the mysteries of the white dwarfs.” Today, as the observatory prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary, McDonald leads in investigating white dwarfs along several avenues: telescope observations, theory, and most recently, the making of star-stuff using the most powerful X-ray source on Earth at Sandia National Laboratory. This talk by McDonald Observatory astronomer Don Winget, one of the world's leading experts on white dwarfs, will examine the how studies of these stars can shed light on everything from the age of the universe to the understanding of dark matter and dark energy.

Don Winget is the Harlan J. Smith Centennial Professor in Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses the burnt-out stars called white dwarfs and their many uses as cosmic clocks, dark matter detectors, and more. He recently received a Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award from the University of Texas System Board of Regents. 

Tickets for this event are available from the museum's online box office.

The Lab: A Night at the Perot Museum

Explore the cosmos at Dallas' Perot Museum on Thursday, May 1st, during an evening of astronomy experiments, demonstrations and a talk by featured guest Dr. David L. Lambert, Director of McDonald Observatory.

Dr. Lambert will speak about "The W. J. McDonald Observatory: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow."

All you need to get in on the fun is the cost of general admission to the Perot Museum. Your exhibit hall ticket for May 1 will give you free acess to this program. The Perot Museum will stay open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on first Thursdays. Come early and stay late!

Tickets are available from the museum.

 

The McDonald Observatory and Dark Energy

Join Dr. Tom Barnes, McDonald Observatory's Superintendent, as he gives a talk on McDonald Observatory's planned research into dark energy to a meeting of the Fort Davis Historical Society at 6:30 p.m. at the Jeff Davis County Library. This event is free and open to the public.

Open House

In this aerial view, the two large domes in the foreground are the 2.1-meter Str

Come celebrate our 75th anniversary with us at a free Open House!

Please note that due to capacity and safety regulations, some events, though free of charge, will require reservations. They are noted below. For reservations and other information, go to our Open House reservations page.

Daytime Events:

Safe viewing of the Sun (weather permitting)

Balloons and face painting

Exhibit of 75th anniversary-themed art from local area school children

Fire Truck display

Award-winning 75th Anniversary float display

Historical display in the Visitors Center

Talks, inside the Visitors Center theater (reservations required):

  • The W. J. McDonald Observatory: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, by McDonald Director Dr. David L. Lambert
  • Hunting for Alien Worlds, by Dr. Fritz Benedict
  • Dark Energy and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX), by Dr. Niv Drory

Tours:

  • Late afternoon guided tour of 82-inch Otto Struve Telescope, including telescope views of Jupiter (weather permitting). Reservations required. (Program will require climbing two flights of steps at ~ 6800 feet elevation.)
  • 107-inch Harlan J. Smith Telescope: Gallery open for self-guided tours. (Viewing gallery access will require climbing four flights of steps at ~ 6800 feel elevation.)
  • Hobby-Eberly Telescope: Open for self-guided tours.

Nighttime Events (weather permitting):

Views of Jupiter beginning at ~ 8:00 p.m. (Visitors Center Telescope Park) continuing through end of Open House.

Views of Mars beginning at ~ 8:30 p.m. (Visitors Center Telescope Park) continuing through end of Open House.

Constellation Tours (unaided-eye tours of the night sky) at 9:30 & 10:30 p.m. (Visitors Center Amphitheater).

Views of the Red Planet, Mars, on the 82-inch Otto Struve Telescope at 9:15 p.m. Reservations required. (Program will require climbing two flights of steps at ~ 6800 feet elevation at night.)

For reservations and other information, go to our Open House reservations page.

McDonald Observatory: 75 Years of Stargazing exhibit

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

McDonald Observatory is partnering with the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum to produce an exhibit celebrating our 75-year history. Don't miss it!

The exhibit will run in May and June 2014 in the upstairs rotunda of the museum. Additional events, including an opening reception and talks from McDonald astronomers, are planned to coincide with the exhibit. See separate listings for those.

The W. J. McDonald Observatory: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Dr. David Lambert, director of McDonald Observatory

Join the Paris, Texas, chapter of the Texas Exes and McDonald Observatory for a 75th anniversary celebration in the hometown of observatory benefactor William Johnson McDonald. This luncheon will feature a talk entitled "The W. J. McDonald Observatory: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" by observatory Director Dr. David L. Lambert.

This event is free, but reservations are required. Please send your name and guest names to MCD75PARIS@astro.as.utexas.edu.

Hunting for Alien Worlds

Join us at San Antonio's Witte Museum for a celebration of McDonald Observatory's 75th Anniversary, in conjunction with the museum's exhibit "Alien Worlds and Androids." The event runs 6:30-8:30 p.m., and includes a science talk by McDonald Observatory astronomer George F. (Fritz) Benedict, refreshments, and views of the exhibit.

Benedict's talk will focus on alien worlds — specifically, telescope searches for planets around other stars. His research encompasses this field, as well as studies of special stars used as "standard candles" to define cosmic distances, and more. He also helped design and pioneer the use of Hubble Space Telescope. 

Reservations are required; please call the museum at (210) 357-1910. Suggested donation for admission is $5 for members and students and $10 for adults.

Black Holes, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy through the Eyes of Texas

Karl Gebhardt

Join us at Texas A&M International University's Vergara Science Center in Laredo for a celebration of McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary! Following a reception that begins at 6:30 p.m., McDonald Observatory astronomer Karl Gebhardt will give a talk at 7:30 p.m. about cutting-edge science happening at McDonald now. 

Gebhardt says: We are living through a remarkable era for astronomy where we are understanding the basic properties of the universe. These include dark energy which determines how the universe expands, dark matter that is the dominate component of mass in the universe, and black holes which are gravity's ultimate triumph. I will present the current state of knowledge for each of these, and discuss future advances primarily coming from the Hobby-Eberly Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX). 

Admission is free, but registration is requested. Please send your name and guest names to: MCD75LAREDO@astro.as.utexas.edu.

Relativity Lecture Series

Dr. Matthew Shetrone

Join us at the Blakemore Planetarium at Midland's Museum of the Southwest for a celebration of McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary! As part of the planetarium's ongoing Relativity lecture series, McDonald Observatory astronomer Matthew Shetrone will speak about how stars form in our own Milky Way and in distant galaxies. The event will also include a planetarium show.

Shetrone's talk is called "New Frontiers in Globular Cluster Research." He says:

It is thought that all stars form in clusters. Globulars are dense clusters that have survived from the beginnings of the Milky Way. If we want to understand the early days and formation of the Milky Way or any other galaxy, then studies of globular clusters are a good way to accomplish this. At the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory, we have been conducting two experiments to understand how much of the Milky Way's halo may have been formed from globular clusters and how we can use globular clusters to study galaxy formation in distant galaxies.

More information coming soon on this event. Stay tuned!

New Frontiers in Globular Cluster Research

Dr. Matthew Shetrone

Join us at the Garrison Campus Center (Mabee Room) at Abilene's McMurry University for a reception and science talk celebrating McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary. The reception will begin at 6:30 p.m., with the talk following at 7:30 p.m. McDonald Observatory astronomer Matthew Shetrone will speak on "New Frontiers in Globular Cluster Research," discussing how stars formed in our galaxy and in distant galaxies.

Shetrone says: It is thought that all stars form in clusters. Globulars are dense clusters that have survived from the beginnings of the Milky Way. If we want to understand the early days and formation of the Milky Way or any other galaxy, then studies of globular clusters are a good way to accomplish this. At the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory, we have been conducting two experiments to understand how much of the Milky Way's halo may have been formed from globular clusters and how we can use globular clusters to study galaxy formation in distant galaxies. 

To attend this free event, please send your name and guest names to: mcd75@astro.as.utexas.edu

Cosmic Catastrophes: Supernovae Through Space and Time

Join us at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth for a celebration of McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary! Following a reception that begins at 6:30 p.m., University of Texas at Austin astronomer J. Craig Wheeler will talk at 7:30 p.m. about the science of the exploding stars called supernovae.

Wheeler says: Supernovae are cosmic catastrophes that end the lives of stars and play a central role in the complex ecology of evolving galaxies. They have been witnessed throughout recorded history, provide the "star stuff" of life, often leave behind exotic compact remnants -- neutron stars and black holes -- and are used to determine the fundamental properties of our expanding, accelerating universe. Understanding the physics behind various types of explosions remains a fundamental challenge.

Admission to this event is free, but registration is requested. Please send your name and guest names to MCD75FORTWORTH@astro.as.utexas.edu.

The Trinity Valley School is located at 7500 Dutch Branch Rd., Fort Worth, TX, 76132

Open House - All Day

Billions of Years in the Making: Very Distant Galaxies and the HETDEX Project at McDonald Observatory

Steven Finkelstein

Join us at the Bullock Texas State History Museum for a talk by Dr. Steven Finklestein on Saturday, May 10 at 2 p.m.

Steve is an assistant professor of astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. In this talk, he will discuss how astronomers discover extremely distant galaxies and what those galaxies can tell us about the evolution of the early universe, 13 billion years in the past.

Steve will also discuss HETDEX, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment which will soon begin at McDonald Observatory. He will explain his role in this project, which will probe millions of galaxies to learn more about the mysterious force called “dark energy” causing the universe to expand faster over time.

This free talk is given in conjunction with the free exhibit “The McDonald Observatory: 75 Years of Stargazing.”

Exploring New Worlds: Planets Orbiting Other Stars

Join us at the Bullock Texas State History Museum for a talk by Dr. William Cochran on Saturday, May 24 at 2 p.m.

Bill is a research professor at The University of Texas at Austin, and a member of the science team for NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. He will discuss how astronomers find planets orbiting stars other than the Sun, and how he and his team follow up these discoveries using telescopes at McDonald Observatory. These studies involve decoding planetary orbits, the chemical content of planetary atmospheres, and more. Bill will also discuss the synergy between the Kepler Space Telescope and the McDonald telescopes.

This free talk is given in conjunction with the free exhibit “The McDonald Observatory: 75 Years of Stargazing.”

 

Thanksgiving - Visitors Center Closed

Christmas - Visitors Center Closed

New Years Day - Visitors Center Closed

Solar Viewing & Tour - 11am and 2pm

DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME BEGINS - Clocks ahead one hour

DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME ENDS - Clocks back one hour

SPRING BREAK - Star Party - 8:45pm

Star Party - 7pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 6:45pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 5:30pm

SPRING BREAK - Twilight Programs - Multiple Times

82" Special Viewing Night - 6:30pm

Star Party - 7pm

Star Party - 7:30pm

Star Party - 9:15pm

Star Party - 9:30pm

Star Party - 9:45pm

Star Party - 9:30pm

Star Party - 8:45pm

Star Party - 8:15pm

Star Party - 7pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 6:00pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 6:00pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 6:00pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 7:15pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 7:15pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 7:45pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 7:45pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 7:45pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 8:00pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 8:00pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 8:00pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 8:15pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 8:15pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 8:15pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 8:15pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 8:15pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 8:00pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 8:00pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 8:00pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 7:15pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 7:15pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 6:45pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 6:45pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Modeling the Night Sky" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 5:30pm

Twilight Program - "Earth's Companion: The Moon" - 7:15pm

SPRING BREAK - Star Party - 7:30pm

Exploring Galaxies and the Cosmos

Galaxy Classification Activity

Click here to link to the activity online

(It's recommended to review the online activity before downloading the following PDF files)

Student Worksheet
Student Image Sheet
Hubble Classification Sheet

Multi-wavelength Astronomy Activity

An activity about gathering and interpreting astronomical data in many wavelengths

Multi-wavelength Astronomy - The Teacher's Guide (PDF)
Standards and suggestions for implementation, and general instructions and answers to questions in Student Guide.

Student Guide and Worksheet
The main activity sheet - also contains information on the telescopes used to gather images on the galaxy cards.

False Coloring
Student exercise on resolution and false colors

Accompanying PowerPoint
Many color images of galaxies, as well as an evaluation exercise, are included in the PowerPoint presentation.

Galaxy Cards

Cards with galaxy images, used in the student worksheet

  • Black images on a white background (that is, negatives) are provided in this PDF document (Recommended, saves toner and paper), OR
  • White images on a black background are provided in this PDF document
  • An extended set for evaluation are provided in this PDF document (optional)

Optional Materials

Telescopes used to obtain the images are provided in this PDF document

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills
TEKS related to the activity

Lives of Stars Activity

A "dramatic" look at Stellar Evolution

Stellar Evolution - The Teacher's Guide
Standards and suggestions for implementation, and general instructions and answers to questions in Student Guide

Student Guide and Worksheet
The "drama" for students plus worksheets

The Galaxies and Cosmos Exporer Tool
An online tool to investigate galaxies

Support from NASA grants NAG5-13063 and NASA NNG 06GB99G, NSF grant AST-0607748 to Principle Investigator Dr. Shardha Jogee and a Faculty And Student Teams for Technology (FAST Tex) award from the University of Texas Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment (DIIA) is gratefully acknowledged.

Orion Festival

Orion Circle members enjoy a private party at the Observatory's House A.Orion Circle members enjoy a private party at the Observatory's House A.

The annual Orion Festival at McDonald Observatory is a special, day-long event hosted by Director Taft Armandroff. The event gives members an intimate McDonald experience — replete with science talks, astronomy conversation and activities, and a private special viewing night (weather permitting).

The 2016 Orion Festival will be held on Saturday, October 1 with events beginning in the early afternoon.

For reservations at the Astronomers' Lodge, please make your reservation online. You may also make reservation in Fort Davis and the surrounding area. For area lodging, please visit the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce. For questions about other matters, please contact the Friends of McDonald Observatory at 512-475-8843 or e-mail friends@mcdonaldobservatory.org.

Student Programs

Inspire your students with a "virtual" or an on-site McDonald Observatory field trip!

Videoconference Programs

Astro day 2006During the "Live From McDonald Observatory" videoconference program, students connect with the UT McDonald Observatory and participate in activities, virtual tours, live telescope observations, and more. Our "Live From McDonald Observatory" Videoconference Programs connect McDonald Observatory educators directly to your classroom to excite students about science and technology. Students experience a virtual tour of McDonald Observatory telescopes, observe the Sun, Moon, or Venus live with videoconference telescopes, complete a hands-on activity, and more. Upcoming special programs:

November 6-8, 2019 - Astronomy Day 2019! Observing the Sun
November 11, 2019 - Transit of Mercury!
December 12-13, 2019 - Observing the Sun
January 20-21, 2020 - Observing the Sun
April 15-17, 2020 - Astronomy Day 2020!

Get more details and request a program. 

On-Site Student Experiences

Our K-12 Student Field Experiences immerse students in an authentic science environment at the McDonald Observatory. These programs enrich classroom instruction and immerse learners of all ages in an environment of modern astronomical research and applied STEM. Choose from a variety of programs with content designed for all grade levels.  Student Field Experience programs can accommodate up to 60 students.  A limited number of programs can accommodate groups up to 80.

Get more details and request a program.

Student Field ExperiencePrimary grade students explore the Sun

For All Students

For all student groups, we offer the three main activities:

Activity (Grades) Science TEKS & TAKS What you and your students do... Duration
Explore McDonald Observatory
(K-12)
TEKS: Scientific Inquiry, 5.8, IPC 4, Ast 3(D)
TAKS Objectives: Grade 5 (1, 3) Grade 10 (1, 5)
The Observatory is not just a research facility; it is also a community. Students will discover how astronomers investigate the universe, how our support staff keeps the Observatory operating and how the Observatory operates like a small town of 80 people. 40 - 50 mins.
Decoding Starlight Exhibit
(K-12)
TEKS: 8.13, IPC 5, IPC 7, Phy 9, Ast 6
TAKS Objectives: Grade 5 (1, 3) Grade 10 (1, 4, 5)

Weather permitting, students will see a live absorption spectrum of the Sun, spread out over 2 meters wide.  In the exhibit hall, your students will explore light and spectroscopy, and complete a TEKS/TAKS based worksheet called the Decoding Starlight Student Exhibit Guide.  The Student Exhibit Guide (available in English and Spanish) helps focus student's attention on TEKS specific content, patterns, and connections between concepts.  

40 - 50 mins.
Exploring the Sun
(K-12)
TEKS: 3.11, 4.11, 6.13, 8.13, IPC 8, Ast 8
TAKS Grade 5 (1, 3, 4) Grade 10 (1, 4)
Weather permitting, students view real-time video of the Sun in our multi-media theater, using our state-of-the-art, remote operated telescope video system.  Your facilitator will steer two 76mm (3-inch) TeleVue refractors atop a Celestron 356mm (14-inch) reflecting telescope.  Students will observe live, digital video of sunspots in the Photosphere in white light, and prominences and flares in the Chromosphere in H-Alpha.  In the event of clouds, we will use digital video recorded previously.  Facilitators also use demonstrations to help facilitate TEKS/TAKS objectives. 30 mins.

 

Spring Break 2014 Hours and Programs

Spring Break for most Texas schools in 2014 is March 8-15. To accommodate the high number of visitors we see during this peak period, the Frank Bash Visitors Center will be offering additional Guided Tours, Solar Viewings, Twilight Programs, and Star Parties for this week only. Please note that the Guided Tours, Solar Viewings, Twilight Programs, and Star Parties are separate programs. The content of one is not included in the others. Signing up for one program does NOT entitle you to participate in another. Sign up for each program you plan to attend. While the Guided Tours and Solar Viewings have a combined pass much of year, to accommodate the much larger Spring Break crowds, these programs are separated during the week of Spring Break. To do both programs, sign up for each individually. Both Solar Viewings and Guided Tours begin at the Visitors Center during Spring Break. If your plans call for joining a Tour prior to a Solar Viewing, please allow 10-15 minutes to travel from the Tour ending location back to the Visitors Center.

Prices listed below for Twilight Programs and Star Parties are for online reservations only - prices for Twilight Programs and Star Parties are higher for passes purchased in person at the Visitors Center.  The prices listed for Spring Break Solar Viewings and Guided Tours are the same whether purchased online or in person at the Visitors Center.

We're open every day from 10 AM - 5:30 PM and on Star Party nights, 10 AM through the end of Star Party (March 8-15 only).

For those planning to join a Star Party program, please note that the Moon is at 1st Quarter on the 8th and Full on the 16th. This means we'll have modestly bright to very bright nighttime skies this Spring Break. Of course, this also means we'll have plenty of views of the Moon.

All of the above information is valid only for the week of March 8-15, 2014. Please stop at The Frank Bash Visitors Center for more information.

Self Guided Tours of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope are available every day from 10 AM - 5 PM

Program Schedule Adult Senior/Military Child (6-12)

Daytime Programs
LIVE Solar Viewings and Guided Tours
  Solar Viewings ~ 45-50 mins
  Guided Tours ~ 75-80 mins 


Purchase Passes Online

GUIDED TOURS
March 8-15:
10:30, 11:15* AM
12:00, 12:45*, 1:30, 2:15*, 3:00, and 3:45 PM

March 10,11,12,14, & 15:
All tours listed above, plus
additional tour at 4:30 PM

*These tours may not be held March 9 & 15 - see
reservation system for program availability.

Please allow 10-15 minutes of travel time
between Guided Tours and Solar Viewings.

$6

$5

$5


SOLAR VIEWINGS
March 8-15:
11:00 AM
12:30, 2:00, and 3:30 PM

March 10,11,12,14, & 15:
All viewings listed above, plus
additional program at 5:00 PM

Please allow 10-15 minutes of travel time
between Guided Tours and Solar Viewings.
$4 $3 $3

Twilight Program
Educational Pre-Star Party Program
Modeling the Solar System ~ 70 mins 

Saturday, March 8:
4:45 and 6:05 PM (Central Standard Time)

Monday, March 10
Tuesday, March 11
Wednesday, March 12
Friday, March 14
Saturday, March 15:
6:00 and 7:20 PM (Central Daylight Time)

Depending upon weather, there may be an additional
Twilight Program session on the nights listed above.
If the dates you're interested in are full, please either
choose a different date or check back as we get closer
to the date in question.  Additional sessions may be
added if the weather forecast looks promising.

$5

$5

$5

Star Party
Evening Telescope Viewing ~ 2-2.5 hours

Saturday, March 8:
7:30 PM (Central Standard Time)

Monday, March 10
Tuesday, March 11
Wednesday, March 12
Friday, March 14
Saturday, March 15:
8:45 PM (Central Daylight Time)

$12 $10 $8

Your BoV Meeting Registration Has Been Received

Many thanks for registering for the July 13-14, 2012, Board of Visitors meeting. 

Dan Cournoyer
Development Assistant
512-471-3303
cournoyer@astro.as.utexas.edu

Subscribe to SkyTips

SkyTips is a monthly email newsletter for visitors to McDonald Observatory and StarDate Online. Each issue features stargazing highlights, upcoming StarDate radio program descriptions, and other news.

Comments, Questions, and Internet Links

Here are some questions that people frequently ask when planning a visit to McDonald Observatory.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are your recommendations for places to stay while visiting McDonald Observatory?
  2. Are Star Parties canceled on cloudy or rainy nights?
  3. How do I get to McDonald Observatory?
  4. What can I do if I visit McDonald Observatory?
  5. Is the Observatory handicap-accessible?
  6. Will the Observatory/Visitors Center be open on (holidays, special dates, etc.)?
  7. Can you mail me some/all of this information?
  8. Can I get a nighttime tour of the Observatory?
  9. Do your public programs require reservations?
  10. What is the best time to visit the Observatory?
  11. I'm traveling with young children. Why do the Star Parties have to start so late in the Summer?
  12. I don't have a telescope, can I still join a Star Party?
  13. I have my own telescope, can I set up during the Star Party?
  14. What is your policy on pets at your programs?
  15. Are there waiting lists for your Special Viewing Nights programs?
  16. What is the nearest airport and car rental to the Observatory?
  17. Are there places to eat at the Observatory?
  18. Are there RV hook-ups and/or camping facilities at the Observatory?
  19. How far in advance do I need to make reservations for a private program?
  20. Can large groups join the regular public programs?
  21. I'm interested is seeing the Aurora Borealis, when can I come to the Observatory to see them?
  22. How many people typically attend one of the Star Party programs?
  23. Do you offer a discount for students/faculty/staff of the University of Texas?
  24. Why don't you show us live views from the research telescopes?
  25. Why don't you use cameras and video displays to show objects being viewed at the Star Parties?
  26. Can I refuel my vehicle (gas/diesel/electricity) at the Observatory?

Answers to the FAQs

What are your recommendations for places to stay while visiting McDonald Observatory?

An up-to-date listing of all accommodations in the Fort Davis area is available through the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce web site.

Are Star Parties canceled on cloudy or rainy nights?

No, Star Parties are held rain or shi ... er ... well ... clear skies. If it's too cloudy/rainy/windy/dusty/humid (we get strange weather up here sometimes) to do our observing, we conduct indoor programs instead. These may include "virtual" Sky tours, spectroscopy demonstrations (an activity designed to give our visitors a better understanding of how astronomers learn about the universe), or presentations on satellite viewing. Occasionally, research astronomers will join us to provide talks on their current research programs. Because we have such a wide array of interesting, educational programs to present on these nights, many visitors who've joined both clear-night and cloudy-night programs tell us that they feel like they learned even more about astronomy on the cloudy-night. We do understand that some folks, for whatever reason, may not want to stay for these indoor programs. For those who decide NOT to participate in any of our indoor activities, open-ended reschedules are typically offered. Refunds, minus a small processing fee, are typically also made available on completely cloudy/rainy nights. The reschedule and refund process will be discussed at the beginning of the program or at whatever time it is deemed that a nominal Star Party program cannot be offered. Reschedules and refunds are typically only offered at the beginning of the program ... after the talks, demos, etc., have begun, we assume those remaining plan to stay.  For more on what happens at our Star Parties, be sure to read the "Learn more about what happens at the Star Parties ..." drop-down text available on the Star Party & Twilight Program page.

How do I get to McDonald Observatory?

Directions to the Observatory from the major highways in the area are available in the Visiting section of our site.

What can I do on a visit to McDonald Observatory?

We offer Daytime Programs and multiple Star Party programs a week as well as occasional Special Viewing programs on our research telescopes. While access to the research telescopes outside of the guided tours is limited, visitors are welcome to explore the grounds 10:00a - 5:00p daily with a self-guided tour map ($1 suggested donation) that you can pick up at the Information Desk.

Is the Observatory wheelchair accessible?

Most spaces are ADA accessible. Our 36" Special Viewing Night and 82" Special Viewing Night are NOT wheelchair accessible. If you're considering joining this program and have accessibility concerns, please call our Visitors Center at (432) 426-3640. In late summer of 2010, we unveiled a spectacular new telescope at our Visitors Center which is specifically designed for wheelchair access.

Will the Observatory/Visitors Center be open on (holidays, special dates, etc.)?

The Visitors Center is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years' Day. Star Party programs are not scheuled on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve. The Gift Shop is closed one day each year near the end of August in order to conduct an annual inventory. If you are wondering if this may happen on the day you're planning to visit, feel free to call us (432-426-3640). Other than these times, the Center is open 10:00 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. every day.

Can you mail me some/all this information?

Our web site is designed to provide the most current information in the most timely way. We have little printed information which is much more generic than what appears on these pages. What we do have printed can be obtained by calling the Visitors Center at 432-426-3640.

Can I get a nighttime tour of the Observatory?

Tours of our facility are conducted every day at 11:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M. Nighttime access is generally restricted to our Rebecca Gale Telescope Park at the Frank Bash Visitors Center where Star Parties are conducted and occasional Special Viewing programs on our research telescopes.

Do your public programs require reservations?

All programs are subject to capacity limits. Reservations are STRONGLY encouraged as many programs sell out in advance. Check our online reservations system for our regular weekly programs, the Guided Tours, Solar Viewings, Twilight Programs, and Star Parties. Reservations are also required (typically months in advance) for our Special Viewing Nights on the 107", 82", and 36" research telescopes.

What is the best time to visit the Observatory?

There's no easy way to answer that one ... it depends on what you want to do or see. To see the research areas, you'll want to visit between 10:00 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. daily (particularly, the Guided Tours.) For nighttime telescope viewing, our Star Parties are your best bet. If you're asking for the best time of year to visit us, typically Autumn brings us our most consistently clear skies. Over the next few years, Spring/Summer will be the best time for seeing Saturn and Jupiter.  If you plan on attending a Star Party, consider the phase of the Moon. With the Moon at any phase between several days before First Quarter and 3 or 4 days past Full, bright moonlight limits our ability to observe faint objects but, of course, gives us great views of the Moon itself. You can see a calendar of Moon phases at StarDate Online to help you make your plans.

I'm traveling with young children. Why do the Star Parties have to start so late in the Summer?

As much as we'd like to start the Star Parties in the Summer at an earlier time, it is just not dark enough to do so until nearly 10:00 P.M. The Observatory is located very far west in the Central Time zone, so while we are in the same time zone as Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin, the times of sunrise and sunset are very different. In fact, the Sun sets at the Observatory almost an hour later than it does in Houston.

I don't have a telescope, can I still join a Star Party?

Having a telescope is not necessary ... we've got quite a few. Come on up and join us for a tour of the night sky. All you really need is a desire to learn about the night sky. Binoculars can help as well (but, once again, they aren't necessary.)

I have my own telescope, can I set up during the Star Party?

The Observatory welcomes volunteers. However, University policy requires volunteers to have a current background check on file with the Observatory before volunteering with the public. If you plan to be in our area and would like to volunteer either with your telescope or using one of ours, please email our volunteer coordinator to find out more about volunteering and the background check process. If, after the background check process, you do plan to set up your own telescope, understand that the public Star Parties frequently accommodate 300-500 attendees. If you would rather not have that many people around your expensive equipment, volunteering to use one of our telescopes is more than appreciated and welcome.

You are also welcome set up your telescope on non-Star Party nights and/or well away from the public telescope park facility. Do note that the Observatory is not a campground or park. If you’re observing, you’re welcome to be on-site. Please do not plan to over-night either with a camper/trailer, RV, or tent.

What is your policy on pets at your programs?

As much as most of us would love to welcome our four-legged furry friends, UT policy, in accordance with the State Attorney's General Office, does not allow pets (including emotional, comfort, etc., therapy/support animals) in Observatory buildings or in indoor/at outdoor public program venues. In accordance with federal regulations, trained service animals accompanying their handlers/owners are welcome.

Are there waiting lists for your Special Viewing Nights programs?

Our online reservation system gives an up-to-date status on the availability of all of our programs.  If the status is showing in red, it means the program is sold out .. green means there are passes available.  If the program in which you're interested is showing as sold out, you may add yourself to an automated waiting list by clicking on the "Waiting List" link.  However, the waiting list does not guarantee you a place on the program in the event of a cancellation.  All the waiting list does is notify you via email in the event of a cancellation.  Once you receive such an email, you'll still need to sign up for the program before anyone else does to secure your spot(s).  You might also find our regular Star Party programs to be quite enjoyable.  While we do occasionally receive requests for cancellations, such requests are rare .. particularly for the various Special Viewing Nights.  We do not maintain call-back lists for our programs.

What is the nearest airport and car rental to the Observatory?

Private airstrips are avialable in Marfa and Alpine (both about 40 miles from the Observatory). Both have car rental services. For commercial flights, the nearest airports are in El Paso (185 miles) and Midland-Odessa (170 miles). Although you can count on roughly 2.5 to 3 hour drives from either, when driving from El Paso you'll lose an hour going from Mountain time (El Paso) to Central time (McDonald).

Are there places to eat at the Observatory?

The StarDate Cafe offers various freshly prepared hot & cold sandwiches as well as various snacks, cold drinks, coffee, hot chocolate, etc. There are many restaurants in Fort Davis offering a reasonably wide variety of food. There are several roadside picnic tables nearby on Hwy 118 (two towards Fort Davis, about 1/2 mile and 2 miles, and another about 1/2 mile towards Kent.) A very nice picnic area, called the Lawrence E. Wood Roadside Rest Area, is about 8 miles northwest of McDonald towards Kent along Hwy 118.

Are there RV hook-ups and/or camping facilities at the Observatory?

The Observatory is a University of Texas research facility and is not associated with the State/National Park systems. Overnight camping/RVing on Observatory grounds is NOT permitted. Please check the official Fort Davis website for a list of area accommodations.

How far in advance do I need to make reservations for a private program?

Private programs must be arranged at least 45 days prior to the date you are requesting. 

Can large groups join the regular public programs?

Groups are more than welcome to join us for any of our programs. Making online reservations is the best way to ensure your group's participation. On occasion, we can offer private activities that may better suit your group's needs. If you have any questions concerning your group's visit, please feel free to contact us.

I'm interested is seeing the Aurora Borealis, when can I come to the Observatory to see them?

The Aurora Borealis is only rarely seen at latitudes below 35 degrees. The Observatory is at 30 degrees north, so seeing the aurorae here is quite rare ... happening perhaps only a half of a dozen times every solar cycle (approx. 11 years.) Typically, solar and geomagnetic activity must be at an extreme maximum for us to see any activity at all and is difficult to predict at best. An excellent resource for learning more about such activity is the NASA supported site called SpaceWeather.com.

How many people typically attend one of the Star Party programs?

Star Party attendance varies throughout the year, but 400-500 visitors is not unusual in the high season. Please see the Star Party averages page for more information on this subject.

Do you offer a discount for students/faculty/staff of the University of Texas?

The Visitors Center offers a discount to current UT students, staff, and faculty with a current valid UT ID. To receive this discount, request passes for CURRENT UT students, staff, or faculty under the "Military/Senior(65+)" category in the reservations section of your program of interest.

Why don't you show us live views from the research telescopes?

When an astronomer does research with a large telescope, the majority of the time, they're not using cameras to produce a pretty picture that would be suitable for displaying on a screen at the Visitors Center or on your computer at home. 80% of the time, astronomers at McDonald are using spectroscopy ... splitting the light of an astronomical object up into its component colors and carefully analyzing that spectrum. The telescopes are generally used to produce large data sets.

Why don't you use cameras and video displays to show objects being viewed at the Star Parties?

We beleive there are other sources of viewing astronomical features online. Star Parties and other events hosted at the Visitors Center provide an opportunity to view features through large telescopes under clear dark skies. There aren't that many places where that's possible. Producing a live image of an astronomical object on a screen requires highly sensitive (and very expensive) cameras to capture the faint light of, say, a distant galaxy. While there are cameras that can do this ... albeit with exposure times of many seconds so the view is not, technically, "live" ... the images that are produced with such devices are generally nowhere near the quality of the images that are produced by cameras that take many minutes to hours of exposure time and a great deal of image-processing work. The human eye, under dark conditions and allowed to fully dark-adapted, is exquisitely sensitive to light and is capable of seeing subtleties of intensity and structure that are lost in video images. We find that most of our visitors want to view directly through our telescopes, so that's what we do. 

Can I refuel my vehicle (gas/diesel/electricity) at the Observatory?

No. The nearest standard fueling stations (i.e, gasoline and diesel) to McDonald Observatory are in Fort Davis, which is 15 miles from the Observatory.  There are no fuels available at the Observatory.

There are currently three electric car charging options in the wide area "near" McDonald Observatory.  One is at El Cosmico in Marfa (https://elcosmico.com, 38 miles from the Observatory), Stable Performance Cars in Alpine (http://thestablealpine.com, 45 miles from the Observatory), and the Balmorhea Visitors Center (50 miles from the Observatory).  As of this time, all of these are the slow chargers that require overnight charging.

Students Programs for Groups of 30 Students or Fewer

The following activities are available for groups of 30 students and fewer. The activity you choose requires students to work in cooperative groups to explore concepts and practice science skills at a deeper level. We are happy to assist you in choosing the most appropriate classroom activity for your students. Recently we have added new activities that focus students' learning on our star, the Sun.

Activity (Grades) Pre-Visit Activity Post-Visit Activity
Our star the Sun
(K-5)
Students make safe observations of the Sun, witness Earth's rotation, and explore our sun model and word wall.
None Students draw the Sun and write what they know about the Sun. 
Shadow Play
(K-4)
Students investigate the Sun's apparent motion in the sky with shadows.

TEKS: Scientific Inquiry, 1.7, 4.6 

None

Make shadows using objects of various shapes (cone, ball, block). Show how the shadow changes when the light is in a different position.

Draw shadows at school several times throughout the day (as in Teacher Guide).

Constellation Games
(K-3)

This activity centers on creativity and pattern finding.

TEKS: K.5, 1.5, 2.5

None Make own constellation based on another real (e.g. Orion or Leo) pattern. Make a story for your constellation.
Planet Tours
(3-6)

Students working in small groups research a member of our solar system.

TEKS 3.11, 6.13 

Learn the names of planets in the solar system.

Distance scale of solar system

Modelos a escala del Sistema Solar

Modeling the night sky from the Teacher Guide

Modelos del cielo nocturno

Solar System Science from the Teacher Guide

Ciencia del sistema solar

Making Scale Models (5-8)
Students discover the distance and volume scale of two Solar System objects.

TEKS: 5.12 
None  
Modeling the Night Sky (3-8)
This solar system activity is a time scale model for the orbital motion of planets in our solar system.

TEKS: Scientific Inquiry, 3.11, 4.6, 5.5, 5.6, 5.12, 6.5 
Learn the names of planets in the solar system. Distance scale of solar system

Modelos a escala del Sistema Solar

Finding locations of moon and planets on a monthly star chart, noting position of ecliptic.
Solar System Science (5-8)
Students explore and compare planets in our solar system.

TEKS Scientific Inquiry, 5.5, 5.12, 6.5, 6.13, Ast 9 (B&D) 
Learn the names of planets in the solar system.
Equatorial Sundial
(5-9)

Students build an equatorial sundial, and use it measure solar time compared to standard time.

TEKS: Scientific Inquiry, 5.6, 7.13 
Make a plot of sunrise and sunset times for your locations for several dates before your trip (one data set per week for several weeks is better than many points for one week). Data can often be found in local newspapers, or at:
US Naval Observatory
StarDate
Make a plot of sunrise and sunset times for your location over a period of several months. Predict the future shape of the curve.

Use the sundial once a month over several months, recording the time shown at clock noon. Use the SUTG to show why the clock time is not exactly the same as the sundial time everyday.
Reflection (Mirror, Mirror)
(5-9)

Students construct for themselves the law of reflection based on empirical evidence.

TEKS: 5.8 
None  
Our star the Sun
(6-8)  
Students make safe observations of the Sun, witness Earth's rotation, explore our sun model and word wall, and learn about seasons.
None Students draw the Sun and write what they know about the Sun.
Telescope Technology (6-12)
Through the set of problem solving challenges, students become members of a model HET. 90 minutes.

TEKS: 8.5
Reflection (REQUIRED)  
Our star the Sun
(9-12) 
Students make safe observations of the Sun, witness Earth's rotation, learn about energy transport and multi-wavelength observations of the sun.
None Students draw the Sun and write what they know about the Sun.
Spectroscope (9-12)
Students build a spectroscope with a diffraction grating and common classroom materials.

TEKS: IPC 5, Chem 6 (A), Ast 6 (B) 
Demonstrate flame spectra in the classroom. Colors of Stars -- For middle/high school,
Estrellas
For high school, other activities from the spectroscopy series
Make your own Galaxy
(9-12)

Students build a scale model of our Galaxy, identify major components, calculate scale distances, and compare neighboring galaxies to neighboring stars.
   
Colors of Stars
(9-10)

Students explore connections between matter, light, color and temp in the context of astronomy and stars.
   

 

Reservation Request Received

Thanks. We have received your Student Field Experience reservation request. The General Student Field Experience takes approximately three hours. Please allow extra time for morning programs that go through the lunch hour (+45 minutes), optional classroom enrichment activity for groups of 30 or fewer students (+1 hour), and extra transition times for groups of over 40 students (+30 minutes). We will be contacting you via email or phone to inform you of your approved date of visit, arrival time, and schedule of activities.

2012 Board of Visitors Meeting Registration is Now Closed

Useful Websites

McDonald Observatory Visitors Information Center - http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/visitors

General Astronomy Information

NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day-http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/astropix.html

NASA- Excellent general astronomy & news site-http://science.nasa.gov/

Royal Greenwich Observatory-http://www.rog.nmm.ac.uk/

Students for the Exploration and Development of Space-http://www.seds.org/

Astronomy for Beginners- http://www.astronomyforbeginners.com

Meteor Related Pages

NAMN-North American Meteor Network http://www.namnmeteors.org/

Meteor (Barringer) Crater, AZ-http://www.barringercrater.com/

Eclipse Information

Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA-http://sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse/eclipse.html

Telescopes/Accessories Online

Orion-http://www.telescope.com/

Meade Instruments-http://www.meade.com/

Celestron International-http://www.celestron.com/products.htm

Discovery Telescopes-http://www.discoverytelescope.com

Oceanside Photo& Telescope-http://www.optcorp.com

Educational

StarDate Online - http://stardate.org

Philip Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog- https://www.syfy.com/tags/bad-astronomy

James Randi Educational Foundation - http://www.randi.org

Skeptics' Guide to the Universe-http://www.theskepticsguide.org/

NASA Main Site (see also "NASA Websites" section below) -http://www.nasa.gov

PBS "Nova" Series (Space Related)-http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/archive/int_spac.html

Light Pollution

International Dark-Sky Association - http://www.darksky.org/

Software

Freeware and Shareware download site - http://downloads.zdnet.com/

Freeware and Shareware download site - http://www.shareware.com/

Starry Night Software - http://www.starrynight.com/

The Sky/Software Bisque - http://www.bisque.com/

VoyagerII/Carina Software - http://www.carinasoft.com/

Astrophotography

Tony & Daphne Hallas page-http://www.astrophoto.com/

Matt BenDaniel's Starmatt Astrophotography Site - http://starmatt.com

Space Telescopes

Hubble Space Telescope-http://hubblesite.org

Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared)-http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/spitzer/index.shtml

Chandra X-Ray Observatory (X-Ray)-http://chandra.harvard.edu/

GALEX: Galaxy Evolution Explorer Telescope-http://www.galex.caltech.edu/

James Webb Space Telescope-http://www.jwst.nasa.gov/

Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer-http://www.swift.psu.edu/

NASA Spaceflight

NASA Home page-http://www.nasa.gov

Venus Express (European Space Agency's Mission to Venus):
http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/area/index.cfm?fareaid=64

Messenger (Mission to Mercury):
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/messenger/main/index.html

Mars Phoenix Mission-http://phoenix.lpl.arizona.edu/

Mars Exploration Rover Mission (Spirit/Opportunity)-http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.html

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter-http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/mro/

Mars Global Surveyor-http://mpfwww.jpl.nasa.gov/mgs/

Cassini/Saturn- http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/home/index.cfm

New Horizons (Mission to Pluto):
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html

Space Shuttle related-http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/

Shuttle landing Groundtracks-http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/realdata/groundtracs/index.html

Marshall Space Flight Center-http://www.nasa.gov/centers/marshall/home/index.html

Space Mission Acronym List - http://ranier.oact.hq.nasa.gov/Sensors_page/MissionLinks.html

Universal Time Signals

USNO Clock-http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/what.html

Observatories

McDonald Observatory-http://mcdonaldobservatory.org

Giant Magellan Telescope-http://www.gmto.org/

South African Astronomical Observatory-http://www.saao.ac.za/

Mt.Wilson Observatory-http://www.mtwilson.edu/

Palomar Observatory-http://www.astro.caltech.edu/palomar/homepage.html

Mauna Kea Observatory-http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko/

La Silla Observatory (Chile)-http://www.ls.eso.org/index.html

Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (Chile)-http://www.ctio.noao.edu/

Special Astrophysical Observatory (Russia)-http://www.sao.ru/Doc-en/index.html

Anglo-Australian Observatory-http://www.aao.gov.au/l

National Optical Astronomy Observatories-http://www.noao.edu/

National Radio Astronomy Observatories-http://www.nrao.edu/

MMT Observatory-http://www.mmto.org/

Lick Observatory-http://www.ucolick.org/

Apache Point Observatory-http://www.apo.nmsu.edu/

Mt. Graham International Observatory-http://mgpc3.as.arizona.edu/

Lowell Observatory-http://www.lowell.edu/

Yerkes Observatory-http://astro.uchicago.edu/yerkes/

S.C.O.P.E Consortium-http://www.as.utexas.edu/mcdonald/scope/

Planetaria

SW Association of Planetariums-http://www.swapskies.org/

Texas Planetaria (list on go-astronomy.com):
http://www.go-astronomy.com/planetariums-state.php?State=TX

Solar Related

Solar activity and its effects on Earth-http://www.spaceweather.com/

Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)-http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/

Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)-http://sdo.gsfc.nasa.gov/

TRACE (Transition Region and Coronal Explorer):
http://trace.lmsal.com/POD/TRACEpod.html

Hinode (Solar-B)-http://solarb.msfc.nasa.gov/

STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory):
http://stereo.gsfc.nasa.gov/

Solar Physics-Why We Study the Sun (NASA)-http://solarscience.msfc.nasa.gov/

Big Bear Solar Observatory-http://www.bbso.njit.edu/

Primer on Space Weather (NOAA)-http://www.sel.noaa.gov/primer/primer.html

High Altitude Observatory (HAO) Education Pages-http://www.hao.ucar.edu/

Lunar & Planetary Related

Earth & Moon Viewer- http://www.fourmilab.ch/earthview/vplanet.html

Lunar & Planetary Institute-http://www.lpi.usra.edu

Nifty Lunar info-http://nineplanets.org

StarDate Solar System Guide-http://stardate.org/resources/ssguide/

Welcome to the Planets/JPL/NASA-http://pds.jpl.nasa.gov/planets/

Publications for Amateur Astronomers

StarDate - http://www.stardate.org/

Sky & Telescope-http://skyandtelescope.com/

Astronomy Mag-http://www.astronomy.com

Satellite tracking

Satellite Visibility Page- http://www.heavens-above.com/
(you'll need your precise lat/lon for accurate predictions ... see Tiger Mapping Services below)

Weather Information

Real-Time Weather Data- http://www.rap.ucar.edu/weather/satellite/

Weather Underground-http://www.wunderground.com

Intellicast-http://www.intellicast.com

The Weather Channel- http://www.weather.com/

UM WX Radsat- http://cirrus.sprl.umich.edu/wxnet/radsat.php

U of WI Cloud cover 4cast- http://www.ssec.wisc.edu/data/index.html#cras

CRWS jetstream 4cast- http://squall.sfsu.edu/crws/jetstream.html

CNN- http://www.cnn.com/WEATHER/images.html

Astronomical Resorts

Stargazers Inn - http://www.stargazersinn.com/

New Mexico Skies-http://www.newmexicoskies.com

Star Hill Inn-http://www.starhillinn.com/StarHillInn.html

Elderhostel Programs

Elderhostel, Inc. - http://www.elderhostel.org/

Seeing the Invisible: Dust in the Universe

Dust is all around us: at home, on Earth, and in space. Explore the properties of dust and the astronomical research of dust in space with these three inquiry based activities from McDonald Observatory.

Resources
About the Spitzer Space Telescope
Dust in your Home and Dust in Space
Resources
Resources and activities for grades K-8 in Spanish
StarDate and Universo radio shows

Activities for grades K - 8
K-2 Dust Hunt
An extension to Dust Hunt is a story sequence activity called Dusty and Ashley's Big Adventure
For this activity, you will also need a picture page.
3-5 How is the Mystery Substance Like Interstellar Dust?
6-8 Properties of Dust

Activity for grades 9-12
"From Molecular Cores to Stars" student guide and teacher guide.

In addition to the PDF files (linked above), you must also download a PowerPoint presentation (Windows or Mac), and two movies: 1994-24-a-low_mpeg.mpg and 2001-13-b-low_mpeg.mpg. The PowerPoint file and both movies must be saved in the same folder on your PC's hard drive. If you do not have Microsoft PowerPoint installed on your computer, please download the presentation in PDF format here.

Telescope Technology for Teachers

GTAG

These activities explore the technology behind the Hobby-Eberly Telescope.

Human HET
TEKS alignments

Challenge 1: Segmented Mirrors (PDF)
The goal of Challenge 1 is to determine a cost-effictive configuration for a primary mirror. Participants experiment with several mirror arrangements to manximize the reflective surface area and minimize the total cost.

Mirror models
Mirror cost chart

Challenge 2: Mirror Array (PDF)
The goal of Challenge 2 is to determine the arrangement of the mirror segments. Some teachers direct the formation of an arc while one stands at the center of curvature. They use a string as the arc radius in order to determine the distance to each mirror segment. Other teachers stand along the arc line holding small flat mirrors.

Challenge 3: Mirror Alignment (PDF)
The goal of Challenge 3 is to align the mirror segments so that they work together as a single large mirror. Each mirror on the HET can move in three ways: tip, tilt, and piston. Members of the mirror arc must move their mirrors into alignment, then hold the mirrors steady.

Challenge 4: Stay Focused (PDF)
The goal of Challenge 4 is to discover why a tracker is needed to follow a star across the sky as Earth rotates beneath the telescope.

Optic Fiber (PDF)
TEKS alignments

Students explore total internal reflection using water, dairy creamer, and a small laser.

For further information, contact Mary Kay Hemenway.

Telescope Technology for Teachers: Human HET - Science and Math TEKS

Challenge 1: Segmented Mirror

Students discover through problem-based learning the cost-effective nature of HET’s mirror array. By solving problems, the students exercise science process skills, apply mathematical knowledge, and test solutions. They discover that instead of a single large mirror, many smaller mirrors acting as one is far less expensive.

Science TEKS: Challenge 1

6.2 7.2 8.2 IPC Physics Astronomy - Scientific processes. The student use scientific methods during field and laboratory investigations.

(A) plan and implement investigative procedures including asking questions, formulating testable hypotheses, and selecting and using equipment and technology;

• Given the problem and some information, students must invent their own problem solving proceedure, then formulate and test their hypothesis.

(C) Analyze and interpret information to construct reasonable explanations from direct and indirect evidence.

• Students create a model array of mirrors out of paper cut outs to help them visualize a solution, and consult a chart of mirror cost vs. diameter

(D) Communicate valid conclusions.

• Present their model and cost estimate to the class.
• The class and presentor ask and answer questions regarding the model.

8.5 - Science concepts.The student knows that relationships exist between science and technology.

(A) identify a design problem and propose a solution;

(B) design and test a model to solve the problem;

(C) evaluate the model and make recommendations for improving the model.

6.5 - Scientific concepts. The student knows that systems may combine with other systems to form a larger system.

(A) Identify and describe a system that results from the combination of two or more systems such as in the solar system.


Math TEKS: Challenge 1
6.6, 6.7, 7.8 Geometry and Spatial Reasoning
6.8, 7.9, 8.8, 8.10 Measurement
6.11, 7.13 Underlying processes and mathematical tools
7.5, 7.5, 8.5, 8.7 Patterns, relationships, and algebraic thinking

Challenge 2: Mirror Array

Given string, meter sticks, mirror segments, students form a model of HET’s mirror array.

Science TEKS: Challenge 2

6.2 7.2 8.2 IPC Physics Astronomy - Scientific processes. The student use scientific methods during field and laboratory investigations.

(A) plan and implement investigative procedures including asking questions, formulating testable hypotheses, and selecting and using equipment and technology;

(B) Analyze and interpret information to construct reasonable explanations from direct and indirect evidence.

(C) Communicate valid conclusions.

8.5 - Science concepts. The student knows that relationships exist between science and technology.

(A) identify a design problem and propose a solution;

(B) design and test a model to solve the problem;

(C) evaluate the model and make recommendations for improving the model.

6.5 - Scientific concepts. The student knows that systems may combine with other systems to form a larger system.

(A) Identify and describe a system that results from the combination of two or more systems such as in the solar system.

Math TEKS: Challenge 2
6.6, 6.7, 7.8, 8.7 Geometry and Spatial Reasoning
6.8, 7.9, 8.8, 8.9 Measurement
6.11, 7.13, 8.14 Underlying processes and mathematical tools
6.5, 7.4 Patterns, relationships, and algebraic thinking

Challenge 3: Mirror Alignment

Devise a method to align the mirrors of the model HET mirror array to the center of curvature.

Science TEKS: Challenge 3

6.2 7.2 8.2 IPC Physics Astronomy - Scientific processes. The student use scientific methods during field and laboratory investigations.

(A) plan and implement investigative procedures including asking questions, formulating testable hypotheses, and selecting and using equipment and technology;

(B) Analyze and interpret information to construct reasonable explanations from direct and indirect evidence.

(C) Communicate valid conclusions.

8.5 - Science concepts.The student knows that relationships exist between science and technology.

(A) identify a design problem and propose a solution;

(B) design and test a model to solve the problem;

(C) evaluate the model and make recommendations for improving the model.

6.5 - Scientific concepts. The student knows that systems may combine with other systems to form a larger system.

(A) Identify and describe a system that results from the combination of two or more systems such as in the solar system.

Math TEKS: Challenge 3
6.6, 6.7, 7.8 Geometry and Spatial Reasoning
6.11, 7.13, 8.14 Underlying processes and mathematical tools

Activity 4: Stay Focused

Discover that the focal region of the telescope moves as a star transits HET’s field of view.

Science TEKS: Challenge 4

6.2 7.2 8.2 IPC Physics Astronomy - Scientific processes. The student use scientific methods during field and laboratory investigations.

(A) plan and implement investigative procedures including asking questions, formulating testable hypotheses, and selecting and using equipment and technology;

(B) Analyze and interpret information to construct reasonable explanations from direct and indirect evidence.

(D) Communicate valid conclusions.

8.5 - Science concepts.The student knows that relationships exist between science and technology.

(A) identify a design problem and propose a solution;

(B) design and test a model to solve the problem;

(C) evaluate the model and make recommendations for improving the model.

6.5 - Scientific concepts. The student knows that systems may combine with other systems to form a larger system.

(A) Identify and describe a system that results from the combination of two or more systems such as in the solar system.

Math TEKS: Challenge 4
6.7, 7.8 Geometry and Spatial Reasoning
6.8 Measurement
6.11, 6.13, 7.13, 7.15, 8.14 Underlying processes and mathematical tools

Telescope Technology for Teachers: Optic Fiber- Science and Math TEKS

Challenge 1: Students devise a way to direct a light beam around an opaque obsticle.

Challenge 2: Students compare thier mirror based solution to a optic fiber based solution.

Challenge 3: Students experiment with a model of an optic fiber and determine the critical angle

Science TEKS Process Skills

6.2 7.2 8.2 IPC Physics Astronomy - The student use scientific methods during field and laboratory investigations.

(A) plan and implement investigative procedures including asking questions, formulating testable hypotheses, and selecting and using equipment and technology;

• Challenge 1: Students plan a mirror arrangement that will direct the beam around the obsticle and test their arrangement. They are also challenged to minimze the number of mirrors needed to direct the light from beginning to end.

8.5 - The student knows that relationships exist between science and technology.

(A) identify a design problem and propose a solution;

•Challenge 1: Although the mirror arrangement directs light to a target, the beam suffers degredation and some light scatters out of the beam. Students grapple with possible solutions to these problems:

• reduce the number of reflecting elements?
• clean the glass?
• smoother surfaces to reduce scatter?

(B) design and test a model to solve the problem;

• Challenge 1 and 2: Students may test several alternative mirror arrangements in order to minimize the number of mirror elements and reduce scattering and beam degredation. They also compare their mirror based solution with an optic fiber based solution.

(C) evaluate the model and make recommendations for improving the model.

• Challenge 1 and 2: Through testing, students evaluate their mirror arrangements and try new arrangements.

Science TEKS Concepts

6.5 Systems may combine with other systems to form a larger system.

(B) describe how the properties of a system are different from the properties of its parts.

• Challenge 3: An optic fiber is a system of parts: core, cladding, jacket, plastic, etc. Each piece has different light transmission and refractive properties. Together, and arranged in the correct way they make a flexible fiber that efficiently guides light.

Physics

(8) Characteristics and behavior of waves
(A) examine and describe a variety of waves propagated in various types of media and describe wave characteristics such as velocity, frequency, amplitude, and behaviors such as reflection, refraction, and interference;

• Challenge 3: Students experiment with an optic fiber model to discover characteristics of the fiber, like the index of refraction of the cladding and core, and the central role of refraction in relationship to the critical angle of the fiber.

(C) interpret the role of wave characteristics and behaviors found in medicinal and industrial applications.

• Challenge 2: Students investigate an optic fiber and its role in the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. They compare and evaluate their mirror based and optic fiber based solutions for guiding light from one place to another.
• Challenge 3: Students experiment with an optic fiber model to discover characteristics of the fiber, like the index of refraction of the cladding and core, and the central role of refraction in relationship to the critical angle of the fiber.

IPC

(5) Effects of waves on everyday life

(B) demonstrate wave interactions including interference, polarization, reflection, refraction, and resonance within various materials

• Challenge 2: Students investigate an optic fiber and its role in the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. They compare and evaluate their mirror based and optic fiber based solutions for guiding light from one place to another. In the mirror based solution, students reflect a laser beam among mirrors to direct the beam around a barrier to a target. For the optic fiber solution, students direct the light into the fiber, which guides the light to the target.
• Challenge 3: Students experiment with an optic fiber model to discover characteristics of the fiber, like the index of refraction of the cladding and core, and the central role of refraction in relationship to the critical angle of the fiber. The model is a plastic jar half full of water. At the water surface (air-water boundary) the laser beam is refrated if it meets the boundary at an angle less than the critical angle. The materials in the fiber and the model determine the critical angle.

Math TEKS

6.8 Measurement: The student solves application problems involving estimation and measurement of length, area, time, temperature, capacity, weight, and angles.

• Challenge 1 and 2: Students measure mirror angles and the distance between mirrors in order to draw a diagram of their mirror based solution. Students measure the size of the beam on the target.
• Challenge 3: Students measure the angle of the laser beam inside the model optic fiber in order to determine the critical angle.

6.11, 7.13, 8.14 Underlying processes and mathematical tools: The student applies Grade 6, 7, or 8 mathematics to solve problems connected to everyday experiences, investigations in other disciplines, and activities in and outside of school.

(A) identify and apply mathematics to everyday experiences, to activities in and outside of school, with other disciplines, and with other mathematical topics;
(B) use a problem-solving model that incorporates understanding the problem, making a plan, carrying out the plan, and evaluating the solution for reasonableness;

• In each challenge, students solve problems whose solutions involve the application of mathamatics.

• Challenge 1 and 2: Students measure angles and distances of mirrors, and measure the size of the beam on the target.
• Challenge 3: Students experimentally determine the critical angle and measure it.

Make your own galaxy

What is a spiral galaxy? How are its components arranged? Do stars collide? Do galaxies collide? Help your students explore these concepts with this hands-on galaxy activity.

Grade level: Grade 8-12

National Science Education Standards
Grades 9-12 Earth and Space Science: Origin and evolution of the Universe

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills: Science Grade 8
8.13 The student knows characteristics of the universe.
(A)  describe characteristics of the universe such as stars and galaxies;
(B)  explain the use of light years to describe distances in the universe;

Astronomy
Ast 4 The student knows scientific information about the universe.
(B) describe characteristics of galaxies.

Construction activity (1.8MB PDF)
Background reading
Student answer sheet
Teacher lesson and answer key
SEDS Galaxies Information

 

Journey Into Spectroscopy

Spectrum

Spectroscope

 

Figure 1

image or PDF

 

Figure 2

image or PDF

 

Figure 3

image or PDF

 

Figure 4

image or PDF

 

 

Decoding Starlight

 

Objective Prism image of Hyades

image or PDF

 

Spectrum sheet 1

image or PDF

Spectrum sheet 2

image or PDF

Spectrum sheet 3

image or PDF

Spectrum sheet 4

image or PDF

 

H-R Diagram

 

Blank plots for student plotting
Plot A Plot B Plot C
image image image
PDF PDF PDF
Teacher keys
Plot A Plot B Plot C
image image image
PDF PDF PDF

 

Coma Cluster of Galaxies

Coma ClusterComa Cluster of Galaxies In 2006, the Hubble Space Telescope pointed its piercing gaze at a nearby collection of galaxies called the Coma Cluster. Using the unprecedented images that the HST provided, astronomers gained fascinating insights into the evolution of galaxies in dense galactic neighborhoods. In this activity, students will first learn the basics of galaxy classification and grouping, then they get to use some actual HST images to discover the 'morphology-density effect' and make hypotheses about its causes.

*Note: The images in the activity are very large and use a lot of toner when printing. This first version contains "negatives" of the original space images, Printing this version saves toner and provides better image detail for the students. If you are printing several copies for your students, please use this version:

Student Guide (with negatives of images)

Teacher Guide (with negatives of images)

This is the original version of the activity that is found in the StarDate Teacher Guide:

Student Guide (with positives)

Teacher Guide (with positives)

StarDate radio programs

May 5, 2008 - Coma Cluster

May 6, 2008 - Invisible Cluster

May 7, 2008 - Hostile Environment

May 8, 2008 - Nature vs. Nurture

May 9, 2008 - Galactic Giants

Supporting Educational Opportunities for All

YarCom® Inc. and the Lott family are dedicated to improving Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM) educational opportunities for our youth, especially all daughters of Texas. They support StarDate and McDonald Observatory’s educational outreach as superb examples of successful STEM programs.

Exploring Light: the Optics of Diffraction

Diffraction - The Teacher's Guide | 3.2MB PDF
Standards, suggestions for implementation, and suggested applets to illustrate difficult points

Diffraction - Student Guide and Worksheets | 2.3MB PDF
The student guide and worksheets were written by Lyn Del Monte Onato, a teacher at Hidalgo High School in Hidalgo, Texas.

Supplemental materials
1.) Materials List | 48kB PDF
2.) Scans of the diffraction cards used in the activity | 10.7MB PDF

Accompanying PowerPoint
Several optical effects related to the activity are available in this accompanying PowerPoint presentation | 9.9MB PDF . If you do not have Microsoft PowerPoint installed on your computer, please download the presentation in PDF format here.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration provided support for the development of this activity under an Education and Public Outreach supplement to Grant/Contract/Agreement NNG06GC45G issued through the Office of Space Science to Dr. Daniel Jaffe.

Your BoV Meeting Registration Has Been Received

Many thanks for registering for the February 21-22, 2014, Board of Visitors meeting. Return to Special Guest Registration »

Dan Cournoyer
Development Assistant
512-471-3303
cournoyer@astro.as.utexas.edu

Your BoV Meeting Registration Has Been Received

Many thanks for registering for the February 21-22, 2014, Board of Visitors meeting. Return to UT Admin. Registration »

Dan Cournoyer
Development Assistant
512-471-3303
cournoyer@astro.as.utexas.edu

Your BoV Meeting Registration Has Been Received

Many thanks for registering for the February 21-22, 2014, Board of Visitors meeting. Return to Dept./Obs. Staff Registration »

Dan Cournoyer
Development Assistant
512-471-3303
cournoyer@astro.as.utexas.edu

Your BoV Meeting Registration Has Been Received

Many thanks for registering for the February 21-22, 2014, Board of Visitors meeting. Return to BoV Member Registration »

Dan Cournoyer
Development Assistant
512-471-3303
cournoyer@astro.as.utexas.edu

Your Order is Complete

Your order is complete! You will receive a confirmation of your order by email shortly.

Thank you for shopping at the McDonald Observatory Astronomy Gift Shop. We hope you enjoy these products with the knowledge that proceeds help educate, inform, and inspire millions and support teaching in the science and hobby of astronomy.

If you have questions about your order, please call the gift shop at 432-426-3645 and we will be happy to assist you.

 

 

 

Thanks for Supporting McDonald Observatory

Thank you for your continued support of science education through the Friends of McDonald Observatory. Your tax-deductible gift* will allow us to continue serving K-12 teachers and students with rigorous and engaging space science resources for learning both in and out of the classroom.

Your support is critical to our success and to the ability of future generations to excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, so thank you for making McDonald Observatory a priority in your giving.

We are delighted to offer you a number of membership benefits and privileges.

Thank you for your generosity.

Sincerely,

David L. Lambert
Director
Isabel McCutcheon Harte Centennial Chair in Astronomy

Suzanne Geiger
Assistant Development Officer
Friends of McDonald Observatory
E-mail: friends@mcdonaldobservatory.org
Tel: 512-475-8843, 888-442-4356

Betelgeuse Orion Newsletter

Orion Circle 2012The members of the Orion Circle and Orion Supernova play a key role in McDonald Observatory’s work in K-12 science education and outreach in Texas and the U.S. and receive special invitation to the annual Orion Festival at McDonald Observatory in West Texas.

Director's Message

In the months since the Orion Festival — when I had the pleasure of sharing some news and research coming out of the Texas Astronomy program — our astronomers, students, engineers, and fundraisers have all been well occupied with the mission of promoting astronomy to the public, whether through research or education programs, or both.

Director LambertDirector David Lambert Astronomers from UT and Wesleyan University discovered more about an evaporating planet the size of Jupiter, in the constellation Vulpecula, through the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Dr. Seth Redfield, the lead investigator on the project, began his research while a post-doctoral fellow at UT Austin. He later joined Wesleyan as an assistant professor, where he continued the project with Drs. Bill Cochran and Mike Endl, of UT, also serving on the research team. In June, components of this research were brought to Texas teachers at the “Worlds Beyond Our Solar System” professional development workshop, thanks to partial funding from the National Science Foundation and McDonald Education Endowment donors.

More recently, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) team, of which UT's Eiichiro Komatsu was a part, received a $500,000 prize from the Gruber Foundation in light of the team’s discoveries concerning the age, shape, make up, and origin of the universe. Other projects continue to see good progress, and a few are highlighted here:

Giant Magellan Telescope

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will be a 25-meter telescope to be cited in Chile by 2020. Then it will be the world's largest. UT Austin is one of the founding partners, and our faculty, students, and researchers plan to use the GMT to study the first galaxies to have been formed after the Big Bend, as well as to study planets around nearby stars. In early spring, a series of controlled mountain blasts in the Andes Mountains began in order to prepare the site's foundation. In the coming year, the aim is to complete the design process and continue manufacturing the 8.4-meter primary mirror segments. GMT Development Director Carolyn Porter is leading fundraising for UT's share and reports that the McDonald Observatory Board of Visitors is launching a $3 million kick-off campaign, and support by individuals, including Orion member Joe Orr, is being committed. For more information, please feel free to contact Carolyn.

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope and Dark Energy Experiment

Work to prepare the Hobby-Eberly Telescope for the Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX) is still underway and remains competitive. Astronomers Gary Hill and Karl Gebhardt are leading the project, and the galaxy survey is now estimated to begin in 2014.

Major innovations and improvements to the HET are in progress independently of the HETDEX project. For example, Phillip MacQueen is upgrading the high-resolution spectrograph, one of the HET's key instruments, and HET staff are commissioning equipment enabling the 91 mirror segments to be coated with a highly reflective layer.

With so many technical efforts underway, this summer marked the beginning of a HETDEX-related education and outreach program. Dr. Keely Finklestein, who has been working with Mary Kay Hemenway in education and outreach, helped lead Texas high school students through a pilot program about HETDEX at the Observatory in June. Her article Austin Area Students gives a full report on the project, which she says was impressive in part because of the students’ own enthusiasm about working with astronomers for a week.

Finally, with the Transit of Venus in June, the opportunity to engage students of all ages in astronomy was nothing short of brilliant. In West Texas, cloudy skies early in the day on June 5 (the peak of the transit from our view) gave the impression that the many visitors interested in seeing live views of Venus might leave the Observatory disappointed. But that was not the case. The clouds dispersed in late afternoon, and the Visitors Center staff guided visitors in programs centered on the transit, including demonstrations, science talks, and observations. In Austin, a good number of undergraduate and graduate astronomy students volunteered their time after hours in order to welcome hundreds of visitors to Robert Lee Moore (RLM) Hall on the UT campus. The line to see the transit through telescopes atop RLM at one point wound down about a dozen flights of stairs. Even though the wait was an hour or two for some, the sense of excitement remained high, and the public outreach opportunity was a success in Austin as in West Texas.

Of course, the ability to conduct astronomical research and make new discoveries is great. But so is the ability to share all of that with students, teachers, and people like you. That’s what your support in the Orion Circle provides. For that, I thank you.

David L. Lambert
Isabel McCutcheon Harte Centennial Chair in Astronomy

Austin Area Students Live, Learn, Do Research at McDonald

By Keely Finklestein

HETDEX kids

Ten students from five Austin-area high schools were invited to attend a week-long research program at McDonald Observatory June 17–23. UT’s Dr. Irina Marinova and I led the research program, along with help from two Austin teachers, Wade Green of Stony Point High School and Sherre Boothman of Lehman High. The research experience was a pilot program designed to see how high school students can be involved in astronomical research related to the study of dark energy and in support of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX). HETDEX astronomer Karl Gebhardt and Sandra Preston, Assistant Director for Education and Outreach, conceived the program and are seeking funding from the National Science Foundation to take it from the pilot stage to something larger.

The students spent the week at McDonald Observatory participating in real astronomical research while staying at the Astronomers Lodge. During the day, they learned how telescopes work (including the remote-observing MONET telescope) and how to collect data. They also toured the research telescopes; participated in some of the same hands-on activities that teachers in professional development workshops do; listened to astronomy talks; and created media projects — including a blog — as a way to advertise and explain their research experience. At night they stayed up observing until the early morning hours and spent time running the telescope, collecting real data, and reducing it.

The week provided this band of 10 with a unique hands-on experience that showed how the full process of astronomical research and taking observations works. This, and the opportunity to informally interact with astronomers and engineers who do research and maintain the Observatory, presented many of the participants with an once-in-a-lifetime experience. As student Samuel Ervin put it, “Just the idea of being able to live and talk with real astronomers is mind-blowing. I know that when this week is over I shall be looking into a career that could hopefully end in being an astronomer.”

By all measures, the pilot program was very successful and was a great experience for everyone involved — for students, astronomers, and teachers. The pilot confirmed that it is possible to successfully involve high school students in research in support of the HETDEX survey, as well as to involve them in using social media to promote the survey and study of dark energy. The need for a rigorous Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curriculum is an issue at the state and federal levels, and this project shows the possibility to inspire students to be passionate about science by directly engaging them in real astronomical research. Once the HETDEX survey begins, we will need lots of simultaneous imaging data to help calibrate the HET data. This will involve taking lots of images over many nights, and this is where the high school student research component comes in. The social media portion of the pilot program encourages students to share their experience in creative ways, which in the long run will be a great benefit to us in helping the ideas and research behind HETDEX to meet the public.

Learn more about HETDEX.

Profile in Service: Steve Hinkley Opens Doors for Awe-Inspiring Science

By Suzanne Geiger

HinckleyThere’s not any question as to whether Steve Hinkley loves science. He earned a degree in biology and, upon graduating, worked several years as a science teacher in Texas and California, instructing students in Earth and Life Science, Astronomy, Physics, Anatomy, and Biology. He talks about the power of science to not only help people answer questions about their world — including issues like population, energy, and transportation — but also to help people as individuals consider their place in the world.

Speaking with inimitable energy, Hinkley begins in the fifth grade, when his interest in science began, and comes full circle with his work as the Director of Education for the Museum of Nature and Science, which — in January 2013 — will relocate from Dallas's historic Fair Park to reopen as the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in a new facility, in the heart of the city’s downtown.

A native Texan who grew up in Austin, Hinkley says with conviction, “My life path has always been one way or another intertwined with science.” And it was his fifth-grade teacher Midge Kimble, whom he had for both homeroom and science at Austin’s St. Stephen’s Episcopal School, who lit the spark in him.

Describing his former teacher as a “great communicator and great educator," Hinkley says that Kimble encouraged students to think by asking open-ended questions rather than questions with right or wrong answers, which sometimes shame students when they answer incorrectly. He cites the way she went the extra step to create novel learning opportunities, and how it was during these times that learning became memorable — such as the numerous times that she turned on the radio in class so students could listen to the StarDate radio broadcast.

“It was not just a time to stop and explore science,” Hinkley says of StarDate, “but [it] was connecting us to something beyond where we were. It was fascinating to start the conversation of, What is out there?”

And in Austin in 1983, before widespread development white washed the night sky, the extra assignments Ms. Kimble gave to students to go out at night with their parents to stargaze and observe astronomical phenomenon also left an indelible memory.

“You could look up and see an incredible amount of detail in the sky. I could see satellites and the Milky Way. It was stunning for me, and it was time with my family. It was great to understand that my learning was connected with their learning,” he says.

While these extra assignments were not connected to the curriculum in any way, Hinkley regards them highly for the way they were offered as a means to explore.

Speaking about the support he had in the fifth grade — and later with “fantastic” science teachers he encountered in the seventh, ninth, and eleventh grades, Hinkley remarks that it takes more than just one moment or one great science class to help move a child toward developing a lifelong interest. “You can’t just start the spark," he says. “You have to keep it going, moving forward.”

Just as elementary and secondary teachers can provide a community for students in the classroom, as was Hinkley’s experience, he notes the power of informal science centers and museums to do the same.

“When we’re very young we’re in a phase where we are exploring the world with every one of our senses. Just look at babies,” Hinkley says, noting the way that infants learn about their world not only through sight and sound, but also taste and touch. “If you look at a lot of traditional education pathways . . . at where a lot of science education, in particular, goes — gradually we stop engaging many of those senses. The beauty of informal science is that it continues to engage multi-sense learning.”

And it can be another tool, Hinkley contends, through which young students — including those from disadvantaged and minority populations; and others who do not typically enter scientific fields — are given a pathway for science.

While there’s a caveat — “We’re not trying to convert everyone into scientists,” Hinkley muses — he sees informal science centers as working toward another important goal that applies to all but doesn’t depend on making scientists out of every person who enters the doors:

For the would-be future scientist, Hinkley hopes that informal science centers like the Museum of Nature and Science and McDonald Observatory can “help sustain that passion” in students past the initial spark. And in terms of everyone else: “What we can hopefully do is create a community and a population and a nation that appreciates science,” he says.

Toward that end, the $190 million project to design and build the new Perot Museum began in 2007 with the goal of attracting lifelong learners to science. “One of the greatest things our building is going to do is to find a way to engage everybody from newborns to people who are 85 or 90 years old,” Hinkley says.

With 100 percent of the money raised coming from private donations, Hinkley speaks proudly of the community that has helped make this project happen. Exhibits that focus on astronomy, the human body, sports and how they relate to science, paleontology, birds and their relationship with dinosaurs, and contemporary stories of how animals today compare to animals from 70 million years ago are all planned. Given the broad spectrum of science topics that visitors will be exposed to, Hinkley looks forward to collaborating with other science centers, including McDonald Observatory, to deliver more specialized programs and to benefit the community more.

“There is no way we can be experts at everything,” Hinkley says. “For us, the value of working with McDonald Observatory is that there are things the Observatory does that nobody else does.”

To date, collaborations may include bringing McDonald astronomers to the Nature and Science Museum for science talks — either in person or remotely — and may include collaboration on K-12 Student Field Experiences and teacher professional development, areas in which the Observatory and the Nature and Science Museum both have a history of commitment and success.

Speaking about the significant role that a teacher can play in a student's life, Hinkley says, “I think it’s fair to say that the teachers who express the most passion are the ones students remember.”

With a passion of his own, he speaks about importance of bringing science education to life for students and teachers both.

“When the teachers get rekindled, they turn that around and their students see that,” Hinkley says. “That’s an infectious sort of joy that can be passed on.”

It's the job of science museums everywhere, and it's the legacy that Hinkley himself is leaving through his work and lifelong love of science, and all the awe it inspires.

Learn more about the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

2012 Orion Festival Recap

By Suzanne Geiger

The 2012 Orion Festival, held for the first time in the spring rather than the fall, brought out several dozen Orion Circle and Orion Supernova members and their guests, for a daylong event hosted by Director David L. Lambert.

Orion

Two special guests — Teresa Lenling and Hannah Smoot, both from the Nature and Science Museum — joined Orion members for the festival, which included a science talk by UT’s JJ Hermes, a live demonstration of the “Live From McDonald Observatory” program, which Marc Wetzel conducted with Midland-area students, and a tour of the new Chow Telescope dome.

Photos from the day’s event were graciously taken by Robert Miller and are available for viewing on the McDonald Observatory Flickr site. In the meantime, please enjoy a few select images.

Please mark your calendar: The date of the 2013 Orion Festival will again be in the spring on Saturday, April 6th. For reservations at the Astronomers Lodge, visit online.

Thanks for Supporting McDonald Observatory

Thank you very much for your generous contribution to McDonald Observatory’s Education and Outreach programs, through the purchase of a Friends of McDonald Observatory gift membership.

Your gift will help us as we work to inspire students of all ages to engage in the wonder of astronomy and better improve science education nationwide.

We will send out a gift membership packet in the mail soon and will be happy to keep your loved one connected to the cosmos in the coming months through many Friends membership benefits like a year-long subscription to StarDate Magazine, complimentary passes to the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center, and more.

Please contact the Friends of McDonald Observatory offices at any time for questions about this gift (e-mail: friends@mcdonaldobservatory.org; telephone: 512.475.8843).

Sincerely,

David L. Lambert
Director
Isabel McCutcheon Harte Centennial Chair in Astronomy

Suzanne Geiger
Assistant Development Officer
Friends of McDonald Observatory
E-mail: friends@mcdonaldobservatory.org
Tel: 512-475-8843, 888-442-4356

Betelgeuse Orion Newsletter - Winter 2013

Orion Circle 2012

The members of the Orion Circle and Orion Supernova play a key role in McDonald Observatory's work in K-12 science education and outreach in Texas and the U.S. and receive special invitation to the annual Orion Festival at McDonald Observatory in West Texas. The 2013 Orion Festival is scheduled for Saturday, April 6. Watch your mailbox for invitations later this month. Or contact Suzanne Geiger for information.

Director's Message

Director LambertDirector David Lambert

 The mission of McDonald Observatory to inform and educate the public in astronomy is realized through a number of channels, including the resources made available through the StarDate Radio program and its sister Web site StarDate.org. Our collaboration with the Texas Education Agency’s Project Share has also made StarDate educational content and lesson plans available to a vastly wider audience, including one million K-12 Texas teachers and students.

Founded with a National Science Foundation grant more than 30 years ago, StarDate has benefited from a number of generous sponsors, including support (for the second year in a row) from Orion members Gus and Mary Lott and their company YarCom, Inc. The Lotts (including children Melissa and Gus, Jr., who also work in science fields) have a passion for science education and for encouraging it among today’s school children. Their sponsorship of StarDate has provided a steady funding stream through which we’re bringing rigorous science-education resources to the public, and to teachers and students statewide. For that, we thank them.

The public’s keen interest in sky events like meteor showers gave rise to the development of StarDate Media, which puts sky-watching news into the hands of national and Texas media several times a year. The program received special sponsorship by Texas-based American Electric Power in 2012, and thanks to AEP Texas’s funding, StarDate Media is growing in terms of distribution frequency and coverage. To date, media releases were distributed in advance of the Orionid, Leonid, and Geminid meteor showers (in October, November, and December, respectively), with more being planned in 2013.

Media coverage on all StarDate news releases has been well-received and covered by outlets like the Texas Radio Network, United Press International wire service, and Texas National Public Radio. National media such as Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, Space.com, and more have also picked up the sky event stories which are exposing vast Internet, radio, and print audiences to StarDate. McDonald and StarDate enthusiasts have also been in receipt of the releases, as Editor Rebecca Johnson, who manages the effort, also makes them available to the public through the McDonald Observatory and StarDate social media pages on Facebook and Twitter. To see past releases, visit the StarDate Media Center.

Corporate sponsorships

Under the leadership of the Observatory’s Education and Outreach Assistant Director Sandra Preston and Development Manager Joel Barna, McDonald Observatory is working to increase sponsorship opportunities for its programs and education-and-outreach arm. Last year, McDonald commissioned a sponsorship and marketing audit from Chicago-based Litlamp Communications Group. Funding to hire the firm came from donations made by McDonald Observatory Board of Visitors members. Objectives included gaining assistance in assigning a fair market value for McDonald Observatory properties and determining pricing packages and strategies for securing corporate sponsors. This effort is already successful in adding Northrop Grumman and West Texas Gas as sponsors. If you have information that could be helpful to the corporate sponsorship effort, please feel free to contact Sandra or Joel (e-mail: sandi@stardate.org or jwbarna@astro.as.utexas.edu).

SXSW meets astronomy

On a rather unusual note, anyone in or near Austin during the week of spring break may be interested in entering the fray of the South by Southwest crowd to see a model of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Astronomers with the UT Astronomy Department are working with Northrop Grumman, the prime contractor for the JWST, to bring it to downtown Austin (on Auditorium Shores) March 8-10. The event is free and open to the public, and it's guaranteed to be an impressive sight with a 6.5-meter primary mirror and a sun shield the size of a tennis court. More information on the event (which includes other activities) will be available at through NASA and at the UT Astronomy Department Web pages in the coming weeks.

Lastly, thank you for the role you play in making McDonald Observatory one of the most exciting places to learn about astronomy. The support of the Orion Circle continues to be instrumental in our success, and with the start of 2013 I look forward to joining you for another Orion Festival in West Texas. Invitations for the April 6th event will go in the mail shortly. For questions, contact Suzanne Geiger by e-mail, or call 512.475.8843.

Best regards to all,

David L. Lambert, Director

Education and Outreach: Equipping and reaching teachers, students

By Suzanne Geiger

HETDEX kids

While McDonald Observatory, the place, is situated in the Davis Mountains, where the skies are dark and as expansive as the open land that West Texas boasts, the Observatory’s resources are thankfully not remote. They are online, over the airwaves, and in the hands of teachers and students throughout Texas and the U.S.

Through collaboration with the Texas Education Agency’s Regional Education Service Centers (ESCs), the Observatory maintains a presence in classrooms statewide (and nationwide, too) by offering engaging distance-learning science lessons for children, including the annual Astronomy Day videoconferences.

The 2012 Astronomy Day program — which again received support from the Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation and from Orion member support — reached 13,000 students over the course of 24 videoconference broadcasts. Held in April, May, and October, Astronomy Day gave students in each of Texas’s 20 ESCs instruction on the Solar System, Venus, and planetary formation. Students in 12 states from throughout the U.S. also participated. Founded in 2007, Astronomy Day remains one of the key ways the Observatory brings its expertise and resources to thousands of elementary and secondary school students in spite of geographic boundaries. Facilitated by Marc Wetzel, the program retains a hands-on, inquiry-based format where students may interact with the content, their peers, and Wetzel himself to bring frequently difficult science concepts down to a level that is engaging and accessible.

Remarking on the uniqueness of Astronomy Day, Wetzel said, “Students are immersed in an active science research facility while sitting in their classrooms. They make real telescope observations, explore various hands-on TEKS aligned activities, and ask their questions. It's exciting to visit with students all across the state! I'm proud to be part of UT McDonald Observatory's efforts to improve science education in Texas through the Astronomy Day videoconference programs."

Evaluations and feedback from the 2012 professional development teacher workshops again indicated educators’ need for gaining access to astronomical resources, images, and lesson plans, and having support from other science teachers and astronomy professionals. Knowing this, and given the enthusiasm over Project Share (one million teachers and students are on the Web application), McDonald Observatory began training teachers at the astronomy professional development teacher workshops on how to make the best use of this new learning environment.

Summer 2012 workshop participants were led through activities that enabled them to log in and effectively use Project Share for everything from developing lesson plans to collaborating with other teachers. And all attendees were given access to a private Project Share user group that will enable them to stay in touch during the school year, giving them plentiful resources outside the confines of the classroom. The training was integrated into six summer teacher workshops, primarily reaching educators who teach grades K-6.

By putting teachers in touch with their peers and with astronomy experts, and by providing engaging resources within the context of a secure online learning environment, McDonald Obsersvatory was able to leverage the impact of the Professional Development Teacher Workshops and to increase teachers' access to resources that will aide them in the classroom and out.

Profile in Service: Love of nature leads to astronomy for Joe Orr

By Carolyn Porter

Joe Orr

Joe Orr has made a career out of sharing the natural world with others, and his decades-long connection with McDonald Observatory started when he was just a freshman at Sul Ross State University. It has grown stronger over time, and now Joe, a member of the Orion Circle, is combining his advocacy for astronomy education and outreach with a passion for the natural world.

“Growing up in Texas and having an interest in astronomy, I think I always knew about McDonald Observatory. My first visit to McDonald was in 1972, as a freshman at Sul Ross. We drove up to Mount Locke in the fog, and the white observatory domes appeared suddenly out of the clouds. It was quite an introduction, and one I remember well after more than forty years.”

Joe’s commitment to McDonald Observatory is as diverse as his interests in the outdoors, giving support to educational programs, dark-sky initiatives, the Giant Magellan Telescope, and more. He describes the connection he has to these varied initiatives, stating, “I’ve always admired the public star parties and other educational programs that McDonald has offered. . . . I’m especially excited about the workshops to be offered at McDonald for the National Park and State Park personnel, focused on dark sky preservation and night sky interpretation.”

He has a life-long passion for learning, and he demonstrates that a well-rounded education combines formal classroom learning with real-world experiences and leadership opportunities in nature.

A retired nature and tour guide, Joe said, “I love being outdoors and have spent much of my life hiking, camping, and rafting; most of it done in national parks or state parks with little or no light pollution. I became a guide, and during the day we would study the complexity and diversity of the natural world, and it was only natural that we would continue doing this after sunset, with the dark, starry skies overhead.”

His commitment to exploration did not stop at the United States border; Joe has traveled extensively in Mexico and Central America, educating countless tour participants on the value and beauty of these geographic areas. He has extensive knowledge of the ancient Maya culture, and scholars in the field respect his ability to contextualize the connection between Mayan architecture and its ancient relationship to the natural environment.

“I’ve been fascinated for many years with the ancient Maya,” he said. “They were careful observers of the skies and kept meticulous records for more than a thousand years. Knowing something about astronomy has been a great help in trying to understand the ancient Maya and explain it to others.”

In speaking of the ties that unite humans throughout history, Joe believes in the responsibility this generation has to continue to inspire future generations, and sees how astronomers and the Observatory have a unique role to play in that.

“We are so lucky in Texas to have some of the darkest skies in the United States in West Texas, and to have a world-class facility like McDonald Observatory located here,” he said. “Because of our dark skies, McDonald can continue to do cutting-edge science and research and attract the best astronomers and students to our state. This is a win-win situation, and produces many benefits both locally and statewide. But in addition to the tangible benefits, I believe it’s important to have a place where people can look up at an unpolluted night sky, to experience the awe and wonder that others have felt for millennia, and perhaps to think about our place in the universe.”

Observatory Prepares for 75th Anniversary Celebration

By Sandra Preston

75th anniversary logo2014 will hold a calendar of special events and celebrations in commemoration of McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary. A Special Viewing Night will be held August 24, 2013 for West Texas locals, marking the 50th year since Texas fulfilled the 30-year contract with the University of Chicago and began running the Observatory with the hiring of the first Texas director, Harlan J. Smith. Other events, including a science symposium at Sul Ross State University, will be held in West Texas, but are also being planned to occur statewide, and include such things as a speaker series, special traveling exhibits, an antique car show (which may expose McDonald Observatory to a new audience), open houses, and more.

Because the Observatory is of interest to a nationwide audience and to others around the globe, a historical Web site honoring the 75th anniversary and the Observatory’s contributions to space science is being developed. Partial funding for the historical Web site came from a grant from Humanities Texas. A number of StarDate Radio programs will be scripted around the anniversary and the Observatory’s decades-long presence, as will a Science Friday show broadcast by Marfa Public Radio.

Donations are being sought to carry out the 2014 75th anniversary celebrations and the development of the historical Web site. For information on how to contribute or become an event sponsor, please contact Joel Barna.

Thanks for sharing your story

Thanks for sharing your story with us in celebration of McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary!It will be reviewed by our moderator and could be posted within a day or two. Posts may be lightly edited to improve readability. Posts that are off topic or contain profanity will not be published. 

75th Anniversary Donor Hall of Fame

Donations for the 75th anniversary in support of McDonald Observatory's education and outreach programs are still being sought. To join the 75th anniversary donors, make a contribution at any level. Thanks go out to:

Mr. and Mrs. Louis Adams
Ms. Ingrid Akerblom
Ms. Amy Arisco
Ms. Verna Arnest
Mr. Barry Avery
Mr. Dennis Bade
Mr. and Mrs. Rayford L. and Linda M. Ball
Mr. Elwood Barnes
Mr. Richard Barrett
Mr. Jeff Beauchamp
Ms. Peggy A. Beckham
Mr. and Mrs. Chris and Sara Bunch
Mrs. Julia Burgen
Mr. Jeffrey Butts D.O.
Mr. Ron Carlson
Mrs. Rosemary Carroll
Mr. and Mrs. Mike and Reny Christian
Dr. and Mrs. Frank and Dee Cianciolo
Mr. Don Coats
Mr. William Cohagan
Mr. Carl Cohen
Ms. Cheryl Cotner 
Mr. John Cotton, Jr.
Mr. Timothy Demonbreum
Dr. Jerry DePriest
Mr. Charles Dobbins
Mr. Casey Doherty
Dr. Deborah D. Douglas
Ms. Jennie Doumany
Mr. Stephen Duncan
Mrs. Marianne Dyson
Mr. David Early 
Ms. Kelley Ferguson
Mr. and Mrs. Carl and Susan Floyd 
Mr. Wilfred D. Francis
Mr. Tom Frederick
Mr. and Mrs. Gary and Clare Freeman 
Mr. Richard Galloway
Mr. Frank Garza
Mrs. Michelle A. Geyer
Mr. Terrell Goddard
Mrs. Nancy Golden
Mr. Charles Greenwood
Mr. Thomas Griffith 
Dr. Jo Ann Hackett
Mr. David Hasbargen
Mr. Thomas Helscher
Mr. and Mrs. David Hemsath 
Mr. John Hernandez
Mr. David Hough
Mrs. Joynce Howard
Mr. and Mrs. Bob and Jean James
Mr. David Kaplowitz 
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Keel
Ms. Hajnalka Kelly
Dr. and Mrs. Phil and Karen Kelton
Ms. Sara Kennedy 
Mr. Richard Kielhorn
Dr. Michael F. Koehl MD
Mr. Parker Labach
Mr. and Mrs. Robert and Darlene Lang 
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas E. Link
Dr. and Mrs. Gus and Mary Lott
Mr. Donald Macomber
Mr. Cecilio Martinez 
Mrs. Audrey Mayer
Mr. Michael McCants 
Mr. and Mrs. Riley and Sarah McGuire
Ms. Fara McMullen
Mr. and Mrs. George and Maureen Merkle
Dr. Robert W. Miley
Mrs. Sarah Miller
Mr. Bryan Moulin
Mr. Dennis O'Dea 
Mr. Michael O'Hare
Mr. Charles Ondrej 
Mr. Roy Pachecano
Mr. Henry Patterson 
Mr. Herbert A. Perkins
Mr. and Mrs. Randy and Patricia Pinkston 
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and Kathy Neel Pollock
Ms. Sandra Preston 
Ms. Rebecca Rabinowitz
Dr. Margaret Reitmeyer
Mr. Ronald Rice
Mr. Jay Roberts
Mr. Kenneth Roberts 
Mr. Tom Roberts
Mr. Benjamin Rode
Ms. Patricia Rodgers
Mr. Sean Rooney 
Mr. Neil Sandvik
Mr. Dan Sauls
Mr. M. Scarborough, Jr.
Mr. Robert Schaffer
Mr. and Mrs. Carl and Mary Schroeder
Mr. Gerald A. Schwab
Mr. Dan Segerman
Mr. Michael Setliff
Mr. David Shivers 
Mr. William "Kip" Short
Dr. Whitney Shoup
Ms. Jane Sibley 
Mr. James Sizer
Mr. Gordon Smith 
Mr. Larry Smith
Mr. Harold St. Amant, Jr.
Mr. Rick Stephens
Mr. C.W. "Willie" Strickland
Mr. and Mrs. Ronald and Joan Suter
Ms. Tresa Tatyrek
Mr. Richard Taylor
Mr. Stephen W. Thompson, NSS
Mr. William Tullis 
Mr. Peter R. Van Horn
Mr. Alberto Varon 
Mr. Eric Vordenbaum
Mr. William Wagner
Mrs. Kay Watson
Mr. Richard Watts
Mr. Robert Weeks
Mr. and Mrs. Wendt and Kathleen Collins 
Mr. George Wille

 

To opt out of the 75th Donor Hall of Fame, please contact the Friends of McDonald Observatory at friends@mcdonaldobservatory.org.

Betelgeuse Orion Newsletter - Fall 2013

Orion Circle and Orion Supernova play a key role in McDonald Observatory's education and outreach mission. In honor of the Observatory's diamond jubilee, events are being planned to engage communities throughout Texas. Join the celebration today!

Director's Message

Director LambertDirector David Lambert

With the publication of this newsletter, McDonald Observatory is gearing up to kick off its 75th anniversary celebration, which will include a year’s worth of astronomy events held in communities throughout Texas. On August 26, the Observatory hosted a Special Viewing Night on the 107-inch telescope for West Texas locals. The event marked 50 years since the first Texas director was hired — Harlan J. Smith, for whom the telescope is named. Many more events are being planned, so please be on the lookout for special invitations to join the celebration in the coming months.

Given the slew of activities that Orion members will be invited to attend during the 75th anniversary year, we are setting the date of the next Orion Festival for September 20, 2014. Please save this date now, as we hope you’ll be able to attend.

News from the Visitors Center

Staff members at the Visitors Center report having had a busy summer hosting Boy Scout troops for the Scout Night program, in addition to the regular stream of K-12 teachers who come to the Observatory for multi-day astronomy professional development workshops, as well as summer travelers from the world over. A handful of volunteers stayed at the Observatory this summer (as part of our volunteer program) and were on hand to ease the workload and help out with a variety of tasks. It’s a pleasure to introduce you to one of these folks in this issue’s column, Profiles in Service. In terms of facilities and programs, a few recent grants have provided funds to update software and technology for the 10-year-old “What’s Out There?” exhibit in the Visitors Center. Computer upgrades for the solar viewing program and the informational visitor kiosk in the lobby came by way of a grant from the Semmes Foundation, as did some other projects; and the anticipated return of the 82-inch telescope to the public viewing calendar was realized in July. Viewers who book a reservation on this program may notice a larger field of view, thanks to the addition of a new focal reducer. We are grateful to a number of donors who helped with this project, including Orion member Joe Orr. Our partnership with the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network also provided generous telescope donations, including two 16-inch telescopes that will be used in our public outreach and education programs.

StarDate Sponsorship

As previously reported, StarDate is gaining a new corporate sponsorship with Northrop Grumman, which was involved in bringing the James Webb Space Telescope to Austin during last year’s SXSW festival. The one-year agreement began September 1 and is something we’ve looked forward to. StarDate is the only radio program of its kind, and its nationwide distribution is one of the Observatory's best public outreach tools.

Please enjoy this issue of the Betelgeuse newsletter. And I will hope to see you at some of the 75th anniversary events in the coming months.

David L. Lambert

StarDate Radio Serves Markets Nationwide

By Casey Walker

This summer, the number of radio stations carrying the StarDate Radio program increased from 316 to 337. In addition to gaining new stations in places including Casper, Wyoming; Carbondale, Colorado; Saint Cloud, Minnesota; Duluth, Montana; and St. Louis, Missouri, among others in the U.S., StarDate is now being aired on the Information Radio Network in Canada, which reaches markets along the Canadian highway system in Halifax, Thunder Bay, and Ottowa. Digital access to StarDate podcasts also remains popular, and on average are accessed 815 times a day (looking at Web traffic from May 1 through July 20).

The funding that Northrop Grumman’s official sponsorship brings to StarDate this year is something that will provide a greater base from which to grow the program. Other underwriters include Orion members Gus and Mary Lott and their company YarCom, Inc., as well as AEP Texas, which sponsored the StarDate Media program last year.

With more than 35 years of on-air broadcasts, StarDate is the longest-running science program in the U.S., and it’s the only program of its kind. With the commemoration of the Observatory’s 75th anniversary, StarDate will join in the celebration by creating programs that help tell the story of the Observatory and its rich history.

Profile in Service: Bruce Boston, Visitors Center volunteer

By Suzanne Geiger

Bruce Boston

Editor’s note: Frank Cianciolo, program manager at the Visitors Center, enthusiastically reported on a group of volunteers who recently spent time in West Texas to help during the Observatory’s busy times — namely, this past spring break and this summer. One such volunteer is Bruce Boston, featured below. According to Cianciolo, this summer was Boston's second time to volunteer, and he’s already made plans to return next summer to help again. Of Boston, Cianciolo said, "Bruce has become such a familiar and welcome face at the Visitors Center that some of us are beginning to see him less as a volunteer and more as a regular staff member. It's always great to see Bruce again and sad to see him leave."

Where do you live?

I live basically in the center of the great U.S. of A., Missouri.

How did you get connected to the Observatory to become a volunteer?

I bought an RV, and I was thinking about going to the Texas Star Party in Fort Davis so that I could observe in a dark sky area. While on the Internet, I thought I’d check out McDonald Observatory — one of my favorite places to go in the area. Lo and behold, they had a volunteer program. While reading further, I also learned of the RV setups on the mountain. How much better could it get?

What was your first interaction with astronomy?

When I was seven years old, my form of relaxation was lying on a lawn chair after dark and looking up at the night sky. The very next year, about 1947, I bought a small handbook named “The Stars” and studied the constellations and planets. My studies intrigued me so much that I decided to save up money from selling soda out of a cooler until I had enough to build my first telescope, a six-inch reflector.

Describe a typical day volunteering at McDonald.

My typical day included meeting and greeting visitors from not only the U.S., but all around the world. I would get to help with star parties in an effort to mold the minds of the young and old alike, and teach them a hunger for astronomy like I have. Helping with Scout Night [a program for Boy Scout troops] was one such example. Yes, they were there to earn a merit badge, but it was great when they started asking questions and wanting to know more than what was required.

What was your favorite aspect of volunteering at McDonald?

It's easy to describe my favorite aspect of volunteering. Earlier I mentioned how I asked “How much better could it get?” Well, it could. I met people with whom I could talk about the hobby that I have loved and lived with for over 66 years; but I also met people who I now consider life friends. Frank Cianciolo is one such person. It is so admirable how he puts together a group of people who are so knowledgeable in their specific field. Although I assisted in many tours and star parties, and some of the things we did were routine, I never grew tired of standing back and listening to Frank mesmerize the visitors with his tour of the constellations in the amphitheater. I could go on and on about the friends I have made who work at the Observatory, but they are all so great I wouldn't want to leave one single person unmentioned.

Finish this sentence: Astronomy is . . .

. . . not only the heart of the universe, but the heart of my being.

Learn about the volunteering opportunities at the Observatory.

Education and Outreach: Grants serve teachers and students

By Sandra Preston

Astronomy DayIn May, astronomy staff members conducted the spring Astronomy Day program for 8,663 students as a way to accommodate busy teacher schedules. With the other Astronomy Day programs held in October 2012, the educational videoconferences reached more than 21,000 students last year.

As students and teachers get back into the routine of another school year, Education Coordinator Marc Wetzel is planning another Astronomy Day schedule, with the first videoconferences being held in late September — all themed around the Observatory's 75th anniversary celebration.

“We want to share McDonald Observatory's birthday with as many students as possible,” Wetzel said. “For the thousands who participate, we'll take time to learn about the Observatory's history, the moon and lunar features; and we'll give teachers some great tools to use in class.”

Orion member donations, as well as a grant from the Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, supported the program in 2012.

Students in West Texas benefited from the K-12 West Texas Scholarship program, which allows them to attend on-site Student Field Experiences at the Observatory for free. A grant from Alternative House, Inc. provided funds for 227 students to participate.

New Lunar Program at the Visitors Center

Galileo moon phasesA new Lunar Twilight program was added to the public viewing schedule in February and has garnered some rave reviews from visitors. The program is held when the moon is between about four days after new and a few days after full so that the moon is visible during the Star Party immediately following the Lunar Twilight.

Frank Cianciolo, who helped create the program, said, “We present information on the origin and history of our lone natural satellite along with demonstrations that explain lunar phases. Because we also point out detailed descriptions of lunar features that will be visible later that same evening, the program serves as a nice bridge to the Star Party.”

As with the other Visitors Center programs, reservations are strongly encouraged.

 

 

Betelgeuse Newsletter

HET at night

Winter 2015

  • Director's Message
  • A New Superintendent
  • Supporting the National Research Council
  • Astronomy Day Programs Tap Into the International Year of Light
  • Engaging Educators to Affect Change in Student Learning
  • Save the Date: 2015 Orion Festival 

Read more »


HET at night

Fall 2014

• News From the New Director: Taft Armandroff

• 75th Anniversary Celebration Nears End

• Education and Outreach: GMT for Teachers

• Orion Festival 2014

Read more »


Snow on 82"

Winter 2014

• Director's Message

• Dark Skies Workshop Serves Texas State Parks

• Connecting With Teachers, Students, and the Public

• Join the Diamond Jubilee: 75th Anniversary Calendar of Events

• In Memory of . . .

• Join the Diamond Jubilee: 75th Anniversary Calendar of Events

Read more »


New Lunar Program at the Visitors Center

Fall 2013

• Directors Message

• StarDate Radio Serves Markets Nationwide

• Profile in Service: Bruce Boston, Visitors Center volunteer

• Education and Outreach: Grants serve teachers and students

• New Lunar Program at the Visitors Center

Read more »

 

 


Astronomy Day

Winter 2013

• Director's Message

• Corporate sponsorships

• SXSW meets astronomy

• Education and Outreach: Equipping and reaching teachers, students

• Profile in Service: Love of nature leads to astronomy for Joe Orr

• Observatory Prepares for 75th Anniversary Celebration

Read more »


Orion FestivalFall 2012

• Director's Message

• Giant Magellan Telescope

• The Hobby-Eberly Telescope and Dark Energy Experiment

• Austin Area Students Live, Learn, Do Research at McDonald

• Profile in Service: Steve Hinkley Opens Doors for Awe-Inspiring Science

• 2012 Orion Festival Recap

Read more »

Betelgeuse Orion Newsletter - Winter 2014

Snow on 82"

The members of the Orion Circle and Orion Supernova play a key role in McDonald Observatory’s work in K-12 science education and outreach in Texas and the U.S. and receive special invitation to the annual Orion Festival at McDonald Observatory in West Texas.

Director's Message

Director LambertDirector David Lambert

When I became the director of McDonald Observatory in the autumn of 2003, I took up the work of my predecessors (first Otto Struve, then Harlan Smith, and then Frank Bash), all of whom have been integral to shaping McDonald Observatory into what it is today — a leader in astronomy research and public education and outreach. 

McDonald Observatory’s history is built on the work of these past directors, but also the astronomers, engineers, staff members, and countless others. The support of our many friends, including your enthusiastic engagement in the Orion Circle, is unparalleled and is another factor that makes our observatory among the best in the nation. We really couldn’t do it without you.

Because you are such an important part of our work and mission, I wanted to take this opportunity to announce that after ten wonderful years, I am retiring from the directorship in June. With this, and in case you did not hear the news already, it is an honor to announce that the Dean’s search committee completed a successful director search, which resulted in hiring Dr. Taft Armandroff, who will join us in Texas from the W. M. Keck Observatory, where he served as director since 2006.

As always, I hope that you enjoy this issue of the Betelgeuse newsletter, which contains our latest updates in the areas of education and outreach, the ongoing 75th anniversary celebration, and more. 

I am grateful for all of the ways in which you supported our work these past years. It has always been a pleasure to visit with you when opportunities arise and to see your love of astronomy, and it is this that I will miss.

Dark Skies Workshop Serves Texas State Parks

By Suzanne Geiger

TPW group

The study of astronomy would not be possible without the canvas of a dark sky, and this is also true for the hobby of astronomy, which ignites the imagination of young and old alike and serves those of us who derive joy from looking up at a rich night sky and seeing — with the naked eye or telescope — a planet, a star, or any other celestial wonder.

Throughout Texas, the employees at Texas State Parks conduct night-sky programs for park visitors; and for many, the parks’ nighttime programs are as popular as those held in the day.

Building on this need, last autumn McDonald Observatory hosted two dozen rangers from parks throughout the state for an educational workshop called “Stars Over Our Parks.”

The workshop, held October 9-11, included hands-on observing and activities (much like the Professional Development Teacher Workshops do), and gave the rangers educational information and the opportunity to interact with astronomy through nighttime observation and daytime lessons about spectroscopy, dark-sky preservation, and night sky interpretation. Participants provided evaluation feedback, which was overwhelmingly positive, and two more workshops of this kind will be held for additional participants.

The late Joe Orr, who joined the Friends of McDonald Observatory in 2000 and was an active member of the Orion Circle, gave a grant to the Observatory last year that provided three years of funding for the “Stars Over Our Parks” workshops. Profiled in the Winter 2013 Betelgeuse newsletter, Orr was a lifelong student of nature whose experiences shaped his giving.

Observatory Education Coordinator Marc Wetzel, who conducted the dark skies workshop, said, “Joe Orr was a soft spoken, brilliant man who was passionate about exploring and learning about nature. From the smallest bird, to the oldest Mayan glyphs, to the most distant galaxy, Joe was always there to learn and share the wonders of the universe with others. The University of Texas McDonald Observatory is fortunate that Joe was involved in our education efforts, as his contributions made a significant impact in our continued commitment to public and K-12 education.”

Connecting With Teachers, Students, and the Public

By Suzanne Geiger

TPW workshop

The 2013 Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST) was held in Houston in November, and through it McDonald Observatory again gained an audience with teachers who are seeking to effectively teach science in the classroom.

McDonald Observatory presenters Drs. Mary Kay Hemenway and Keely Finkelstein, who have a wealth of knowledge and experience in astronomy education, taught more than 200 hundred Texas educators through well-attended workshops about Stellar Explosions, Modeling the Night Sky, Solar Systems Uncovered, and Scale Models in Astronomy.

Finkelstein said, “We had a great turnout this year at all four of our presented workshops. It is a rewarding experience to directly interact with the teachers and to help them bring astronomy into their classrooms by providing them with interactive lessons and activities that students will relate to and benefit from.”

In celebration of McDonald Observatory’s 75th anniversary, CAST participants also gathered additional resources, including McDonald bookmarks and commemorative posters.

Astronomy Day student videoconferences, funded by the Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, were held in September and October in celebration of the 75th anniversary and brought the total number of students to participate in the program to 20,627 last year. “Astronomy Day 2013: McDonald Observatory’s 75th Birthday Party!” reached students in Texas, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota, Florida, Virginia, and California (in the U.S.), as well as students in Canada.

Marc Wetzel, who hosts the Observatory’s Astronomy Day, also conducted a special “In the News” videoconference for Connect2Texas. The interactive program was held on January 10 and reached 2,000 K-8-grade students from Texas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Wetzel helped the students explore Comet ISON, which was a hot topic in the news, and he taught them about McDonald Observatory’s comet research overall.

In terms of the StarDate radio program, this year the beloved science broadcast will be added as one of the content providers featured in the Kaliki Audio Newstand on-demand audio content application. The Kaliki application (and StarDate’s participation in it) was introduced at the November 2013 SEMA Show in Las Vegas and will be installed in new Ford Motor vehicles. Casey Walker, StarDate marketing manager, said, “We are hopeful that this new distribution channel will expose StarDate, which has nationwide listener support, to an even greater audience.

In Memory of . . .

Harold C. Simmons, of Dallas, who gave strong support to the Texas Astronomy Program through generous contributions to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment.

Joseph Orr, of Floresville, who served as an active member of the Orion Circle and supported many of the Observatory’s efforts, including K-12 education and outreach, the Giant Magellan Telescope, the 75th anniversary, and Visitors Center.

Join the Diamond Jubilee: 75th Anniversary Calendar of Events

By Sandra Preston

75th anniversary logo

With the beginning of the new year, McDonald Observatory continued celebrating its 75th anniversary with a science talk and reception in Houston mid-month. Astronomer Don Winget spoke to an audience of 250 about his work studying white dwarf stars as part of the UT Austin Department of Astronomy. Last fall, science talks were also held in Austin (featuring former director Frank Bash), and in Fort Davis (featuring Superintendent Tom Barnes).

On March 1, the Blakemore Planetarium in Midland will hold an anniversary event with Matthew Shetrone, who will speak on globular cluster research. On the 21st, those in and around San Antonio may join in an event at the Witte Museum, where Dr. Fritz Benedict will speak about his research, which is in conjunction with the museum’s exhibit, “Alien Worlds and Androids.”

In Laredo, on April 2, Dr. Karl Gebhardt will speak at the Texas A&M International University’s Vergara Science Center about “Black Holes, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy Through the Eyes of Texas.” On the 26th of the month, McDonald Observatory will hold a 75th anniversary West Texas Open House that is free and open to the public. Science talks, tours, and nighttime observing opportunities will all be conducted.

On May 1, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science will hold a 75th celebration event, and in Austin on the same day, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum will open the “McDonald Observatory: 75 Years of Stargazing” exhibit, featuring the original 82-inch Warner & Swasey telescope model and other Observatory history and memorabilia. (A side note: Our Indiegogo campaign to bring the model back to Texas raised more than $7,000 and garnered support from many Observatory friends, Orion Circle members, staff members, and others; all of the donations received amounted to a successful campaign and will help pay for the costs of this project that will truly benefit the public.) 

On May 2, in Paris, Texas, Dr. David L. Lambert will speak at an event hosted by the Paris chapter of the University of Texas Exes. 

For details on these events (and others, which are still in the planning stages), please visit our 75th Anniversary Web site, which was funded in part by a grant from Humanities Texas. And mark your calendar for the 2014 Orion Festival, to be held in West Texas Saturday, September 20.

Betelgeuse Orion Newsletter - Fall 2014

The members of the Orion Circle and Orion Supernova play a key role in McDonald Observatory’s work in K-12 science education and outreach in Texas and the U.S. and receive special invitation to the annual Orion Festival at McDonald Observatory in West Texas.

News From the New Observatory Director: Taft Armandroff

TaftI am delighted to join the Texas Astronomy Program as Director of McDonald Observatory and am eager to help lead it in a way that builds on its rich, decades-long history.

As I take up this work (I officially took up the office on June 2), I would like to acknowledge the contributions made by previous directors, including those of Professor David Lambert, who oversaw the Observatory the past 10 years. Through his particular focus on getting the Hobby-Eberly Telescope primed for dark energy research, as well as his work to include UT Austin as a partner institution for the Giant Magellan Telescope, Dr. Lambert effectively positioned McDonald Observatory as a leader of astronomy research and education and outreach. Prior to Dr. Lambert, many other fine directors -- Frank Bash, Harlan Smith, and Otto Struve -- have made the Observatory strong and capable and have helped define its contributions to society.

Personally speaking, my interest in astronomy has been close to life long. I am fascinated by the power of telescopes to answer questions about our universe and began to be interested in instrumentation when I was young. In high school, I built my first radio telescope. My love of astronomy and instrumentation only grew from there.

The past eight years, I have served as the Director of the W. M. Keck Observatory. Prior to that, I worked at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) as an associate director of NOAO and director of the NOAO Gemini Science Center. I studied astronomy as an undergraduate student at Wesleyan University and earned master's degrees and a Ph.D. in astronomy from Yale.

The involvement of the Friends of McDonald Observatory, and particularly the keen support that the Orion Circle members provide, is invaluable. Meeting others who love astronomy is something I always look forward to. Therefore, it will be my pleasure to host the 2014 Orion Festival at McDonald Observatory on Saturday, September 20. I understand that this annual event is a highlight for those who attend. I look forward to the opportunity to be there and to meet as many of you as possible.

Until then, I hope you enjoy this issue of the Betelgeuse newsletter. As you may imagine, I am still learning about the Texas Astronomy Program and am eager to get to work on an agenda which includes everything from supporting instrumentation and research to education and public outreach.

Thank you for all you do to make the Observatory the great place that it is.

Sincerely,

Taft Armandroff 

75th Anniversary Year Draws to a Celebratory Close

By Sandra Preston

In cities and towns throughout Texas, McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary celebration joined together McDonald friends and supporters, as well as others who were eager to engage in astronomy in their communities. In all, the 75th anniversary schedule included hosting 13 science talks and receptions for the public in cities from Abilene to Laredo, and more in between.

collageIn West Texas, the Observatory hosted a public open house that included daytime telescope tours, science talks by McDonald Observatory and UT Austin astronomers, and nighttime observing on the Otto Struve Telescope and in the Rebecca Gale Telescope park. More than 700 visitors joined the Observatory for the 2014 Open House.

Reaching out to students from Jeff Davis, Presidio, and Brewster counties, the Observatory sponsored an art contest that saw 127 submissions from elementary and secondary students. A committee that included Observatory staff members and West Texas volunteers judged the entries and presented awards for elementary school and junior/high school categories. The winning art for the Best of Show category will be published in the July/August issue of StarDate magazine. All of the submissions were featured in a gallery during the West Texas Open House. Judges for this event included Ellen and Wayne Baize, Cyndee Barnes -- wife of Superintendent Tom Barnes, Marge Milsap -- retired art teacher, and Lindy Cook Severns and Jim Severns. Winners included Charlotte Browning (pictured above left) in the elementary category and Rafael Riegel in the junior/high school category for his pencil drawing of the Otto Struve Telescope.

The Gallery at the Fort Davis Drug Store and the Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce hosted a photography contest honoring McDonald Observatory's 75th anniversary. Two entries tied for first place: Coyne Gibson's, "82-inch Otto Struve Telescope on Sky" and Jake Sporn's "McDonald Star Trail" (pictured below).

Lastly, as part of the 75th anniversary, the Warner & Swasey telescope model (which had been kept at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Ohio) was transported to Texas to be on display at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. The exhibit, which featured other memorabilia from McDonald Observatory's history, was on display through June 30. The opening night of the exhibit featured a talk by Professor Dan Jaffe, Chair of the UT Austin Department of Astronomy. 

The model will soon be brought to the Observatory to be on display at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center. Contributions from the Observatory's Indiegogo campaign, including those from Orion members, made this project possible.

Education and Outreach: GMT Progress Includes Teacher Education

By Suzanne Geiger

While the Giant Magellan Telescope, known with familiar brevity as the GMT, is still a few years away from first light, its impact on science education and outreach is underway.

Thanks to a grant from the GMT Organization, McDonald Observatory conducted the first professional-development workshop about the GMT and its related research areas for a group of secondary teachers from throughout the U.S. in June.

The three-day pilot workshop drew together Observatory astronomers and education specialists and participants in an immersion-style setting in which teachers explored physics and other science concepts through hands-on activities that would be engaging to students. Dr. Keely Finkelstein, who works closely with teachers, led the workshop.

Providing teachers with much-needed science instruction is something that the Observatory has been doing successfully for years. Connecting teachers with an instrument of this magnitude -- a telescope that will be the world's largest when built -- takes teacher professional development to a new level.

Light and optics (the GMT's primary mirror is comprised of seven glass pieces, each 28 feet in diameter), physics, dark energy, and remote observing are just a few of the areas teachers may learn about in the context of cutting-edge instrumentation.

The McDonald Observatory Education and Outreach endowments also provided funding for the workshop, which will support excellence in STEM education for teachers and students.

Because the Giant Magellan Telescope is an instrument that will take astronomy through the next 50 or more years, the science education opportunity surrounding the GMT also is intended to serve generations of students and teachers.

Most immediately, the educators to participate in the early GMT professional-development workshops will be able to follow the telescope as it's being built. They will be able to track its progress in construction as in its research outcomes, and all of those discoveries are ones they will be able to share with students in the classroom.

Learn more about the Giant Magellan Telescope and its impact on education and outreach.

McDonald Observatory endowed donors: The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, Carolyn Keenan and Charlie Gaines, Hugh Gragg, Lynn Lyle Brill, Leopold Tedesco, and Bill and Alice Wright. Thanks to them and the GMT Organization for supporting the workshop.

2014 Orion Festival Coming in September

GMTThe 2014 Orion Festival will be held Saturday, September 20 at McDonald Observatory in West Texas. For reservations at the Astronomers Lodge, please visit the reservations page.

Activities will commence in the early afternoon (at 2 p.m.) at the Visitors Center and will include dinner and a viewing on one of the research telescopes, weather permitting. An invitation with the opportunity to r.s.v.p. will follow in the mail shortly. For questions, please contact Suzanne Geiger.

Newsletter and image credits: Masthead image: HET at Twilight, Marty Harris; GMT: Mirrors, artist rendering GMTO

Betelgeuse Orion Newsletter - Winter 2015

The members of the Orion Circle and Orion Supernova play a key role in McDonald Observatory’s work in K-12 science education and outreach in Texas and the U.S. and receive special invitation to the annual Orion Festival at McDonald Observatory in West Texas.

Director's Message

TaftSince the publication of the last newsletter, work in the Observatory's core areas has been ongoing and includes great progress toward two of the Observatory's most important research initiatives:

Seeing first light on the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) in the next seven years, and launching the world's most comprehensive study of dark energy through the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX).

The HET is in the final stages of being re-commissioned for HETDEX, and Texas astronomers look to early 2016 as the date when they will begin employing the telescope to measure the expansion of the universe and how this expansion rate has changed with time. With regard to the GMT, the project team recently completed a rigorous set of design reviews and is preparing to enter the project's construction phase. Given the extraordinary science this telescope will be capable of -- it will be larger than any telescope in existence today and will allow astronomers to observe the first generation of stars and galaxies after the Big Bang -- it’s no wonder that the Giant Magellan Telescope is already compelling to K-12 audiences.

Sandra Preston, assistant director for Education and Outreach, will represent McDonald Observatory in late March at the first U.S.-Chile Astronomy Education and Outreach Summit. The goal of the Summit is to expand collaborations with Chileans and U.S. observatories in Chile to support education and outreach for the future Giant Magellan Telescope. McDonald Observatory’s work to bring a GMT workshop to science educators last summer was the first bit of education and outreach done by GMT partners, and we look forward to the opportunities to grow this and other efforts in the coming years.

New Superintendent

In West Texas and in Austin, Observatory staff members welcomed Craig Nance as the new superintendent. Craig was formerly at the University of Arizona as director of Mount Graham International Observatory and served as operations engineering manager at Keck Observatory. From 1997 to 2000, he worked at McDonald and became the facility manager for the HET. He brings with him a love of astronomy and McDonald Observatory, and valuable experience in engineering and management. Craig replaces Tom Barnes, who served in the post from 2010 to 2014, and Steve Bramlett, who kindly served as the interim superintendent during the end of 2014.

Supporting the National Research Council

This past fall, Texas astronomers responded to a call by the National Research Council to provide input on a number of different astronomy topics to help shape the future of astronomy in the U.S.  The papers are online and cover many facets of McDonald Observatory’s present and future instrumentation, training, and software development. It was a pleasure for me to write about telescopes and instrumentation at the Observatory, particularly as we look toward the future of astronomy research and the many doors that instruments like the HET and GMT will open.

All of the above — the work that occurs daily at the visitors center, and the outstanding effort being deployed to develop world-class instrumentation — is thanks to the hard work of many talented individuals and generous supporters who believe in McDonald Observatory’s future as much as I do. I look forward to sharing more news with you in the coming months, including at the 2015 Orion Festival – set for September 26, 2015. Your partnership and interest in our work is of great importance to our overall success. Thank you for contributing so richly to our mission.

Taft Armandroff, Director
Frank and Susan Bash Endowed Chair

Astronomy Day Programs Tap Into the International Year of Light

by Suzanne Geiger

Ask the staff at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center about the best parts of their jobs, and the answer will inevitably include something about seeing people experience astronomy in a way that lights up their whole face and makes learning contagious. This is never more true than when they're talking about K-12 students who catch the joy of science, often for the first time.

It's with this goal in mind that the Observatory conducts the Astronomy Day videoconference programs to students in Texas, the U.S., and worldwide. Though they are delivered remotely, they involve hands-on inquiry which students perform in the classroom — making them a hit with teachers and students both.

Funded in part by the Meyer Levy Charitable Foundation, the Astronomy Day videoconferences are in their 10th year and reach thousands of students annually. This past year, Education Specialist Marc Wetzel developed the videoconference broadcasts to contain content related to the International Year of Light, which was adopted by NASA and other astronomy institutions to be this year's astronomy theme. Through the programs, students virtually tour the 2.7- and 2.1-meter telescopes, make telescopic and solar observations, learn about solar features, and conduct a hands-on activity to put an experience to the information taught.

Last year, more than 13,000 K-12 students nationwide connected with the Observatory through Astronomy Day. This included students from 17 of Texas's 20 Education Service Centers. According to Wetzel, after students participate in an Astronomy Day program about the sun, they are more likely to draw a sun from then on according to its scientific features, which include things like sunspots and prominences. "The Astronomy Day program is so fantastic," Wetzel said, "because it really encourages students to think like a scientist and to view the world through that lens."

He added, "By connecting to an actual astronomical research facility, we give them a real-world experience that encourages higher-level thinking in all of their classes."

Engaging Educators to Affect Change in Student Learning

by Keely Finkelstein

Each summer and fall I get the chance to meet with teachers and bring them the best resources we have for teaching astronomy and space science in the classroom. In the summer months, educators attend McDonald Observatory on-site Professional-Development Teacher Workshops and enter a learning environment that enables their true immersion in science. In the fall, we participate in the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST), held annually in cities around Texas. Presenting at CAST allows McDonald Observatory to reach more teachers than we can reach on site (100% more!), and it allows participants from the summer workshops to gain more experience with science by helping us facilitate the CAST workshops for other teachers.

This past November, CAST was held in Dallas. As in years past, the conference drew thousands of science teachers who were hungry for science activities and resources. McDonald Observatory's presence at CAST is always welcome, particularly as we blend STEM curricula with the research that McDonald and UT scientists accomplish through NASA, NSF, and other research grants. This year Marc Wetzel and I presented four shortened teacher workshops to 200 K-12 teachers.

Just as Marc tied in the 2015 International Year of Light into his Astronomy Day videoconferences, teachers also attended a workshop on spectroscopy that was themed to the International Year of Light. In one activity, we showed teachers how to make a simple spectroscope to study different light sources. In a workshop titled, "Worlds Beyond Our Solar System," teachers learned about how astronomers detect exoplanets. Another workshop we offered was "Star Dust: Linking Distant Galaxies to Us."

Given the popularity of the Giant Magellan Telescope workshop that we offered on-site at the Observatory last summer (and will conduct again this summer, thanks to partial funding by the GMT Organization), we brought a shortened form of this workshop to CAST teachers, too.

The science that GMT will be capable of is ground-breaking. Engaging teachers and students in that level of science education is ground-breaking as well. One teacher who responded to a GMT post-workshop evaluation, said, "I will discuss and use cosmic time to introduce dark matter and dark energy, and the GMT [to my students]." As an astronomer, hearing that a teacher will instruct students in cosmic time and dark energy, etc. is music to my ears.

We hope to post the GMT conference activities online so students and teachers can learn about the telescope while it is under construction. Toward this end, I recently led teachers through a presentation on K-12 science education and the GMT at a Google Hangout sponsored by Learning Space. This, too, was a great opportunity to help science teachers across the country get a better understanding of ways that real-life astronomy research is applicable to students in the classroom. Teachers who have come into contact with McDonald Observatory walk away with a greater cache of resources and understanding. We hear that time and again in post-workshop evaluations and in the way that students engage with science through our programs. That, too, is music to my ears.

Save the Date: 2015 Orion Festival 

The 2015 Orion Festival is scheduled for Saturday, September 26th. Because of the position and phase of the moon at this time, the 2015 festival will present a fine opportunity the following evening to be in West Texas to observe the total lunar eclipse.
Please consider this extra (informal) viewing opportunity when making your travel plans.

To stay at the Astronomers Lodge or for other questions, please contact Suzanne Geiger by e-mail or by telephone at 512-475-8843. As in years past, activities for the festival will begin in the early afternoon and will include dinner, followed by a nighttime viewing.
 

 

 

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  business (i.e., not general public visitors) can make reservations via the Astronomy Department travel pages.

Rooms may also be reserved, as space permits, by participants in Special Programs, Friends of McDonald Observatory, and members of the Board of Visitors by making arrangements directly with the Lodge. Rooms for Special Programs are available the night of the program only. The Lodge is otherwise not available to the general public.

The Astronomer's Lodge hosts modest, and reasonably priced private rooms, a group entertainment room, and a dining room. Private rooms include private bath, a King Size bed or two twin beds. Occupancy is for adult guests only (children must be 12 or older).

Single Occupancy is $94 + $10.58 tax (if applicable) = $104.58 per night.
Double Occupancy is $150 + $16.88 tax = $166.88 per night.

(PICTURE HERE)

Also, our executive suite is available (please inquire for rates):

  • 2 large bedrooms, one with a King Size bed, one with two twin beds
  • 1 shared bath
  • Living/dining room with a spectacular view
  • Kitchenette
  • 2 level, newly remodeled
  • Separate entrance

Rates include a continental breakfast and two freshly prepared meals per day. (Rates are not discounted for guests who do not eat at the Lodge and are subject to change without notice.) Please make us aware of any special dietary needs at the time the reservation is made.

Because the Astronomer's Lodge accommodates researchers who are working at night, we ask all guests to cooperate with our lighting and noise policies so that both astronomers and guests have an enjoyable and productive stay.

Checkout time for guests is 11:00 AM, exceptions for astronomers and staff on official business.

Cancellation policy – Cancellations must be received at least 24 hours prior to reservation date. A service fee of $50.00 per night will be charged to the credit card on file for all no-shows.

Charged Coupled Devices

A person holds a CCD between two fingers.

Every night, light from celestial sources streams into telescopes at observatories around the world. After passing through various instruments and optics, each beam of light is brought into focus on a detector. Light sensitive detectors are essential for studying astronomy because they record the intensity and position of the light that has traveled so far to reach us. Previous generations of astronomers were accustomed to using glass photographic plates or even their unaided eyes as detectors to study light from the night sky. However, today astronomers use detectors called Charged-Coupled Devices, or CCDs, controlled by complex electronics, to make their observations.

CCDs are made of a thin wafer of silicon which is sensitive to light, on top or bottom of which is placed a tight array of pixels. The entire detector is usually a few square centimeters in size, about the size of a nickel, and it can be as thin as a micron, or a tenth of the diameter of a human hair. Pixels are laid out on the silicon wafer in a rectangular grid pattern, usually several hundred to a few thousand on a side. In order to fit so many pixels on such a small surface, the pixels themselves must also be very small; each measures approximately 10 to 20 microns across.

The pixels act like small buckets for collecting light. When light is focused onto the CCD, photons, or particles of light, fall into the pixels and are stored there, much like raindrops would build up in buckets laid out in an open field on a drizzly day. In reality, the pixels don't store photons, but electrons. Each photon that passes through a pixel knocks an electron off of the silicon layer of the detector, and it is this electron that the pixel stores. Electrons, unlike photons, are negatively charged particles, and their negative charge keeps them trapped inside the pixels. Thus, the number of electrons that the CCD collects is directly related to the number of photons that fall onto it.

Because astronomical sources are usually very faint, astronomers allow CCDs to collect light for time intervals ranging from a fraction of a second to several hours. During this time, electrons build up in the individual pixels. The number of electrons accumulated in a particular pixel depends on how many photons have passed through it. At the end of the exposure, the entire array is read electronically to determine the number of electrons present in each pixel. This digital information, which is collected from the grid either row-by-row or column-by-column, is then sent to a computer. When digital the value for each pixel is known, the entire array of pixels forms an image! Astronomical software packages can display and save the images for astronomers to use in their research.

During observing, CCDs must be kept very cold in order for them to work properly. This is usually achieved by encasing the CCD in a dewar, which is a type of special thermos designed to hold liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is added to the dewar on a regular schedule to keep the CCD chilled down to 77 K (or –321 degrees F).

The data collection methods enabled by CCDs have revolutionized modern astronomy. Images made with CCDs are much faster to gather and much easier to manipulate than images made using previous methods, such as photographic plates. Moreover, the small size and electronic data collection capabilities of CCDs have allowed for such major advances as space-borne observatories; the Hubble Space Telescope, together with the beautiful images it sends back to earth, are a testament to the success of CCD technology.

McDonald Observatory boasts several CCDs that are used with various instruments on the 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope, the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope, and the 0.8-meter Telescope. Oftentimes, the CCDs are given names according to the company that manufactured them. For example, the TI1 CCD was made by Texas Instruments, the TK CCD was made by Tektronics, and the LF1 CCD was made by Loral Fairchild. Many of the CCDs at McDonald Observatory, such as TK3, TK4, CC1, and TI1, are shared among the instruments, but some of them, such as LF1 on the PFC, are always used on the same instrument. The CCDs are always treated with great care, because they are very expensive. Despite their cost, though, they are essential pieces of equipment for modern-day observing at McDonald Observatory.

 

 

Prime Focus Corrector

The Prime Focus Corrector mounted on the 0.8-meter telescope.

The Prime Focus Corrector, or PFC, is the instrument currently used on the 0.8-meter telescope. The PFC takes images of celestial objects. As a prime focus instrument, it is located at the open end of the telescope tube. Light enters the telescope from an area on the sky and is reflected from the 0.8-meter mirror into a focal plane. The instrument is placed at the front of the telescope, in the focal plane. Once inside the PFC, light passes through a filter and onto a detector called a charged coupled device (CCD).

The PFC has five filters, and each one is designed to allow light of only one color to pass through. The filters are standard UBVRI filters, whose colors range from 360 nanometers, or violet, to 1,000 nm, or infrared. Before starting an observation, the astronomer must choose which of the filters to use, depending on what type of objects or properties he or she intends to study.

The CCD detector on this instrument can capture images in a region of the sky that is three-quarters of a degree across, or a bit larger than the size of the full Moon.

Although it is a relatively small telescope, the 0.8-meter telescope and the PFC make a very useful combination for many types of astronomical projects. Astronomers have used the PFC to make surveys of the sky, search for extrasolar planets, study comets, and search for Near Earth Asteroids.

The PFC also allows astronomers the opportunity to construct color images of celestial objects. All individual images that astronomers take with CCDs are only measures of intensity and are therefore black and white. However, with five filters of different wavelength ranges on the PFC, the intensity can be measured for every visible color. These images can be combined to create one color image of the object. Nearly all color images of astronomical objects are made in this way, including those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

 

Imaging Grism Instrument and Polarimeter (IGI, IGP)

IGI mounted on the 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope.

The Imaging Grism Instrument, IGI (rhymes with piggy), is an instrument built by Dr. Gary Hill and can be used at the Cassegrain focus of either the 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope or the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope. IGI is a very simple instrument that performs the following three functions:

Focal Reducer

A focal reducer is a set of lenses and mirrors that reduces the focal length, the total effective path that light travels in the telescope. By decreasing the focal length, IGI also decreases the f-number of the telescope, the ratio of the focal length and mirror diameter. The 2.7-meter Smith Telescope has a focal length of 24 meters and a mirror diameter of 2.7 meters, so the f-number for this telescope is 24 divided by 2.7, or 8.8.

IGI decreases the focal length by a factor of five to 4.7 meters and, hence, the f-number to 1.8.

Why would one want to reduce the focal length or f-number of a telescope? Well, there are basically two reasons: to increase the "speed" of the telescope and to change its magnification.

The f-number is often used to describe the "speed" of an optical system. A telescope with a low f-number is said to be very "fast." A fast telescope requires less integration time -- the time spent collecting light -- than a telescope with a larger f-number. Therefore, with the same integration time, a telescope with a lower f-number produces a brighter image than one with a larger f-number.

Also, the focal length of a telescope is directly related to the magnification; telescopes with a larger focal length have a larger magnification and a smaller field of view. If observing an object such as the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), which is large and bright, you might choose to use the focal reducer. Without the focal reducer, you will need to spend more time observing in order to make an image of the entire galaxy. Additionally, you may want to make an image of a greater region of sky, such as a cluster of very faint galaxies, so you would use IGI in its imaging and focal reducing mode.

Spectrograph

In addition to acting as a focal reducer, astronomers can use IGI as a low-resolution spectrograph. IGI has a light collimator that makes the light rays all parallel to one another. By inserting a grism into the path of this collimated light, the light is dispersed into its spectrum of wavelengths. It's that simple; you just slip the grism into the light path and you've got a spectrograph.

Polarimeter

IGI also has another variation in which it can be used as a type of instrument called a "polarimeter." In this mode, IGI is called the Imaging Grism Polarimeter (IGP). The observer adds another system of optics to IGI to create IGP. This addition consists of two parts: a polarizing beam splitter and a half-wave plate. The beam splitter, as the name implies, takes a beam of light and splits it into two separate paths. The wave plate rotates the polarization of the light. Together, these two create an instrument that can observe light of different polarizations from regions such as active galaxies and star-forming regions.

UBVRI filters

Filters used for astronomical observations, such as these, are often mounted on disks called filter wheels. The astronomer can turn the filter wheel so that incoming light passes through the correct color filter.

When using a telescope to make images of celestial objects, astronomers often place special pieces of glass called filters into the path of the light. Just as a coffee filter allows coffee to pass through, and blocks everything that is not coffee, an astronomical filter allows light of certain wavelengths to pass through and blocks other wavelengths. This enables astronomers to study specific colors of light from celestial sources. Astronomical filters are made of colored glass and usually measure about one square inch.

Two important types of filters are wide-band filters and narrow-band filters. Narrow-band filters, as their name suggests, only allow a small range of wavelengths of light to pass through. They are often used to study light that is emitted by specific elements, such as hydrogen or oxygen. Wide-band filters, on the other hand, isolate a large range of wavelengths of light. In the area of the spectrum near visible light, the most commonly used set of wide-band filters go by the names U, B, V, R, and I.

The U filter stands for ultraviolet, and it allows light of wavelengths between about 320 nanometers (nm) and 400 nm to pass through. Thus, the U band is about 100 nm wide.

The B filter is for blue, and it filters light of wavelengths between about 400 nm and 500 nm.

Likewise, the V, R, and I filters stand for visible, red, and infrared respectively, and their respective wavelength ranges are approximately 500 nm to 700 nm for V, 550 nm to 800 nm for R, and 700 nm to 900 nm for I.

The system was first developed in the 1950s at the McDonald Observatory with the 0.9-meter Telescope, and included the UBV filters. Today, the UBVRI filter system has become standard in astronomy. Many astronomers use these filters for a wide variety of research projects.

 

 

Argos

The 2.1-meter Otto Struve telescope has been brought down to a servicing position so that astronomers can work on Argos, which is mounted at prime focus.

Argos is an instrument that is available to use on the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope. It's a photometer, which means it measures the intensity of light received by the telescope -- usually in very short time intervals. In its initial design, which was later revised, the instrument used many phototubes (tiny glass tubes that are sensitive to light) to detect incoming photons. Because of this, it was given the name Argos in honor of the many-eyed monster from Greek mythology. Instead of phototubes, however, Argos uses a charged coupled device (CCD) to make observations of the night sky.

Argos is a prime focus instrument, meaning that it is located at the open end of the Otto Struve Telescope. Light that enters the telescope is reflected off the 2.1-meter diameter primary mirror and is brought into focus at the top of the telescope tube. The instrument is situated in the focal plane of the light so that the CCD intercepts the light when it is in focus. The field of view of the detector measures 2.8 arc-minutes across, which is roughly the size of a tennis ball seen from a mile away.

Unlike most astronomical instruments, Argos doesn't have a shutter to open or block the flow of light onto the CCD. Instead, the CCD is divided in half, and images are collected using the so-called "frame transfer method." Initially, the first half of the CCD collects light for a given exposure time. When the time has elapsed, the data from that half of the microchip is instantly transferred to the second half, freeing the first half to again start collecting data. While the first half is collecting more data, the second half reads the transferred set of data out to a computer. The entire process happens very quickly, as exposure times can be as small as one second, and it continues for as long as the astronomer needs to observe.

There are several filters available for use with Argos, which allow astronomers to study specific wavelengths of light from astronomical sources. Filters that are commonly used with the instrument include a special blue filter and standard BVR filters. It is possible to mount two filters into Argos at one time, so that the astronomer may switch between them at will. Because the entire slide mount must be removed to change filters, this makes it more convenient for astronomers who need more than one filter for their observations.

Argos is a relatively young instrument, as it was finished in June of 2001 and commissioned in November of 2001. Despite its young age, however, Argos has helped astronomers at McDonald Observatory discover 22 pulsating white dwarf stars to date.

 

Guiders

The scanco guider in place in the Coude slit room.

Collecting light from astronomical objects is often very difficult because people do not observe the heavens from a stationary point. As Earth turns on its axis, objects such as the Sun, Moon, and stars appear to travel though the sky. In order to compensate for this motion, many types of amateur and professional telescopes alike are designed to track the stars as they move overhead. Tracking simply involves moving the telescope in right ascension at a constant rate - this follows the rotation of the Earth, and causes the stars to appear stationary in the field of view of the telescope.

For very precise measurements, however, simply tracking on an astronomical object is not accurate enough. Factors such as refraction of light through the atmosphere at different parts of the sky, the telescope structure bending slightly differently at different positions, and tracking that doesn't follow the Earth's motion exactly all cause an astronomical object to wander in a very small field of view. To ensure that this doesn't happen, astronomers guide the telescope on the object. Guiding is simply a fine-tuning of the telescope tracking. It involves moving the telescope in the necessary direction to correct for errors not accounted for in tracking.

Guiding is usually accomplished using an instrument called a guider. A guider is a camera with a charged coupled device (CCD) or TV that records some of the incoming light that has been reflected out of the main optical path. Guider images taken every few seconds or every fraction of a second are sent to a computer and displayed for the astronomer to see. The astronomer finely adjusts the position of the telescope based on the movement of the object in the images. Even better are instruments called auto-guiders. Images from auto-guiders are sent to a computer, where they are analyzed by a computer program for object movement. If the program determines that the object has moved and the telescope should be adjusted, the computer does so. Astronomers generally like auto-guiding because it can be quite accurate, and the freedom from having to guide on an object allows them to do other things.

There are several different guiders that are used at McDonald Observatory, the most familiar ones being the Apogee guider, the Star 1 guider, the MicroLuminetics guider, the White Guider, and the Scanco guider. Each guider can be used with more than one instrument. For example, the Apogee guider is used with CoolSpec, the Large Cassegrain Spectrograph, the Imaging Grism Instrument, and the Millisecond Infrared Astrophysical Spectrometer. The Star 1 guider can be used with the Cassegrain Spectrometer es2 or the Imaging Grism Instrument, and the MicroLuminetics guider is most often used with the Sandiford Cassegrain Eschelle Spectrometer. The Coudé Spectrograph on the 2.7-m Harlan J. Smith Telescope is the sole user of the Scanco guider, and the Prime Focus Camera on the 0.8 meter Telescope also has its own unnamed guider.

 

Sandiford Cassegrain Echelle Spectrometer

The Sandiford Cassegrain Eschelle Spectrometer (bottom) is shown here mated to the Otto Struve Telescope.

The Sandiford Cassegrain Echelle Spectrometer is an instrument often used on the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope. It is a spectrometer, which means that it spreads incoming light into its component wavelengths for astronomers to study. The light is spread by an echelle, which is a special type of diffraction grating.

The Sandiford Cassegrain Echelle Spectrometer, or CE for short, is mounted on the telescope at the Cassegrain focus of the telescope. This focus position is located behind the back of the primary mirror. Light that enters the telescope is reflected off the primary mirror, which is 2.1 meters in diameter. The primary mirror directs the light to a smaller secondary mirror near the top of the telescope tube, and the secondary mirror reflects the light back down the telescope tube, through a hole in the primary mirror, and into the instrument. The instrument is placed such that it intercepts the light when the light is brought into focus.

Once inside CE, light must pass through a variety of optics before it is measured. First, it is directed through a narrow slit, which shapes the incoming beam of light into a very skinny rectangle. This line of light is the most convenient way to create a tidy spectrum. Mirrors reflect the light towards an echelle, which is a special type of diffraction grating. The echelle separates the light into its component colors. The separated light is then reflected through a filter expressly designed to keep different parts of the spectrum from overlapping, and finally to a charged coupled device (CCD). The CCD is a light detector that records the spectrum and sends it to a computer in digital form for astronomers to study.

CE is a high resolution instrument, meaning that it is capable of separating light into very fine divisions. High resolution allows astronomers to see more detailed properties of the objects they are studying. CE can detect light of wavelengths between 370 nm and 1100 nm very efficiently. Since its introduction as an instrument, it has been used primarily to study the spectra of different kinds of stars to determine their composition, motions, and structure.

 

The Sandiford Cassegrain Echelle Spectrometer was named in honor of the late Brendan Sandiford, a McDonald Observatory employee who helped develop the instrument in 1991.

Cassegrain Spectrograph

The 2.1-meter (82-inch) Otto Struve Telescope at the University of Texas McDonal

Light from the primary mirror is reflected by a secondary mirror to an instument attached to the telescope through a hole in the primary mirror.Light from the primary mirror is reflected by a secondary mirror to an instument attached to the telescope through a hole in the primary mirror. The Cassegrain Spectrograph (ES2) is a spectrometer constructed by the Boller and Chivens company and used on the Otto Struve 2.1-m telescope at the Cassegrain focus. The spectrograph offers low to medium resolution with resolving power of 600-2,500 over the wavelength range from 0.3 to 1.1 micrometers.

ES2 is a classic spectrometer. Light comes into the telescope, onto the primary mirror, and is reflected by the secondary mirror down to the Cassegrain focus. Within the spectrograph, the light passes through the slit, is collimated (made parallel) by reflecting off a parabolic mirror, and, then is reflected by the diffraction grating (i.e., a dispersing element) into the light's spectrum over ES2's wavelength range. This spectrum of light is then focused by a set of lenses onto the charged coupled device (CCD), either the TI1 or CC1. The TI1 CCD is used for the blue region of the spectrum (i.e. shorter wavelengths), and the CC1 CCD observes the red region (longer wavelengths).

As with most spectrometers, ES2 has both spatial and spectral coverage. The instrument measures the spectrum of light from a particular source so it has spectral coverage. However, the instrument also measures the spectrum of light from different regions in the source. That is, it has spatial coverage; slits for ES2 range from 0.5 to 120 arcseconds. Consider that an astronomer may want to observe some extended source in search of emission from oxygen atoms. The astronomers will want spectral coverage so that they can determine the nature of the emission, but they will also want spatial coverage so that they can determine which regions of the object have, for example, oxygen atoms at the proper temperature to emit radiation.

Robert G. Tull Coudé Spectrograph

There are four different configurations of the Tull Spectrograph on the 2.7 meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope. The configurations are TS11, also known as the 6-Foot Camera; TS12, also known as the Long Focus camera; TS21; and TS23. The instruments are spectrographs, meaning they separate light into its component colors, creating a spectrum for astronomers to study.

All of these instruments are located at Coudé focus. Light is collected by the telescope and reflected by four mirrors down the telescope axis and into a room known as the Coudé slit room. A pivoting mirror at the base of the telescope axis allows an astronomer to decide which spectrograph entrance slit to use. One spectrograph slit allows the incoming light to follow the 6-Foot Camera and the Long Focus Camera light path. The other spectrograph slit allows the incoming light to follow the TS21 and the TS23 light path. These light paths are inside the Coudé room, which is essentially the inside of an astronomical camera that happens to be large enough to allow people to walk around inside. It is a long room painted entirely black, and it contains many pieces of optical equipment. The optical equipment directs light from the spectrograph slits to the diffraction gratings, lenses, prisms and mirrors that make up the 6-Foot Camera, the Long Focus Camera, TS21, and TS23. At the end of the optical path, light is detected by a charged coupled device (CCD) camera.

The difference between the different configurations is that they provide varying degrees of resolution, or spreading of light into its component colors. The 6-Foot Camera is a medium to high resolution spectrometer, while the Long Focus Camera is a very high resolution spectrometer. TS21 and TS23 are both medium to high resolution spectrometers. There are five different diffraction gratings and two different echelles that can be used with the instruments. An echelle is a special type of diffraction grating with fewer grooves per millimeter than a normal diffraction grating. Different combinations of echelles and diffraction gratings provide different degrees of resolution and allow astronomers to study different ranges of wavelengths.

The instruments at Coudé focus on the 2.7-m Harlan J. Smith Telescope provide the highest resolution available at McDonald Observatory. The instruments were designed for spectroscopy of the atmospheres of stars and planets, and they are most often used for this purpose.

Formerly called the Coude Spectrograph, the instrument was renamed "the Robert G. Tull Coudé Spectrograph" recently in honor of its creator.

 

High Resolution Spectrograph

The High Resolution Spectrograph is located below the observing floor of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, in the basement.

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) hosts a trilogy of spectroscopic instruments, the High-, Medium-, and Low-Resolution Spectrographs (HRS, MRS, and LRS). Of these, the HRS offers the highest resolution; that is, it can discern fine features in the spectra from astronomical sources by spreading the spectrum out more than the other spectrographs.

Because the light is more spread out, astronomers generally must observe brighter objects with the HRS than those that they might detect with LRS or MRS. However, in this sacrifice of sensitivity, the observer attains a spectral resolution that is matched by only a few astronomical instruments in the world.

In design and function, the HRS is much like the MRS. The HRS is housed in a dark, cooled room below the telescope floor which is, as described by research engineer and assistant director John Booth, a "meat locker." In fact, the room that houses the HRS and MRS is a meat locker. The HET staff found that it was less expensive to buy a commercial meat locker than to build a thermally-controlled room.

Because the HRS is not located at the telescope's prime focus like the LRS, fiber-optic lines move the light from the prime focus to the HRS in the meat locker.

The HRS is, technically, a fiber-fed cross-dispersed echelle spectrograph.

It is called "fiber-fed" because the light is delivered to the instrument via optical fibers into the entrance slit of the spectrograph.

The dispersive element is an echelle grating, a special kind of diffraction grating that gives much higher resolution than other gratings. These gratings are generally set apart from other diffraction gratings because they have much deeper and far fewer grooves cut into their surface.

The echelle is the grating of choice for high resolution spectrographs. However, with an echelle grating, you generally need another dispersing element, a grating or prism, to effectively break the spectrum into smaller pieces and stack them on top of one another. Otherwise, you'd need a really long detector, a charged-coupled device (CCD), to gather all of the spectrum.

With today's large square CCDs, it is possible to collect the data from the "stacked" spectra that are organized by the second dispersing element. This element in the spectrograph is called the cross-disperser.

Hence, the HRS is a fiber-fed cross-dispersed echelle spectrograph.

 

Eyepiece

Viewers prepare to look through the eyepiece of the 0.9-meter Telescope.

Astronomers no longer look through eyepieces on research telescopes to do their research, but eyepieces are still important at McDonald Observatory.

That's because they are attached to both our Harlan J. Smith research telescope and our 0.9-meter Telescope on a regular basis for our Special Viewing Nights. These monthly programs allow members of the public who've made advance reservations look through these telescopes for up-close views of planets, galaxies, and other beautiful celestial objects.

McDonald is one of the few professional observatories in the world that allows the general public to use its large research-class telescopes.

 

Mitchell Spectrograph

The Mitchell Spectrograph on the Harlan J. Smith Telescope.

The Mitchell Spectrograph was initially known as VIRUS-P. That's because it is a prototype for VIRUS, a much larger instrument planned for an upcoming project on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory. The installation of the Mitchell Spectrograph on the 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope is both helping astronomers prepare for that project, and to do interesting science today.

VIRUS stands for “Visible Integral-field Replicable Unit Spectrograph.” A spectrograph takes the light from astronomical objects and breaks it down into its component wavelengths, creating a spectrum for that object. A spectrum is like a fingerprint of a star or galaxy, and astronomers can get amazing amounts of information from it: how far away something is, how fast it’s moving, what elements or compounds it contains, and how hot or cold it is.

The “R” in VIRUS stands for “Replicable.” The final VIRUS instrument will contain 145 copies of the same spectrograph, put together to make one powerful instrument. The prototype contains one copy.

That’s so astronomers and engineers can test it, and work the kinks out, before they make all the copies. This will save money and time.

The final VIRUS instrument will be used for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Project. Its 145 spectrographs will be capable of simultaneously observing almost 36,000 individual pieces of the sky.

For the HETDEX project, HET & VIRUS will measure the positions in space of 10,000 galaxies every night, meaning a million galaxies in 100 nights. This survey is sufficient to constrain the scale of the universe to better than 1%, and will tell us whether “dark energy” — a mysterious force causing the universe to expand faster than expected — is a constant effect over time, or whether it evolves. The nature of dark energy has been called the biggest problem in all of science today.

The type of galaxies that HETDEX will map is very specific: the so-called “Lyman-alpha” galaxies. Right now, the HETDEX team is looking for these very galaxies in a pilot survey using the Mitchell Spectrograph on the Smith Telescope. This instrument was completed in October 2006.

They are also making VIRUS-P available for other astronomers to use, and it has attracted quite a bit of attention.

Together, VIRUS-P and the Smith Telescope make the most powerful instrument/telescope combination for a variety of studies. Its unique ability to take spectra of a large area of the sky at once allows astronomers to study light that is spread over a large region of the sky and very faint. By being able to grasp so much sky area at once, VIRUS-P can add up many very faint spectra to make one detailed spectrum. For example, this has opened up the study of the dark matter around galaxies, since one has to probe the very furthest extent of the galaxy where the light from stars is very faint.

 

Camera for Quasars in the Early Universe

CQUEAN attached to the Otto Struve Telescope. (Credit: Seoul National University)

Light from the primary mirror is reflected by a secondary mirror to an instument attached to the telescope through a hole in the primary mirror.Light from the primary mirror is reflected by a secondary mirror to an instument attached to the telescope through a hole in the primary mirror. The Camera for Quasars in the Early Universe (CQUEAN) is a multipurpose imaging camera located at the Cassegrain focus of the Otto Struve Telescope. It is optimized for viewing red objects that emit wavelengths between 0.7 to 1.1 microns. Its field of view is fairly large for professional-grade telescopes, at 4.7 sqaure arcminutes.

The instrument has a fast readout time that allows for astronomers to observe celestial objects whose light output varies rapidly. CQUEAN also includes an auto-guider program to keep the telescope tracking an object across the sky during long exposure times.

"The red sensitivity and no fringing at long wavelengths make the camera special, "Dr. Myungshin Im, from Seoul National University, co-Principal Investigator of the CQUEAN project explains. "We wanted to obtain imaging data to select high-redshift quasars. Usually quasars have red colors due to their spectra being red-shifted to longer wavelengths. This requirement called for a construction of a red-sensitive imager, and to be competitive with other surveys, we built CQUEAN quickly with off-the-shelf components."

CQUEAN is good at detecting red wavelengths because it has a CCD designed to work well at long wavelengths.The trade-off is that to gain efficiency in the red part of the spectrum, it must lose efficiency in the blue. Currently, the CQUEAN team is working to improve the sensitivity at blue wavelengths by replacing some of the optics in the system.

CQUEAN was constructed at Kyunghee University and Seoul National University of Korea from February 2009 through August 2010. Dr. Im and Professor Soojong Pak (Kyunghee University) are the leaders of the CQUEAN project. Dr. Won-Kee Park (Seoul National University) was in charge of software development. Dr. Seunghyuk Jang (Samsung) was responsible for the optical design of the focal reducer. Also, students at Kyunghee University and Seoul National University worked on the development of the camera.

CQUEAN has been used to select 20 high redshift quasar candidates for spectroscopic follow up in the Infrared Multi-tiered Survey. It also obtained images of a supernova in the M101 galaxy. The CQUEAN team is also working on CQUEAN2, a similar camera with a field of view nearly 100 times larger.

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50th Anniversary of McDonald

T-shirt image for 50th anniversary designed by Tim Jones

I remember the 50th anniversary of McDonald Observatory in 1989.  I was there!  Here's the t-shirt image that Tim Jones designed for that event.

College Trip to McDonald

I was a college student at UT in the early '90s, and had to do a photo essay for photojournalism class. I chose McDonald Observatory as my subject matter. I didn't know a soul at the Observatory, but contacted them and asked permission to visit. I was allowed to come out and photograph the telescopes inside the domes, and got a private tour of just about everything. It was incredible.

The trip fueled my love of astronomy. Back on campus in Austin, I ended up interning at StarDate magazine, which led me to a couple of summers interning in Hubble Space Telescope press office, then grad school for science journalism, and finally into a PR job at one of the national observatories.

And now here we are, almost 20 years later. I'm working with the folks at McDonald who helped me out back in my school days. I'm learning more about astronomy all the time. It's amazing to get to communicate discoveries about the universe that are made right here in Texas!

 

75th Anniversary Paint Job

Stripping the 82" Otto Struve Telescope Dome

Stripping and painting of the 82" Otto Struve Telescope dome began September 3, 2013, as part of the overall 75th Anniversary year.

The existing coating is being stripped using high-pressure water, bringing the surface of the dome to bare, galvanized metal panels.  Once the stripping and rinsing surface preparations are completed, the dome gets fresh paint.

A low-emissivity white urethane-epoxy paint is used, the first coat acting as a primer/bond coat, and the subsequent two coats providing the protective and weather top-coat.

Much of the work has been done in inclement weather, at the end of the monsoon season, including rain, humidity in excess of 98%, and moderate to high wind.

Comet Hale-Bopp

As a graduate student at UT, I made several visits to McDonald Observatory. One night in particular stands out in my mind. In the early morning hours Comet Hale-Bopp was hanging above the horizon, looking absolutely spectacular in the observatory's dark skies.

During the overnight hours, any calls to the observatory were routed to the 107-inch control room, where I was running the telescope. The phone rang and the caller asked, "What is that thing in the sky that looks like a comet?" I replied, "You're exactly right — it's a comet!"

When I first saw it.

I first saw the 82-inch telescope when I came to work here in 2000. I thought it was the most beautiful instrument I'd ever seen. It reminded me of the old pictures of astronomers working at Mount Wilson.

I was so disapponted to find out tours were not done there, because when people think of a grand old telescope, I'm sure THIS is what they would think of. To this day, when visitors ask me "What's the coolest thing you've ever seen here at McDonald?" I still say "Saturn through the 82-inch telescope."

Opening of the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center

McDonald Observatory vista

I remember how exciting it was to be newly hired at the McDonald Observatory Visitors Center in anticipation of the VC's grand opening.  We opened only days before Spring Break, and let me tell you that was a steep learning curve those first few months.  The StarDate Cafe served hot chocolate from individual cocoa packets!  

After the first 1,000 cups of hot chocolate that very first week, modifications were made to order bulk rather than individual portions.  I remember thinking that the lines must almost be at an end, then looked up and saw the masses still lined up out the door!  Exhausting yet thrilling days back then! 

Now, I work in the noble landmark of the Otto Struve 82-inch Telescope.  I love the location, I love the view, I am facinated by the "workings" and I am indeed priveledged to be a part of the history of McDonald Observatory.

 

Snowed In

Snow trees at the playground.

Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts from the 0.9-meter Telescope

The Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts on Jupiter occured July 16-22, 1994 as pieces of the object, earlier broken into a "string of pearls" by the immense gravity of Jupiter, one by one impacted Jupiter's upper atmosphere leaving scars in the visible image of Jupiter that were larger in size than the Earth.  Had one of these objects hit the Earth it would have been devastating, but thankfully Jupiter had caught them and was absorbing the many blows.  Observatories all over the world had plans to view the impacts if they could be seen from Earth, but no one knew if it would be possible.

At Mt. Locke, I was a staff member at the time and we made sure everything was ready for the chance to see the first impact on a foreign body, Jupiter in this case, ever observed by mankind.  The 0.9-meter observer was set to look for the impact flash reflecting off one of Jupiter's moons since no one on Earth could see them directly.  They would hit just over the horizon of Jupiter and within a few minutes the site would rotate into view.

On the first night, the observer was not able to see the flash as he had hoped, so his plan was abandoned freeing up the 0.9-meter for other use. No backup observations had been planned, so I asked the Superintendent for permission to do visual observations at the 0.9-meter. By the next night we were ready to take a look.

All the opportunities to view Jupiter were in the early evening, as Jupiter set shortly after sunset (and from the 0.9-meter, the mountain blocked our view of it even earlier).

We got word from the 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope observer that the first impact of the evening had occured. We were watching the approaching edge of Jupiter anxiously to see the new impact site. When it came into view, it was incredible. As it passed over the face of Jupiter, we called just about everyone on the mountain to come take a look.  Observers on the other telescopes were using guide cameras with their spectrographs which don't really produce quality images so they took turns guiding for their instruments and came to get an eye view.  We viewed every night we could and had visitors from Fort Davis including the Boy Scout troop marveling at the newly formed impact "craters."

That period of viewing is my most memorable experience during my 22+ years working at the Observatory.

My Growing Up Years at The McDonald Observatory

Family photo 1972; Mt. Fowlkes in background

The McDonald Observatory was my childhood home. My family moved there from San Antonio in 1968 or so, just after the large telescope was built. My father’s office every day was mostly the 82-inch Telescope. My playground was the mountains ...

There were four of us at the time, myself being the oldest, and three younger brothers. We rode the bus to school in Fort Davis along with all the other children that lived on the mountain. Actually, our homes were at the base of Mt. Locke. They were all single-wide mobile homes. Some, like ours, were installed up the side of the mountain, in the shadow of Mt. Locke. Other mobile homes were located in a large circle in the valley of Mt. Locke.

The land on which the Visitor’s Center is today, was a field. There were usually Brahma bulls in this pasture and we had ‘fun’ taunting them — at a safe distance on the other side of a barbed wire fence!

Our play activities never included any regular television shows. We were too remote to get any stations except on clear nights and some mornings, we could get channel 2 from El Paso!  There was a television antenna that Dad installed in a large pine tree out the back door of the trailer — which, by the way, had no stairs to it. It was a long fall out the back door if one decided to exit that way!  Anyway, the antenna would frequently get blown around and what little reception we got would go away. Dad would climb the tree and twist the antenna around until one of us shouted out from inside “GOOD! STOP THERE!”  However, other than Bugs Bunny at 6 am on Saturdays, we really had no interest in television.

We played cowboys and Indians and made up our own games, usually with nothing other than our own imaginations and stayed outside as much as possible. We learned which wildlife to retreat from – namely skunks and porcupines. Once, we saw a mountain lion. I believe we ran all the way down Mt. Fowlkes without stopping. I’m sure the mountain lion ran down the other side of the mountain just as fast.

We didn’t know the name of that mountain then — we called it ‘flat top’ mountain because, well, it was flat on top. We regularly wandered around up there as well as the woods behind our houses that led up to the top of the mountain to the main telescopes. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope had not yet been built on our ‘flat top’ playground, so we had free reign. There were rocks to collect, trees to climb, forts to built — the possibilities endless.

Most of the residents had horses. There was a stable in the circle of houses below us. We kept an ornery sorrel named Foxy there. Foxy was gentle with us kids, but always tried to bite my dad.  There were several trips to the emergency room in Alpine for broken bones.  One was a broken collar bone that I sustained when riding someone else’s Shetland pony that brushed me off under a tree.

We left before I entered middle school and I cried and cried. I miss that lifestyle to this day. As an adult, I ended up in Houston for a job opportunity and that’s where I must stay. My children and now grandchildren are from here. I return to the McDonald Observatory from time to time and reminisce about how life would be different if my father hadn’t taken another job and taken us away from there.

It’s a wonderful, magical place in my mind. My childhood experiences there shaped who I am today and I’m very grateful for having lived there.

The Astronomy Department Airline: Nonstop Service Between Austin and Marfa

One of our Aztecs at the Austin terminal.

In the '70s, the Department operated a scheduled air charter service between Austin and Marfa. Strictly speaking, the airplane was "leased" and not "chartered." That word is important to the FAA, because leased aircraft (which operate under FAA Part 91) could do things that chartered aircraft (which operate under FAA part 135) could not (at least legally).

We used a Piper Aztec, a twin engine, turbo-charged piston powered airplane that seated 5 passengers plus the pilot. Our pilot was a World War 2 veteran (a P51 pilot during the war) named Jake Jacobsen. His actual first name was Ingvar, but he went by Jake.

The flight left Browning Aviation (a general aviation terminal at the old Robert Mueller airport) promptly at 8:00 a.m. every Monday and Friday. Two hours later we landed at Marfa, where we swapped vehicles with the staff that was departing the mountain back to Austin. The plane was refueled, Jake had his cup of coffee, and the flight left Marfa at 10:30 a.m. for the return to Austin.

Drinking that extra cup of coffee was risky for the passengers because there was no restroom on the airplane, and many of us arrived at our destination in agony, sprinting for the nearest restroom after getting off the airplane. There is a legendary story of one of our astronomers using the PUD (personal urinary device), a milk bottle sized contraption that Jake kept under the seats for extreme emergencies. Of course this device was used in full view of everyone on the airplane.

The vehicle left the TQ [temporary quarters, now called the Astronomers Lodge] for the Marfa airport at 9:30 a.m., and this made the last night of observing difficult, especially during long winter nights when observing could go on till 7:30 a.m. or later. After completing his last night, the observer had to convert his data to punched cards, a slow process, but the only method available to get stored data off the IBM 1800 computer for transport to Austin. Departing observers frequently carried up to 10 boxes of cards, each box containing 1500 punched cards. 

 

Betty Evans, Dr. David S. Evans

This morning, I had the unique, and wonderful opportunity to host Ms. Betty Evans, and her niece, for a VIP tour here at McDonald.  Ms. Evans is the wife of Dr. David S. Evans, a renowned astronomer from Cambridge, who later worked with McDonald Observatory.


Ms. Evans was delightful to talk with, and has numerous anecdotes and memories of the McDonald institution from the 1968 time-frame forward. 

There are many rare and inspiring people I've met since I've been here at the Observatory, and Ms. Evans is one of the most memorable.  I aspire to be like her, and like my father when I'm in my 90s, spry, with a sharp wit, and a clear memory.

Many of Dr. Evans contributions, and even some of the equipment he worked with continue to be important to this day.  I was able to show Ms. Evans the current incarnation of one of the telescopes her husband made history with, still working today, and contributing toward astronomy and contemporary scientific discovery now, and into the future.

Ms. Evans is a gracious, and fine lady, in the most classical of the sense, and I am honored to have met her.

My Experiences at the HET

Working at the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) was one of the high points of my career in optics, and a time I will never forget!  I was employed as the On-site Optical Engineer for the HET scope from about August 2001 until March 2003. From the very start, it was an unusual experience.

The person who hired me for this Optical Engineer position resigned and left the site shortly after I began work. That was unfortunate, since I was looking forward to reporting to that individual, as my supervisor. But it worked out that I continued reporting to the on-site Director of McDonald, so it would prove to be a pleasant and satisfactory arrangement.

I had worked at multiple observatories in Hawaii (Island of Maui) and also for the U. of H. Institute for Astronomy (I fA), so working for another university was not an issue. The HET Observatory and its telescope were the largest facility and telescope equipment with which I had ever been associated, (optical scope that is, since I had also worked at the NRAO, which has extremely large radio telescopes!) I knew the HET was going to be an interesting challenge.

During my time there, I had the opportunity to help with the care and feeding of the HET, from tasks as mundane as sweeping dust off the concrete ring wall on which the HET scope rides on air bearings, to cleaning the mirror segments with CO2 snow. Also, these tasks included technical matters such as measuring the reflectivity of the mirror coatings, making adjustments to mechanical equipment, helping work on detectors, and occasionally helping other guys to remove one of the mirror segments from the primary mirror array, when a mirror needed special attention. My least favorite jobs were:  (a.) climbing around on the truss in order to inspect or remove a mirror segment, and  (b.) climbing up and down the CCAS tower outside, which was 90 feet to the top. But these were also parts of the job.

All in all, I liked the work at the HET very much and will never regret having had this opportunity to work with the HET.  The HET is an amazing telescope for astronomical research; it facilitates the pursuit of spectroscopy on a level which is hard to equal. It just does what it was intended to do!  Best of all, the people at the HET and at McDonald in general, were the greatest bunch of folks, and consequently were a joy to work with as associates!  A nicer group of folks you will not find, not easily. My favorite visual observing scope was the 82 inch, which has exquisite optics for imagery. We got to use this scope several times, which was a real treat!

My wife and I lived on-site in one of the University houses which are on the McDonald Observatory property. We both loved that experience. Deer, javalina, foxes, humming birds, etc. would visit our patio and yard all the time, and we never tired of watching and interfacing with the wild life at McDonald. My wife worked at the Visitor's Center, and she enjoyed that as much as I liked working at HET. More nice people were her associates, at the the Center.

McDonald Observatory will always be a place I remember with warm feelings. It was a great learning opportunity, a good part of my optical career, and a wonderful place to live and share our lives with our fellow employees at the site. Thanks for all the good times, and keep up the great work in professional astronomy!

Expanding the Soul

At night at the 82-inch.

When you stay in the house too much, without any contact with nature, you know how you develop a sort of sickness of the soul? Peak experiences in nature do the opposite; they're soul expanding. McDonald Observatory gives people a special way to connect with nature, whether those people travel to the site, or not. For me, it started each night with seeing a long way in every direction from the top of Mount Locke. You can see lightning storms far off over the plains, rainbows and all the distant sunsets, and stars, and planets popping into view. For a girl in her 20s, there was never so exhilarating a freedom as being able to walk around after dinner, under the darkening sky, just looking up.

  No streetlights came on, but there was no need to worry about being out alone at night, even in the dark of the Moon, as we women sometimes worry in the city. It was always a safe journey into even the darkest of nights, and I came to know my way along the paths between the domes by touch, rather than sight.

There was a magic question that every astronomer always wanted to answer: "What are you working on?" They talked so freely about the space around us, with so many different perspectives on what's out there. Often these conversations went on late at night, in one or another of the domes, as points of fresh data appeared on computer screens in front of us. The tools of astronomy, like those at McDonald Observatory, have let astronomers study starlight — that delicate substance — in order to draw their pictures of the universe.

It was thanks to Harlan Smith that those pictures didn't go into a private room with a sign over the door marked "Astronomers Only." Harlan was a trailblazer and trendsetter who helped open the door to viewing and marveling at astronomers' pictures of what surrounds us in space, for all. I was proud to act as his minion.

I saw too many wonderful sights in the sky over McDonald Observatory to list here. I'll mention one particularly rich Perseid meteor shower, which built over many nights. At the shower's peak, in the hours before dawn, I lay in the back of a flatbed truck parked between the 107-inch and 82-inch domes, as Perseid meteors in all colors literally rained down from the top of the sky. I also especially remember a little crescent Moon, only 18-19 hours from the new phase (I forget the exact number now). It was just a ghost of a Moon really, rising in the east in bright dawn twilight, spotted from the catwalk of the 82-inch telescope dome. The astronomers inside that dome were just finishing their night's work, and they came outside to enjoy the little Moon with me.

I haven't had a night on Mount Locke in a quarter century now. But my soul got so big from being outside on those nights at McDonald Observatory that the memories have carried me through many decades since … and I'm grateful.

Widening State Highway 118 - Explosively!

Highway 118 before the blast.

State highway 118 from Ft. Davis to the observatory used to be a very different road than it is today. It was a very narrow 2 lane road with no shoulders and no safety “skid out” zones on the steep turns (like Dead Man’s). There were places where the road had a shear wall on one side, and a steep cliff on the other.

Starting in 1975, the state highway department added a number of improvements to the road: they widened it, added scenic overlooks, replaced the low water crossings with bridges so Limpia Creek wouldn’t flow over the road, and they added safety zones around the steep turns.

In January 1976 the highway department informed us there was going to be a big explosion as they blew away part of the mountain to make the road wider and add a shoulder. We all walked down to the old Millimeter Wave Observatory to watch the show. We weren’t disappointed; it was quite an explosion!

Nova computers

The Nova computer was a "16-bit minicomputer" introduced to McDonald Observatory around 1970 by Dr. Ed Nather for instrumentation control. In fact, Ed bought Nova SN 1 with drawings signed by Edson de Castro himself, the founder of the computer manufacturer, Data General Corporation. The machine was small enough to fit on a roll-around cart so that it could be easily used at the 30-inch or 36-inch telescope to control an instrument mounted to the back of the telescope.

Digital memory and micro-computers were not yet available, so the computer used core memory, up to 8 kilobytes per board (about 12" x by 12"), a CPU designed with small scale TTL digital "chips," and user-designed interfaces that all slid handily into the chassis. Software was loaded into the computer from paper tape using an ASR-33 teletype, and data in turn were punched to paper tape.

The light sensor was a photomultiplier tube, a one pixel device that converted photons to electronic pulses which could be counted by the Nova computer interface. In an effort to reduce internal noise, the tubes were kept cold in insulated boxes stuffed with dry ice. Condensation on the boxes during inclement weather would sometimes short out signal cables, so that at one time de-humidifiers were installed at the 30-inch and 36-inch telescopes.

Early on, Nova software was all written in "assembly language." High-level languages and operating systems came later. With an understanding of the Nova assembly language, software could be modified or entered using the computer front panel switches. Lights on the front panel permitted reading the software by stepping through the program one instruction at a time.

At night, the stillness in front of the TQ (Transient Quarters) was broken all night by the rat-a-tat-tat of teletypes punching UBV photometry data on miles of paper tape which was feed into a temporary storage receptacle — a trash can. And in the telescope, each tape punch was preceded by the mechanical sound of the filter wheel advancing about every second to the next color. Up until the Nova computer, the filter had to be turned by hand and the data written in a notebook.

The mini-computer revolutionized the measurement of flare stars, and put McDonald at the forefront of this branch of astronomy. But astronomy keeps moving on, so that now flare star photometry is relegated to amateurs and mini-computers are replaced by microprocessor chips.

The automated photometers freed the astronomer up to guide the telescope; this was before the day of automatic guiding. Astronomers on break would meet at the TQ for coffee with patches over their guiding eyes to maintain light sensitivity.

Snowed in: November 1969

Saw this spider web while on a walk in the snow

We had just moved back from Maryland where our daughter Kimberlee was born while Ed was serving in the army from Nov. 1967 until Oct. 1968. We had moved in when his folks into a tiny bedroom not big enough for the three of us. We managed with the hope that would find something soon. He was looking for a job, and as you know, there were just not any jobs available at the time. He had applied at every possible place. Finally, in March of 1969, Ed was hired as a night assistant at the observatory.

In November of that same year, Curt Laughlin (who was the Superintendent) asked Ed if he thought I would be interested in moving into one of the new trailers which had been moved in to provide housing for the new employees. I was thrilled and began moving all the stuff that I could handle by myself because Ed was day sleeping. Eventually, I got us all moved in. Thanksgiving was fast approaching and we made plans to drive down to town to spend it with the in-laws. Surprise – the morning of, we got up to winter wonderland that would have knocked your socks off. It snowed so much our car was completely covered with snow and there was no way out. We were snowed in. However, that did not keep us from having a little fun. We played in the snow until Kim and I were all wet.

I soon learned that if we were going to live up there we would have to properly outfit ourselves with winter clothing that would keep us warm. I even bought a sled for the kids. In 1974 our son Trae was born, and both kids were raised at McDonald. When the snow was so deep that we didn’t have to worry about cars coming along, we would allow the kids to start the sled from House 15 and ride down across the road into our garage (House 10). At the time, there were so many kids, we never had to worry about them out playing at the pond, walking up the hill getting into mischief at the Transient Quarters (TQ) which is now known as the Astronomer’s Lodge, and building forts in the woods. Jerry Wiant had a bell and when he wanted the kids to come home he would ring the bell until they all started coming home. Times were so different then, we did not worry about them at all.

There are too many memories for me to name them all, but our favorite was always the snows we had while living there for 34 years. Our family was one of the original bunch and we have sustained friendships with most of the original crew.

I still visit the observatory with my grandsons Joseph and Braeden. You will find us at the pool on Mondays and Thursday during the summer months. When we are done we always drive by the house where we lived. It will always have a special place in my heart.

1970s Memories of McDonald

Space Songs

Eric and I arrived on the mountain from the east coast in December of 1969 where he would take charge of the laser project, his first job. McDonald was a wonderful place to live! We could see for miles out the living room window of House E where we lived until 1975 when the new houses were finished. It was a great place to raise children, and we made lifelong friends.

One of my favorite memories is from the time when Barbara Laughlin led the observatory children in a performance of "Space Songs." In the picture you can see Gary Gallo (narrator) on the right. In the chorus are Cobb, Barker, Dutchover, Williams, Wiant, and Silverberg children. We still are known to occasionally sing "The Sun is a Mass of Incandescent Gas" and "Why Do the Stars Twinkle at Night."

Special Viewing Night

Special Viewing Night was offered to the locals of our area in west Texas for no admission. We had never been to the McDonald Observatory and thought this would be an opportune time. We picked the perfect night for our reservation. The skies were clear and the temperature cool. Dan, the moderator, showed us several interesting things in the night sky. Looking through the 36-inch telescope, we were blown away by the awesome wonder of the universe. The McDonald Observatory is truly a treasure in our area, and we will definitely be back again.

Visit to McDonald Observatory

107 Harlan Smith and 82 Otto Struve Telescopes

In January 2001, I watched the Sun rise from the Harlan J. Smith 107" Telescope building. I saw its dome close when the Sun came up.

At the W.L. Moody, Jr. Visitors Information Center, among other treasures, I purchased earrings that I still wear. The Frank Bash Visitors Center was being built next to it.

The people in Fort Davis proved to be friendly, knowledgable, and shared their knowledge freely. The place seemed magical. It was so green and so many trees dotted the landscape of the Fort Davis mountains.

I really enjoyed Joe's official tour of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope and of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope.

Here are some photos that I took.

Toddler to Technician

My experience with the McDonald Observatory began at an early age. In fact, when I was just a toddler in the 1950s. I vaguely remember visiting the observatory with family members and being simultaneously awed and terrified by the drive up. The 82" Otto Struve was the only one of the larger telescopes in existence at the time. We would make a day event of it, driving up from Marfa early and spending most of the day in the beautiful setting atop the Davis Mountains. A picnic with barbacoa cooked on a large pit at one of the road side parks leading up to Mt. Locke was always the way we completed our experience. Once at the observatory, the adults would split off from the brood of youngsters, leaving one of the adults to tend to us while they all went up to the 82" for a look see. I don't know what sort of tours they had at the time, if any, but I believe the telescope was accessible to visitors then. We kids were left to our own entertainment, supervised by a parent, and we made the most of it. It must have been like herding cats for whomever was left in charge because I can remember at least half a dozen to a dozen cousins at any one visit.

My most vivid recollection was one that could have had a tragic ending. On one visit after the adults had all gone up to enjoy the sites at the 82", we children and our adult attendant, my father's brother, entertained ourselves with child's play near the car park. At the time, if my recollection is accurate, visitor's cars were parked on the lower loop road where the 30" and 36" telescopes are now located. As we played, some of us noticed a visitor's vehicle slip its brakes and began to move backwards down the slopped parking area toward the drop off on the far side of Mt. Locke. We screamed and caught uncle's attention and he reacted almost instantly. He yelled at us to stay back and raced toward the slowly moving vehicle. He reached it and opened the drivers door, leaped in and applied the foot brake, stopping the car just before it plunged down the mountain. After all was said and done, he was both gratefully thanked by the car's owner who found it sitting not where he parked it, and chastised by our adult group for having taken such a risk to save it from a devastating plunge. I was too small to understand all of it at the time, but in my mind, my uncle was a brave hero for risking his life and doing what he did.

Now, these many years later, I find myself back at McDonald Observatory once again. Only this time, I am part of the staff at the Hobby-Eberly Telescope doing work as a technical staff associate. An electro-mechanical technician to be more precise. I came by this job after having left Texas in my youth to make my own way in the world, meeting and marrying the love of my life, Yolanda. We spent ten years in California, where she is from, raised two beautiful daughters, Ida and Jolene, and struggled as a young couple to make a go of it. Circumstances caused us to move back to Texas where I became employed in the oil and gas business for almost fourteen years. After a downsizing layoff, I decided to go back to school and hone my skills, acquire new ones, and prepare myself for another career. In late 1999, three years after first light for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, I applied for and was hired to my present job. I was ecstatic to be employed and live at such a prestigious world renown observatory and to be back near my hometown of Marfa. I have since had the absolute privilege of working with the most professional colleagues, current and past, both here at the HET and in Austin at the astronomy department. Together we have not only successfully commissioned and operated one of the world's premier spectrographic telescopes, but are currently undertaking the next phase of cutting edge astronomical science with the HETDEX project. Scheduled for completion sometime in 2014, we will be poised to make history by looking for the meaning of Dark Energy.

I have been at the HET for fourteen years now and have enjoyed every single one of them. From doing the everyday grunt work to even being deputy manager of the facility for a short stint, it has been an adventure. I love what I do, where I do it, and working with my colleagues every day. It has been rewarding and gratifying knowing I have been a small part of the science that we produce here in association with astronomers and their departments all over the world. I can truthfully say that I am at peace with the beautiful natural environment of the Davis Mountains, and I am at peace and one with the universe around me. Every night when I gaze up into the dark clear skies of West Texas, I marvel at being a part of the whole. The Milky Way appears to me as a river that can take anyone that wants to go on the journey to the far reaches of the universe and beyond. Who knows, with HETDEX, maybe we will.

Sneaking in

I happened to be in the neighborhood of the observatory after presenting a workshop in Alpine and decided to drive up to see what was going on. Alas, the observatory was closed for a private tour of Japanese tourists. I decided to take my chances, started mingling with the group, and told our observatory guide that I was a translator for the group. The truth is I didn't speak a word of Japanese! Sometimes, a little fib and subterfuge is necessary when the stars are calling, and there are no other options available. I made some new friends -- despite the language barrier -- participated in some great observing, and learned astronomy is amazing, whatever language you speak or don't speak.

Hauling the lens up the Mountain

My father Henry Noah Jones lived in the Ft. Davis , Texas area when my sister Mary Lou Jones was born there, My mom told me dad helped haul a huge lens up the mountain for a new obsevatory being built there at the time.

High School Junior

My Dad, a traveling salesman, and I visited McDonald in the summer of 1950. I was a high school junior from Lamesa, Texas. We met Paul Jose and how I"ll never know, I was invited to spend a week or so at the Observatory. I lived in the dome. I got to observe at the prime focus, develop plates, and do just about everything! Paul and his wife kept me fed and happy. It was a truly wonderful experience. I went to Texas A&M and finished with a degree in Physics. Then I received an MS in Physics fron UCLA and finally a PhD in Astronomy from Wisconsin. I went on to Indiana as a new Assistant Professor. Indiana had observing privileges at McDonald! So I observed at McDonald as a real astronomer from 1965 through the 1970s.

I hope to meet many friends at the celebration on April 26. Please reintroduce yourselves! It has been a long time.

Martin Burkhead

My wife, Barbara, and I are on our way to Capitol Reef National Park to serve as volunteers for May. I will be the visiting Astronomer!

From the Midwest to West Texas

A picture of me soon after I started working here.

I grew up on a farm near the town of Boonville, IN, and I have been interested in Astronomy since I was five years old. I received a 2.4-inch telescope as Christmas gift when I was ten and I joined the Evansville Astronomical Society when I was twelve. The club's observatory was at a local park where the the skies were pretty dark. The original telescope was a 12.5 inch F/10 Reflector that was made by the astronomer Edgar Everhart. It was replaced a long time ago with a Celestron C-14.

When I was a teenager I built a six-inch Newtonian Reflector on a Dobsonian mounting. I was very active in the club and served as the clubs Secretary/Historian and Program Chairman for several years. I received a degree in Electronics and worked in that profession for several years but my real passion has always been Astronomy.

In 1995 I began employment at the Evansville Museum of Arts and Science in their planetarium. One day while looking through the International Planetarium Society bulletin I happened upon a listing for a job opening conducting public programs at the McDonald Observatory Visitors Center. I had always dreamed of working at an observatory and this sounded just perfect for me! I applied for the job but unfortunately it had already been filled.

In 1996 I took a trip to the southwest to visit sights that have always intrigued me. I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time and visiting observatories was the top item on my list. I went to Kitt Peak, Lowell, and Sunspot just to name few. On the way back I stopped by McDonald and went to star party and did a self-guided tour the next day. After this trip I decided that someday I would live in the southwest.

In Oct. of 1999 I found out that the job at the Visitors Center was available again and I re-applied. I contacted the Visitors Center and spoke with Marc Wetzel and informed him that I was interested in the job and a few days later I hopped on a plane(s) and flew here for an interview. I was offered the job a few days later.

The journey here for the interview is a story in itself. On Nov. 1, 1999, I left Indiana for the three-day journey to my new job and home. My parents and brother traveled with me for the move and I have been here ever since. Living in West Texas is a lot different than Indiana, but it did not take me long to adapt. In closing I would like to say, follow your dreams because someday they may become true.

Sidewalk Shadows

I was selected to participate in a week long Space Science Workshop at the observatory. I was excited to attend because it was my first time to travel to the area. I learned many fascinating things about space and activities to share with my K-4th graders in the science lab at Samuel W. Houston Elementary School in Huntsville, TX. My favorite experiment was when we proved that the Earth is moving not the Sun by the use of sidewalk chalk shadow people. I still use this experiment today with my students. Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in a world of space science in the great outdoors.

First and Best

I was allowed to offer Astronomy for the first time it was taught for the 2006-2007 school year at Lehman High School in Kyle, TX. My Department Chair recommended the Professional Development at McDonald Observatory, so I applied to attend two seminars. I loved the summer experience at McDonald Observatory! McDonald Observatory was the first working professional observatory I had ever visited. May of 2006 I brought my first group of students to McDonald Obs and it really changed their lives in the most positive ways. I am still attending trainings and bringing students to one of my favorite places on Earth, McDonald Observatory!

Boot Camp!

I am the basketball or Sun in the picture!

This was my very first trip to the observatory! Having no idea where the observatory was at, but knowing it was going to take me eight hours to drive, I packed my belongings late the night before, after being at school all day teaching my junior high kiddos, and got minimal sleep. I left my home a little earlier than normal and drove non stop, except for fuel and food of course, by myself. Then taking that winding road (118) off the Interstate up to the mountain top, was a bit more than I was ready for, but because I procrastinated felt it would be just fine. I knew I would check in, get my lodging, at the time it was at the Indian Lodge and then get me some rest for the next day's activities! Little did I know it would resemble boot camp I had attended some 30 years earlier in San Antonio!

Upon arriving and checking in, I was extremely tired and was informed where the classroom was and would be starting the training THEN! Although the staff was no where close to the drill instructors I had at boot camp, it was that I was expecting some rest prior to training beginning and did not get any. 18 plus hours was a bit of a long day, especially driving almost half of it. I did pick up quite a bit of information those first hours and was glad we attended. The next morning, although somewhat early and late to bed that night made for another long day, but one filled with exciting learning and things I was able to use in my classes.

I also had another exciting story the second night at the Indian Lodge. It had begun raining and my roommate and I had a great room. After we had returned from the observatory for the night, we entered our room to find we had a leak. My roommate was not so put out as I was, since the leak was over MY bed! Fortunately, they had another room and we moved that night, but in the rain!

Needless to say, the rest I did not get while at the observatory was not really needed as the staff had so much for us to do and accomplish, I completely forgot all about the rest and was able to concentrate on learning so I could be a better facilitator at my school.

Thank you to each and every one of those fantastic observatory staff members!

Starry, Starry Night

I had forgotten what a truly dark sky could produce ... the magic, the infinity, the glorious majesty, and the over whelming feeling of being a part of something far greater than everyday life. The abundance of stars crashed over me like a giant wave the instant I walked out of the transient quarters at the McDonald Observatory in west Texas late one July night. I was one of 16 teachers chosen to broaden their astronomical horizons through the American Astronomical Society Teacher Resource Agent program (AASTRA). Dr. Mary Kay Hemenway and her graduate assistant, Pamela Gay, were our guides, instructors and mentors through five nights of observation and work on the 76 centimeter telescope. But all I could think of that first night as I walked with my head held back at a 90 degree angle to my body was, “I forgot.”

I remember the first time I saw a night sky with the dominant summer Milky Way. It was almost a religious experience. I was no longer attached to my grounded hunk of tissues and bone. I became part of the darkness of space. My thoughts blended with the stars and I felt the importance of my planet’s place in our galaxy.

All of my memories of childhood wonderment came rushing back on that warm summer night. With each meteorite that fell, I felt elation and sheer joy. I don’t think I stopped smiling that entire night, even when I had to report back to the telescope for my second run at
3:00 a.m.

For those of us who teach astronomy but do not usually participate in actual astronomical research, the technology that has developed around this science is absolutely fascinating. There was no keyboard button to push, no screen to look at, and no star to locate that we did not find interesting.

On the first night though, we had problems. A summer thunderstorm struck before we arrived and the electrical power running the computers had been zapped with one bolt of lightning. We lost the ability to align the telescope with our guide star, Cygnus B and the telescope needed to be recalibrated. Everyone on all of the shifts that first night worked to accomplish this feat. We centered the telescope on several stars but it wasn’t until about 5:00 a.m. that all of the instruments checked out — just in time to shut down for sunrise.

I am not a night person but I couldn’t wait for my second night of observation. By the third morning, with two runs under our belts, we were feeling confident and started comparing notes, Making astronomical observations reminded me of rock hunting; the more specimens you find, the pickier you get.

A variety of star clusters within the Milky Way were located and imaged using our charged coupling device (CCD) capabilities. We also looked at nebulae, which supply the galaxy with pigmentation. Against the black curtain of space, nebulae colored the imaginations of all who viewed them. The Omega Nebula (M17) was the most spectacular. Looking at the monitor, we all felt the presence of beginnings; all that could be created was in that misty shroud. Fantastic!

One night we found an irregular galaxy (NGC 6027, part of the Seyfert Sextet) that was vaguely shaped like one of the worms in the science fiction novel Dune so we laughingly started referring to it as “Aracus.”

When we completed our stay at the McDonald Observatory, the goals of the AASTRA program had been accomplished. Our science was more firmly grounded. Our abilities to translate that science for students would be formed by personal experience. We had new resources and new networks. As we sat together on that last night, the talk centered not on technology but on the dark sky. We laughed that Jupiter was so bright that it looked like an airplane making an approach to an airport.

One teacher reiterated the story of how the different colored meteors had fallen one after another as if on cue. Another spoke of how brilliant the different constellations were and how extremely bright Cassiopeia was in July. I added my tale about the hypnotic effect the brightly banded Milky Way had on me as a child. We finished our stories, sang some songs, and made a final pledge. We vowed in unison to do one thing first when we returned home. We would take our loved ones and anyone else we could persuade to see a piece of magic that most city dwellers miss - the dark sky.

Thank you McDonald Observatory.

Originally published in The Science Teacher Magazine, April 2000

Time Travels of the 82-inch Telescope Model

Toni Beldock, Head of Exhibit Design and Production and John Peel, Exhibit Production Supervisor, opening the crate

Last week, the more than 75-year-old model of the 82-inch telescope arrived at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, Texas. This morning I got to be there when they opened the crate containing it. I felt a little like Indiana Jones in the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" movie to get to be a part of this ceremony. The model is on loan from the Western Reserve Historical Society and it came all the way from Cleveland, Ohio. Twenty-five years ago, the model was exhibited at the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross State University in Alpine in association with McDonald Observatory’s 50th anniversary.

Some people really wanted to see this model again and others have never seen it. This caused our staff member Bill Wren to track it down. It had moved from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History over to the Western Reserve Historical Society, and it took him a while to find it. Then, over 50 people donated to our campaign to bring the model back to Texas and we are grateful to all of them. We expected it to be here sooner but the record-setting ice and snow in the Midwest delayed its departure from Cleveland.

The model will be part of the Texas State History Museum’s exhibit entitled McDonald Observatory: 75 Years of Stargazing, which opens on May 1 and runs through June 30, 2014. Then it will take the 450-mile trek to the Observatory’s visitors center near Fort Davis, Texas and be on display indefinitely.

If you open the little little trap doors on the side of the model, you can see into an area that was once the astronomer’s quarters. Astronomers no longer sleep in the 82-inch dome. That was something they did before they build the Astronomer’s Lodge (Long House or TQ for those in the know) and other housing. Still, the musty smell inside the crate tells me that the spirits of the model builders and the Warner & Swasey Company, that built the telescope, live on.

I was awakened from this nostalgic experience this morning with a fire drill at the Museum — not nearly as exciting as the scene in the movie when the spirits of the Ark kill everyone who is watching it being opened. Nonetheless, it was fun to time travel back to the 1930s and what it must have been like to be involved in the creation of the great 82-inch Telescope and its model.

Ladybugs

Ladybug migration

My first visits to McDonald Observatory occurred in the seventies as a camper at Prude Ranch. One of our field trips was to the Observatory and what struck me the most wasn't the telescopes or skies, but the migration of thousands of ladybugs on every surface. It was a Milky Way of orange and black.

The 1937 Trip to West Texas

Richard Robertson (left), his mother Bon Sory (center) & sister June at the McDonald Observatory Sept. 7, 1937

Shortly after my 10th birthday, our family left Dallas in our 1935 Plymouth for a trip to West Texas. Memorable stops along the way were eating breakfast in the Nimitz Hotel in Fredericksburg, and spending the night in the new Lone Starr Lodges in Kerrville. We headed for Fort Davis, where we spent the night at the Prude Ranch and then drove up Mt. Locke to see the new McDonald Observatory on September 7th.

 Somehow, I realized that this was a very important place. We took pictures there, and at the ruins of old Ft Davis. On the way to El Paso and the Carlsbad Caverns, we drove to Marfa during an awesome rain storm. My dad had to shed his britches and shoes and get out of the car to lead us through the deep water. Eventually, we reached New Mexico and the Caverns. My Mother's note in the photo album said there were 300 in our party to watch the bats fly out before group toured the caverns.

Building the Road to the Observatory and Hauling the Tube and Mirror

In order for the observatory to be built a road had to be constructed up the mountain, which was a distance of 17 miles from Ft. Davis., C.E. Armstrong and Sons (my Great Grandfather and his company) were part of the building of the road.

When it was completed and the building was ready for the installation of the equipment, Charles Armstrong and Sons hauled the 82-inch Telescope tube and later the first mirror up the mountain to the observatory. The original dedication took place on May 5, 1939.

Railroad Family Exploring

Jim Baker family: Myrtle Alexander Baker and children.

It was probably very early in the public history of McDonald Observatory when the Jim Baker family made their first visit. With 3 preschoolers (Warren, Mildred, and Roger), it must have been a Sunday near 75 years ago, probably when Jim was operating a Burro half-circle crane for the redecking of Southern Pacific Railroad's Pecos High Bridge.

 A white placcard on the door, and the man peering through the glass would indicate the observatory was not open to visitors. We did pet whitetail deer in the yard.

Big Telescope

I was lucky enough to get to the observatory two summers in a row for teacher workshops. On the second of these, I got my hands on a "real" telescope. No, not a research instrument. I was honored to collect photons with my own eyes through the 36-inch, by far the largest telescope I've ever used. Starting at age 12 with a 4.25-inch reflector, over the years, I worked up to a 10-inch. And I have observed objects with telescopes as large as 20 inches.

But this was a real treat!

Objects that would be faint or impossible with those smaller telescopes simply jumped out of the eyepiece! It was such a pleasure to use this telescope to see familiar objects as if for the first time. While I prefer to find objects manually, it was just plain fun to tell it what to find and watch it home in on the target -- and to see that it is smart enough to know it can't look through the mountain behind it. The fun continued well past 1 a.m., as another teacher and I kept picking off targets. Fatigue isn't a problem when you have the rare opportunity to use such a fine instrument under such perfect conditions.

I spent a fair amount of time just staring at that sky. There have been few times indeed when I have been privileged to raise my eyes to such a clear and dark sky. And despite my long experience, there were moments when the huge number of faint stars made it a little difficult to find familiar patterns.

It was hard to put the telescope to sleep and quit for the night. I almost felt sorry for astronomers working inside at a computer console who would not get the total experience of that night.

1st visit 1955 at age 10

In 1955 my mother inherited her father's car and she brought me and her mother to McDonald Observatory from Lamesa, a long trip at the time.

We were in a '49 or so Dodge, and it vapor locked on the way to observatory. My mother made me and my grandmother get out while she backed the non-running car back down the hill.

My grandmother just stood on the side of the road with her hands over her eyes screaming the whole time, knowing my mother was about to die, but she managed to back down the very narrow road and got the car restarted at the bottom.

I didn't make it to the observatory that time and probably didn't come back until the late 60s to visit, but I'll never forget the first attempt.

Vacation with children

A highlight of our epic three week vacation, with 5 kids in a "Pop-Top VW" was the McDonald Observatory. Friends at the Moody Foundation, my customer, had urged be to go to the Observatory. Evidently the Moodys were big contributors, and I had done considerable work in their new building, American National Insurance Co., Galveston. I had seen photos in the Moody offices. Anyway the experience was "other worldly," to use a cliche'. I loved it and have returned many times. The kids now have kids and will be taking them soon.

Remembering William Johnson McDonald in Paris, Texas

L-R: Brandon Hoog, David L. Lambert, and Rhonda Rogers. Photo by Joel Barna.

On May 2, 2014, McDonald Observatory Director David L. Lambert gave a talk on the history and future of McDonald Observatory in Paris, Texas — the home of William Johnson McDonald (1844-1926), whose bequest to the University of Texas created McDonald Observatory.

The event, on the campus of Paris Junior College, was hosted by the Rotary Club of Paris and the Texas Exes Paris Chapter. In his closing, Lambert said that his own life had been greatly affected by the events that Mr. McDonald set in motion through his will, and that he liked to think that Mr. McDonald would be happy to see what his estate had created and how it had grown and developed over time. Later, Lambert was joined by Texas Exes Paris Chapter officers Brandon Hoog and Rhonda Rogers for a photo (shown) in front of the historic marker that honors Mr. McDonald at the site of the First National Bank of Paris, downtown.

Observing with Dr. Harlan Smith

Gemini Twins Castor and Pollux over the Harlan Smith Telescope

During April of 1982, I attended a Planetarium Conference with a very good friend of mine, Bryan Snow. Bryan was then Director of the Scobee Planetarium at San Antonio College. Just before we left on our journey we contacted a local meteorologist about the weather conditions in Fort Davis. His comment was, "You poor boys." The forecast was a snow storm for the Davis Mountains. Mind you, this was late for this time of year. While traveling out interstate 10 West the weather was very nice. When we arrived in Fort Stockton, Texas we noticed the outside temperature dramatically dropped. We stopped for lunch in Fort Stockton and noticed the buses traveling from the West had sheets of ice on the front grills. We did not think much of it and proceeded with our trip to the Davis Mountains.

When we approached the mountainous area, we encountered one of the most beautiful snow storms I have ever seen. Living in San Antonio, Texas, for so many years one rarely sees snowfall. So this was a real treat. Arriving at the Indian Lodge located at the Davis Mountain State Park, snow had blanketed much of the area.

The Indian Lodge was not only our hotel accommodations but also the site of the Planetarium Conference. One of the speakers at the conference was then McDonald Observatory Director Dr. Harlan Smith. The conference went well and later we all wondered if the skies would clear. Harlan Smith said it will be clear tonight. I then asked Dr. Smith if it would be alright to set up my vintage orange Celestron C8 telescope on Mt. Locke near the 107" telescope dome. Harlan said it was okay.

Indeed the skies did clear. I was using my 1950 Epoch Skelnate Pleso star charts to star hop and locate faint planetary nebulae that would push the limits of my C8 telescope. While observing these faint fuzzy objects, a gentleman in a wool ski cap came behind me, and requested to look through my telescope. We then proceeded to observe many faint planetary nebulae, which some appeared nearly stellar in the Celestron C8 telescope. He told me that was the most planetary nebulae he had seen in a single evening.

At that point he explained he had recently returned from an Astronomical Conference in Greece. He said he was there with some of the most notable astronomers in the world. While at the conference they stepped outside to look at the night sky. The gentleman informed me many of these astronomers could not identify the bright object in the western sky as the planet Venus. He then proceeded to have a class on whats up in tonight's sky which he instructed. The gentleman Bryan and I were observing with was Dr. Harlan Smith. Dr. Smith was not only a professional astronomer but also an observer.

That evening was one of the most memorable experiences of my life, that I will always cherish. The 107" Telescope on top of Mount Locke now bears his name.

The Message of Starlight

I love to learn and consider myself a lifelong learner. My original degrees are in Biology and Botany, but my first love of Astronomy began at the age of 5 when I first saw the Milky Way from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. Growing up in the wilds of New York City brought me to learn at the Hayden Planetarium in as many "Astronomy for Young People" courses as my parents would allow.

I have been teaching a one semester Astronomy course for high school students since the Fall of 2004. From the beginning, I have sought professional development opportunities to extend and update my knowledge and authentic research experiences that I could turn into investigations for my students.

 I was fortunate to be selected for The Age of the Milky Way workshop the summer after I had worked on the ARBSE program through Kitt Peak National Observatory. The summer of 2008 had brought me to Kitt Peak. The night I was supposed to be rotating through and collecting our data for the Open Cluster project found us immersed in a major electrical storm that closed down the 0.9-meter telescope.

Undeterred, I saw a similar, shorter program at McDonald Observatory posted for the Summer of 2009. Since West Texas is closer to Oklahoma than Arizona, I decided that this was the place to be. The drive takes me 10 hours from Norman, but I have learned to love each part of the way, know where to stop and stretch and when I see the Davis Mountains rise up, I really get excited. I enjoyed the drive through the Davis Mountains as much to see the biology of the area. It is lovely.

We had perfect skies during the three nights and four days of that workshop, and I think the group of us closed down the telescopes each night of our stay there. The message of starlight and dark skies is magical, and once you have experienced it you are rarely satisfied with any less.

The other wonderful part is that I was able to connect with a group of teachers and UT Astronomers with similar interests and hopes for their students. We continue our conversations and sharing via e-mails and Facebook. We also became friends. I am always humbled when the Longhorns are willing to share their skies with this Sooner.

Other workshops (MONET in 2010; The Hubble Universe in 2012; and Texas EXES with Dr. Chris Sneeden and sharing his quest to study halo stars in 2013) have been outstanding (even thought it rained for the entire MONET workshop). Getting to have eyeball-to-eyepiece views on all of the scopes has been impressive. M 13 on the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope was just amazing, but my favorite scope is the 0.9-meter because it is the most hands-on for the teachers.

Getting to meet and learn from folks such as Drs. Mary Kay Hemenway, Kurtis Williams, Rick Hesseman, Keely & Steve Finklestein, Kyle Fricke, Jody Harkrider, Judy Stanton Meyer, Marc Wetzel, and all the research astronomers who have shared their experiences and what they were learning has been exciting and stimulating. They practice what they preach!

I look forward to more experiences in the dark skies of West Texas whenever I can come down. The true beneficiaries are my own students and my three sons who are amazed that I have so much enthusiasm for what I teach. While I haven't been able to field trip my students down to West Texas, I can take them to the dark skies of the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Okie-Tex Star Party each Fall.

Learning more about Astronomy and our Universe is very special when it is hands-on, but nothing prepares you for the aesthetics and emotional side of the magic of starlight! Thanks for the memories and learning to share with others! Here's to the future! Happy 75th Anniversary!

Seed Funding for the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory

James W. McCartney and Neil Griffin gave seed funding for the future Frank N. Bash Visitors Center (photo Kevin Mace)

My wife, Linda, and I were guests at McDonald Observatory in the 1980s. It was an exceptional experience. The people there, the student instructors, the cordial reception, and program were all very impressive. Multiple telescopes were available, for viewing nebulae, twin stars, the moon, Saturn’s rings, and various other objects. The quality of the presentations could not have been better, but we noticed that the quality of the existing visitors’ center was something else.

I called Frank Bash, who, I believe, was at the time the chair of the astronomy department at UT Austin, and mentioned this to him. I suggested that some consideration be given to improving the visitors center. As I recall, he said that, by coincidence, they were looking into that matter at that time and were looking to raise some seed money to provide architectural plans for the project. I believe that around an additional $70,000 was needed. I indicated that I would see if I could get a friend of mine, Neil Griffin of Kerrville, to join me in making a contribution around that level. Whether Neil had had any prior connection with McDonald Observatory or the astronomy department at UT, I do not know, but he indicated immediately that he liked the idea and would like to participate. The seed money was provided, as I am sure along with other funds, and work on the new upgraded visitors center was begun.

The Visitors Center, which opened in 2002 and was later named in honor of Dr. Frank Bash, is, of course, an important part of the McDonald Observatory complex and provides a statement of the quality of the overall operation.

The annual run

I just wanted to throw this story out there and it is not some spectacular tale of stars and galaxies far, far away. it is about a group of guys that makes a short little motorcycle run from the Waco and Temple areas of Texas to the observatory each year.

T-Bone, Mace, Quagmire, and Johnnykat ride out to West Texas each year to sleep in tents, see the sights and enjoy what mother nature has to offer. Along with our ride comes a visit to McDonald Observatory each year. It is a great ride to the top and pictures are taken of the same things each year and it always seems new. We were lucky enough to meet a great guy one year that allowed us to actually see the inside. AMAZING! We may not be astronomers, but we are still amazed by the size and capability of each of these 'scopes. This stop is on our list again this year. Terlingua4 ...

Supernova in M82

In January 2014 light from a supernova in M82, the Cigar Galaxy, reached us here on Earth. I was able to view it with my small Dobsonian, but I wanted more so I signed up for one of the special viewing sessions on the 36" Telescope at McDonald Observatory.

When time came for the viewing session, skies were heavily overcast. Only I and two others stuck it out with staff member Dan Gordon. Dan was convinced the clouds would part if we were willing to wait it out. Finally it did clear, and the three of us were rewarded with a fantastic evening on the telescope.

I had asked Dan if we might view the supernova in M82, but he was doubtful because he felt it would be behind the dome of the 107" Telescope. As the session came to an end, Dan was kind enough to give it a try. M82 had just barely peeked out from behind the 107" dome, and we were treated to a sight few ever get a chance to see ... a supernova in a neighboring galaxy just 12 million light years distant. Viewed through the 36" scope it was fantastic, and an experience I will always treasure. I'd like to give a huge thank you to Dan Gordon for being willing to have a go at finding M82 in the waning evening hours. Thank you, Dan!

First Visit 1956

My family lived in Odessa, TX at the time of my first visit. All I wanted to do was see the stars. As a child it was amazing to see this telescope that could go to the stars. I have a picture of myself in front of the observatory in 1956, and Christmas of 2009 I took a picture of my grandson standing in the area that I stood. My grandson loved the visit and wishes to go back and hope to do so next summer, 2015.

StarDate 7/2008

After years of hearing StarDate on NPR, I knew that the McDonald Observatory was a worthy destination on my Hemicentennial (50th Birthday) Celebration roadtrip. I decided to leave Seattle and drive to various astronomy-related sites ending with a visit to the McDonald Observatory (and my son who was living in Marfa). I started in Seattle and drove to The Griffith observatory in L.A., Kitt Peak Observatory in Tucson, the VLA in Soccoro, NM, and finally to the McDonald in Ft. Davis.

Loving astronomy as a Seattleite (avg 226 cloudy days per year) is perhaps the most frustrating hobby in the universe, so my time looking at the dark skies of West Texas was a quasi- religious experience for me. My son from Marfa and I came to a star party and got to see the Jovian moons and other deep-sky objects we couldn't see with our binoculars. I think that day was one of my "perfect days," starting with a horse ride at the Prude Ranch. Then a lunch at the StarDate Cafe watching the hummingbirds, then a thorough visit at the visitor's center, dinner in Ft. Davis, then back to the observatory for the Star Party.

The next night we put our star smarts to use at the end of a road (field) in Marfa complete with fireflies, crickets, the train, and the Summer Triangle right overhead.

Now my son can point out the stars to his boys and think about the moons of Jupiter. Life just gets better, doesn't it?

A scientist discloses the truth about Santa Claus

My father, R. Edward Nather, passed away on August 13, 2014. He was one of McDonald Observatory's most illustrious astronomers. Would you believe that when he passed at age 87, he still kept his observing suit?

All of you have "Ed Stories," so here is one of mine. In 1976, I was 6 years old and the youngest of Dad's children. That Christmas, Dad told my siblings and me that we had to spend the holiday at "the observatory," which to my child's ears simply meant "someplace foreign and unfamiliar."

One afternoon, I recall being kept away from my parents for what seemed like a nefarious reason, and this only lit my natural inclination toward investigation. So I snuck out of wherever I was banished and found my parents sitting in a living room, on the floor, buried under mounds of wrapping paper. Dad handed me a hollow plastic candy cane filled with M&Ms and said very matter-of-factly — as you do — "Santa Claus does not exist. We've been giving you presents every Christmas."

I took it in stride - being handed chocolate always helps bad news go down easier — and within minutes, I had wandered off to go look at the deer through the window. And that is how I learned the truth about Santa Claus.

This was not the last hard truth that Dad would bestow upon me, but it is by far the most memorable in its insouciance and scientific delivery. If you knew Ed Nather, you are nodding right about now.

Yerkes to McDonald . . .

Event at McDonald Obs. 1940.

This is being written by Bruce Babcock, son of Horace W. Babcock (1912-2003). Horace was at McDonald during parts of the year 1940. I'm not sure if he would be considered a staff or a visiting astronomer. I know he was brought in by Otto Struve after a stint at Yerkes in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. It was there he met my mother and they were married on July 1, 1940.

He later worked on radar and rocket projects during the war (at MIT and Caltech) and then joined the Mount Wilson staff in 1946. He retired as Director of the Carnegie Observatories after taking a leading role in the creation of Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. His father, Harold Delos Babcock, was on the Mount Wilson staff from 1909-1949. Both won the Bruce Medal, among many other honors. This photo was among many family 35 MM slides taken during the 1940s and 1950s. I imagine that he took this photo.

I was hoping to identify the people in the photo. The woman in white is my mother, Margaret Anderson Babcock. Otto Struve is, I believe, second from the left. I'm not sure if the others are staffers and their wives, or were visitors attending some kind of event. I've had no luck so far. Any help would be appreciated. Many thanks,

Bruce Babcock

Dedication of McDonald Observatory

Leading astronomers from around the world gathered for the dedication of McDonald Observatory and its 82-inch telescope.

W.J. McDonald Bequest

Paris, Texas banker William Johnson McDonald left the bulk of his fortune to The University of Texas at Austin “for the purpose of aiding in erecting and equipping an Astronomical Observatory to be kept and used in connection with and as part of the University for the study and promotion of the study of Astronomical Science.”

Discovery of Titan's Atmosphere

Gerard Kuiper discovered the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, the first detection of an atmosphere for any moon in the solar system.

Improving the View

Harold Johnson and W.W. Morgan devised a system for measuring the colors of stars. The system, which is still in use today, allows astronomers to remove the effect of interstellar dust, which makes stars look redder.

Shape of the Milky Way

Gerard De Vaucouleurs proposed that the Milky Way galaxy is a barred spiral, with spiral arms extending from a long “bar” of stars in its center.

Dedication of the 107-inch Telescope

The 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope at the University of Texas Mc

Dedication of the 107-inch (2.7-meter) Telescope. It was later renamed the Harlan J. Smith Telescope in honor of the observtory director responsible for its construction.

Coude Spectrograph

The 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope at the University of Texas Mc

Robert Tull completed the Coude spectrograph for the 107-inch Telescope. It is the largest and most sensitive spectrograph of its type in the world. It has been renamed the Tull Spectrograph, and is still in use today.

 

Bouncing a Laser Off the Moon

One month after Neil Armstrong took the first “small step” on the Moon, McDonald Observatory bounced a laser beam off a reflector left on the Moon by Apollo 11. The experiment measured the Earth-Moon distance with an accuracy of a few inches.

Invention of High Speed Photometry

An instrument developed by R. Edward Nather opened a new field of astronomy, high-speed photometry. It allows astronomers to measure changes in an object’s brightness on timescales of a thousandth of a second or less. Among other things, it has been used used to discover rapid pulsations in white dwarfs, the “corpses” of once-normal stars like the Sun.

Sizing Up the Stars

Tom Barnes and David Evans published a method for determining a star’s size by measuring its brightness and temperature. Known as the “surface brightness relation,” it is still a commonly used technique today.

Helping with Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope

NASA launches Hubble Space Telescope, which was developed and planned with the input of several University of Texas astronomers and engineers. In particular, Fritz Benedict and Bill Jeffreys led a team developing the telescope's Fine Guidance Sensors, which allow it to point precisely at cosmic targets. Today, McDonald astronomers routinely use Hubble and other space-based telescopes in their research.

Dedication of Hobby-Eberly Telescope

The primary mirror of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) at McDonald Observatory.

The innovative Hobby-Eberly Telescope was dedicated. It uses a mosaic of 91 individual mirror segments to create a primary mirror with an effective light-gathering power of a single 9.2-meter mirror.

Most Powerful Supernova

An automated search using a McDonald telescope discovered the most powerful supernova to date, Supernove 2005ap.The exploding star briefly shone 100 billion times brighter than the Sun. The Texas Supernova Search project was run by University of Texas graduate student Robert Quimby using the ROTSE IIIb telescope at McDonald.

Dark Energy Search

McDonald astronomers Gary Hill and Karl Gebhardt began developing the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX). It will examine more than one million galaxies to probe the nature of dark energy, which is causing the universe to expand faster as it ages.

First Planet Orbiting a Close Binary Star

Using the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, McDonald astronomers including Bill Cochran discovered the first planet orbiting a close-together binary star system. It is one of many exoplanet discoveries made at McDonald.

University of Texas Partners with University of Chicago

Yerkes Observatory

When The University of Texas at Austin received W.J. McDonald's bequest for building an observatory, it had no astronomy department. The University of Texas entered into an a agreement with the University of Chicago, which had many fine astronomers and its own Yerkes Observatory. The deal allowed for the University of Chicago to operate McDonald Observatory for 30 years.

Donation of Mount Locke

The two large domes in the foreground house the 2.1-meter (82-inch) Otto Struve

Mrs. Violet Locke McIvor donated the mountain upon which now sit most of McDonald Observatory's telescopes. Previously called "Flat Top" or "U Up and Down Mountain" (for the ranch in which it sat), it was renamed Mount Locke in honor of Mrs. McIvor's grandfather. Dr. G.S. Locke of Concord, New Hampshire, was the founder of the ranch.

Donation of Mount Fowlkes

HET

After receiving the donation of Mount Locke (previously called Flat Top) as the site for the new observatory, planners thought they should acquire the nearby smaller mountain (Little Flat Top) for possible future expansion. They received the donation from the estate of Fort Davis Judge Edwin H. Fowlkes, for whom the mountain was re-named. Decades later, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (one of the world's largest optical telescopes) was built atop Mount Fowlkes.

Otto Struve Directorship

Otto Struve

Astronomer Otto Struve was the first director of McDonald Observatory. He served from November 1932 to August 1947, and was concurrently director of The University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory.

Gerard Kuiper Directorship

Astronomer Gerard Kuiper served as director of McDonald Observatory for approximately two years.

Bengt Strömgren Directorship

Bengt Strömgren served as director of McDonald Observatory from January 1951 through August 1957.

Second Kuiper Directorship

Gerard Kuiper served a second time as director of McDonald Observatory from September 1957 to March 1959.

William W. Morgan Directorship

William W. Morgan served as director of McDonald Observatory from April 1959 to August 1963. He was the final McDonald director from the University of Chicago.

Harlan J. Smith Directorship

Harlan J. Smith was the first University of Texas director of McDonald Observatory, and served simultaneously as chair of the new astronomy department in Austin. Among many other accomplishments, he led the construction on the 107-inch telescope that now bears his name. More information on Harlan J. Smith is available on his University of Texas memorial page.

Frank N. Bash Directorship

Astronomer Frank N. Bash served as director of McDonald Observatory from 1991 to 2003, and served two years as interim director from 1989-1990.

David Lambert Directorship

Dr. David L. Lambert became director of McDonald Observatory in 2003. Lambert also holds the Isabel McCutcheon Harte Centennial Chair in Astronomy, and has been a professor at The University of Texas at Austin since 1969. He retired as observatory director in 2014.

StarDate Radio Program Debuts

McDonald Obervatory's StarDate radio program debuted on the nation's airwaves, initially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Today, StarDate is the longest running, nationally syndicated science show on radio. It currently airs on more than 300 stations. More information is available at StarDate Online.

Frank N. Bash Visitors Center opens

The 12,000-square-foot Frank N. Bash Visitors Center opened. Originally called the Texas Astronomy Education Center, it features an interactive exhibit, 90-seat theater, cafe, gift shop, and outdoor telescope park and amphitheater. It was later renamed the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center for the the former director of McDonald Observatory.

W.L. Moody Visitors Information Center opened

The W.L. Moody Visitors Information Center opened in 1982. For two decades, it served thousands of visitors to McDonald Observatory.

Taft Armandroff Directorship

Taft Armandroff with Struve Telescope dome

Taft Armandroff became director of McDonald Observatory on June 1, 2014. He had previously served as director of the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. Armandroff's research specialties include dwarf spheroidal galaxies, stellar populations, and globular clusters.

Construction Begins on Giant Magellan Telescope

Eleven international partners, including The Univesity of Texas at Austin, announced June 3, 2015, that they had approved the start of construction on the Giant Magellan Telecope (GMT). The telescope is poised to become the world's largest. It is expected to see first light in 2021 and be fully operational by 2024.

McDonald Laser Ranging Station

The McDonald Laser Ranging Station at the University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory. (credit: Kathryn Gessas/McDonald Observatory)

Otto Struve Telescope, Interior

The 2.1-meter (82-inch) Otto Struve Telescope at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory.

The 2.1-meter (82-inch) Otto Struve Telescope at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. McDonald Observatory photo

Harlan J. Smith Telescope, Interior

The 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Photo by Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory

The 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Photo by Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory

Frank N. Bash Visitors Center, Aerial View

An aerial view of the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Bill Wren/McDonald Observatory

Hobby-Eberly Telescope, Primary Mirror

The primary mirror of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) at McDonald Observatory. The mirror is made up of 91 segments, and has an effective aperture of 9.2 meters. Credit: Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory

The primary mirror of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) at McDonald Observatory. The mirror is made up of 91 segments, and has an effective aperture of 9.2 meters. Credit: Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory.

Hobby-Eberly Telescope, Interior

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Thomas A. Sebring/McDonald Observatory

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Thomas A. Sebring/McDonald Observatory.

McDonald Observatory Domes

The two large domes in the foreground house the 2.1-meter (82-inch) Otto Struve Telescope (left) and the 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope (right). Between these two, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) can be seen, atop neighboring Mt. Fowlkes.

The University of Texas McDonald Observatory. The two large domes in the foreground house the 2.1-meter (82-inch) Otto Struve Telescope (left) and the 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope (right). Between these two, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) can be seen, atop neighboring Mt. Fowlkes. Photo by Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory.

Otto Struve Telescope, Dome

The 2.1-meter (82-inch) Otto Struve Telescope at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Photo by Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory

The 2.1-meter (82-inch) Otto Struve Telescope at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Photo by Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory.

Harlan J. Smith Telescope, Dome

The 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Photo by Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory

The 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Photo by Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory.

Inside the StarDate Café

Inside the StarDate Café at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

Illustration of the Giant Magellan Telescope

Illustration of the Giant Magellan Telescope. Credit: Matt Johns, Carnegie Observatories

Illustration of the Giant Magellan Telescope. Credit: Matt Johns, Carnegie Observatories.

Supernova 2006bp

Supernova 2006bp was discovered by the Texas Supernova Search within two days of its explosion. Credit: Robert Quimby, UT-Austin McDonald Observatory.

ROTSE IIIb Telescope

The Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment has placed telescopes in four locations on Earth to cover the entire sky in search of gamma-ray bursts. Credit: ROTSE Collaboration

The Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment has placed telescopes in four locations on Earth to cover the entire sky in search of gamma-ray bursts. One of these, ROTSE IIIb, is located at McDonald Observatory. In addition to its primary mission, the telescope is used for the ROTSE Supernova Verification Project (RSVP). Credit: ROTSE Collaboration.

Logo for Texas Supernova Search

The Texas Supernova Search is carried out by post-doctoral researcher Robert Quimby using the ROTSE IIIb telescope at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Robert Quimby, UT-Austin McDonald Observatory.

The Texas Supernova Search is carried out by post-doctoral researcher Robert Quimby using the ROTSE IIIb telescope at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Robert Quimby, UT-Austin McDonald Observatory.

Presentation of AEP Foundation Grant

Bart Rosenquist (left) and Fred Hernandez (center) of American Electric Power present a check for $30,000 to McDonald Observatory education coordinator Marc Wetzel (right).

Bart Rosenquist (left) and Fred Hernandez (center) of American Electric Power present a check for $30,000 to McDonald Observatory education coordinator Marc Wetzel (right). Rosenquist is a customer services representative for AEP Texas in San Angelo. Hernandez is the community affairs representative for AEP Texas in San Angelo. Photo credit: McDonald Observatory

McArthur, Barbara

Barbara McArthur is a Research Scientist with The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory. Credit: Matt Lanke.

Benedict, G. Fritz

Fritz Benedict is a Senior Research Scientist with The University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory. Credit: McDonald Observatory

'Kicked Out' Black Hole

This supermassive black hole has been ejected from the center of its host galaxy. The black hole drags part of its surrounding accretion disk along for the ride. Some of the material lags behind, then catches up, crashing into the moving disk and producing a powerful burst of X-rays. Credit: Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory.

Salcido, Jimmy

Jimmy Salcido (center) receives a plaque and pin celebrating his 30 years of service with McDonald Observatory. Also pictured, from left: Dr. David Lambert, Director; Don Wallace, Superintendent; Rex Barrick, head of Physical Plant. Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory.

Spectrum of a Distant Quasar

This chart shows the light given off by superheated material spiraling into a black hole at the heart of a galaxy 12.7 billion light-years away. This active galaxy, called a "quasar," is known as CFHQS 1641+3755. Because its light has traveled so far to us, it has lost energy, causing wavelengths to stretch. The light from neutral hydrogen gas, indicated by the label "Ly alpha" here, has stretched from a wavelength of 1216 Angstroms all the way to 8500 Angstroms. (For comparison, the human eye can only see light of wavelengths up to 6500 Angstroms.) The magnitude of this stretch, or "redshift," is what allows astronomers to calculate the quasar's distance. This quasar is one of only a handful known at such a great distance. This spectrum was taken with Marcario Low Resolution Spectrograph on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Gary Hill/Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory.

Supernova 2005ap (with labels)

Left: Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) image of the field where supernova 2005ap was found, showing four nearby galaxies (A, B, C, and D) in December 2004. Right: Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) image of the same field about 2.5 months later, showing supernova 2005ap. The supernova's host galaxy is too distant to appear in either image. Credit: SDSS, R. Quimby/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Supernova 2005ap (without labels)

Left: Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) image of the field where supernova 2005ap was found, showing four nearby galaxies in December 2004. Right: Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) image of the same field about 2.5 months later. Supernova 2005ap appears at right center. The supernova's host galaxy is too distant to appear in either image. Credit: SDSS, R. Quimby/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Solar Twin HIP 56948

HIP 56948 is more like the Sun than any known star. Located 200 light-years away in Draco, the dragon, the star is too dim to see with the unaided eye. Credit: Tim Jones/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Gary Hill & Phillip MacQueen with the Mitchell Spectrograph

Instrument-building astronomers Gary Hill (left) and Phillip MacQueen with the Mitchell Spectrograph.

Instrument-building astronomers Gary Hill (left) and Phillip MacQueen pose with  the Mitchell Spectrograph, which is mounted on the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Formerly known as VIRUS-P, the Mitchell Spectrograph is the prototype for the VIRUS instrument that will be created for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) to carry out the HET Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX). Credit: Marty Harris/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Jogee, Shardha

Shardha Jogee is an assistant professor in Department of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo credit: Christina Murrey/UT-Austin

Evans, Neal

Neal Evans is a professor and chairman of the Department of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo credit: McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Sneden, Chris

Chris Sneden is a professor in the Department of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo credit: McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Gebhardt, Karl

Karl Gebhardt is a professor in the Department of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo credit: McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Kormendy, John

John Kormendy is a professor in the Department of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo credit: Courtesy John Kormendy/UT-Austin

Barnes, Tom

Thomas G. Barnes is a Senior Research Scientist at McDonald Observatory, part of The University of Texas at Austin. Photo credit: McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Wheeler, J. Craig

J. Craig Wheeler is The Samuel T. and Fern Yanagisawa Regents Professor in Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. Credit: UT-Austin

Dome of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope

The closed dome of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald Observatory. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope is visible in the background at left. Credit: Bill Nowlin Photography

The closed dome of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald Observatory. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope is visible in the background at left. Credit: Bill Nowlin Photography

Harlan J. Smith Telescope dome with stars

Stars shine in an inky night sky above the open dome of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Bill Nowlin Photography

Stars shine in an inky night sky above the open dome of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Bill Nowlin Photography

The Astronomers Lodge

The Astronomers Lodge, where visiting scientists and other official visitors stay while visiting McDonald Observatory, sits below the Harlan J. Smith Telescope dome on Mount Locke. The dome of the Otto Struve Telescope is visible at right. Credit: Bill Nowlin Photography

The Astronomers Lodge, where visiting scientists and other official visitors stay while visiting McDonald Observatory, sits below the Harlan J. Smith Telescope dome on Mount Locke. The dome of the Otto Struve Telescope is visible at right. Credit: Bill Nowlin Photography

Light Deficit in Elliptical Galaxy Cores

Two giant elliptical galaxies, NGC 4621 and NGC 4472, look similar from a distance, as seen on the right in images from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. But zooming into these galaxies' cores with Hubble Space Telescope reveals their differences (left, black and white images). NGC 4621 shows a bright core, while NGC 4472 is much dimmer. The core of this galaxy is populated with fewer stars. Many stars have been slung out of the core when the galaxy collided and merged with another. Their two supermassive black holes orbited each other, and their great gravity sent stars careening out of the galaxy's core. Credit: NASA/AURA/STScI and WikiSky/SDSS

Core of Galaxy NGC 4621

The core of ellipitical galaxy NGC 4621 is bright; it does not show 'light deficit.' Credit: NASA/AURA/STScI

Elliptical Galaxy NGC 4621

This image of the elliptical galaxy NGC 4621 is from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Credit: WikiSky/SDSS

Core of Galaxy NGC 4472

This image of the core of elliptical galaxy NGC 4472 comes from Hubble Space Telescope. This core shows a 'light deficit' — it is missing light from stars that have been gravitationally slung out of the core during a past merger of galaxies and their supermassive black holes into the current supergalaxy. Credit: NASA/AURA/STScI

Elliptical Galaxy NGC 4472

This image of the elliptical galaxy NGC 4472 is from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Credit: WikiSky/SDSS

Komatsu, Eiichiro

Dr. Eiichiro Komatsu is the Director of the new Texas Center for Cosmology, and an Associate Professor of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. Credit: UT-Austin

Fry, Edward S.

Dr. Edward S. Fry is a Distinguished Proofessor of Physics and Astronomy at Texas A&M University. (Credit: Texas A&M University)

Suntzeff, Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas Suntzeff is head of the astronomy program within the Department of Physics at Texas A&M University. He has a joint appointment in the Department of Astronomy of The University of Texas at Austin. (Credit: Texas A&M University)

Newton, H. Joseph

Dr. H. Joseph Newton served as Dean of the College of Science at Texas A&M University from 2002 to 2015. (Credit: Texas A&M University)

Mitchell, George P.

Mr. George P. Mitchell is Chairman and CEO of GPM Inc. and former Chairman and CEO Mitchell Energy and Development Corp. The Houston businessman and philanthropist is a major contributor to the astronomy programs at both Texas A&M University and The University of Texas at Austin. (Credit: Texas A&M University)

Bill Cochran

Bill Cochran is a Senior Research Scientist with The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory. He is also Co-Investigator of NASA's Kepler mission to search for Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy. Credit: McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Silver and Gold HET

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope gleams in silver and gold against a deep blue night sky. Credit: Damond Benningfield

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope gleams in silver and gold against a deep blue night sky. Credit: Damond Benningfield

HET with Orange Sky

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope atop Mt. Fowlkes gleams silver against an amazing orange sunset. Credit: Damond Benningfield

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope atop Mt. Fowlkes gleams silver against an amazing orange sunset. Credit: Damond Benningfield

Texas Historical Marker

This sign from the Texas Historical Survey Committee explains the the founding of McDonald Observatory and its early history. Credit: Damond Benningfield

This sign from the Texas Historical Survey Committee explains the the founding of McDonald Observatory and its early history. Credit: Damond Benningfield

Sign with Domes

The domes of the Struve and Smith Telescopes appear in the distance beside this entry sign. Credit: Damond Benningfield

The domes of the Struve and Smith Telescopes appear in the distance beside this entry sign. Credit: Damond Benningfield

TxDoT Elevation Sign

This sign from the Texas Department of Transportation is near the dome of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope. It alerts visitors that the summit of Mt. Locke is the highest point on Texas highways. Credit: Damond Benningfield

This sign from the Texas Department of Transportation is near the dome of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope. It alerts visitors that the summit of Mt. Locke is the highest point on Texas highways. Credit: Damond Benningfield

Entry Sign

This stone sign signals visitors they are entering the grounds of McDonald Observatory. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope is visible at left in the distance. Credit: Damond Benningfield

This stone sign signals visitors they are entering the grounds of McDonald Observatory. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope is visible at left in the distance. Credit: Damond Benningfield

Aerial View of McDonald Observatory

In this aerial view, the two large domes in the foreground are the 2.1-meter Struve Telescope (left) and the 2.7-meter Smith Telescope (right) atop Mt. Locke. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope can been seen atop Mt. Fowlkes in the distance between them.

In this aerial view, the two large domes in the foreground are the 2.1-meter Struve Telescope (left) and the 2.7-meter Smith Telescope (right) atop Mt. Locke. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope can been seen atop Mt. Fowlkes in the distance between them. The 0.8-meter Telescope dome is visible in the right foreground, with the 0.9-meter Telescope appearing to the lower right of the Smith Telescope. Credit: Damond Benningfield

Glowing HET

The interior lights from the Hobby-Eberly Telescope glow through the dome opening and louvers.

The interior lights from the Hobby-Eberly Telescope glow through the dome opening and louvers. The telescope's large segmented mirror can be seen through the louvers. Credit: Damond Benningfield

Lonestar Supercomputer

The Lonestar supercomputer is a resource of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin.

The Lonestar supercomputer is a resource of the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at The University of Texas at Austin. It is a Dell Linux cluster with 5,840 processing cores, and a peak performance of 62 teraflops (62 trillion floating-point operations per second). Since its launch in 2006, Lonestar has provided more than 85 million computing hours to approximately 1,100 researchers across the nation. Credit: TACC/UT-Austin

Birth of a primordial star

Birth of a primordial star, as seen through a supercomputer simulation. A spiral pattern forms inside the disk surrounding the star, leading to enhancements in density. One of these density perturbations is large enough to trigger the formation of a secondary protostar. Distances are measured in Astronomical Units (AU), which is the distance between Earth and our Sun. Credit: Clark, Glover, Smith, Greif, Klessen, Bromm (Univ.of Heidelberg, UT Austin); Texas Advanced Computing Center

Time sequence of the disk evolution around the first star

Time sequence of the disk evolution around the first star. The disk gives rise to spiral density waves, compressing the gas, and thus triggering further fragmentation into additional protostars. Already 110 years after the first protostar formed, three neighboring stars have emerged. The assembly process of the first stars will continue for another 100,000 years or so, at which point a massive double-star will likely have formed, possibly accompanied by a small group of somewhat lower-mass stars. Credit: Clark, Glover, Smith, Greif, Klessen, Bromm (Univ.of Heidelberg, UT Austin); Texas Advanced Computing Center

Volker Bromm

Volker Bromm is a professor in the UT Austin Department of Astronomy. (Credit: UT Austin)

Buckyballs Around a Hydrogen-Rich Star

Artist's concept of buckyballs and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons around an R Coronae Borealis star rich in hydrogen. Credit: MultiMedia Service (IAC)

Supernova 2008am

A follow-up image of supernova 2008am. Credit: D. Perley & J. Bloom/W.M. Keck Observatory

Wide Shot of Controlled Burns Near HET

The Southern Area Incident Management Team undertook controlled burns on Sunday, April 17, 2011 to get rid of fuel on the mountains around McDonald Observatory. This would starve the Rock House wildfire of fuel should it head back in our direction. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope dome is at right. (Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory)

HET and Controlled Burn on Guide Peak

The Southern Area Incident Management Team undertook controlled burns on Sunday, April 17, 2011 to get rid of fuel on the mountains around McDonald Observatory. This would starve the Rock House wildfire of fuel should it head back in our direction. This shot shows Guide Peak, to the north of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, almost completely burned. (Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory)

Overview of Observatory with Controlled Burn on Guide Peak

Guide Peak in flames from the controlled burn undertaken by the Southern Area Incident Management Team on April 17, 2011. The two peaks of McDonald Observatory, Mount Fowlkes and Mount Locke, are to the right and far right, respectively. The domes of the 9.1-meter Hobby-Eberly, 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith, and 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescopes are visible. (Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory)

Frank N. Bash Visitors Center with Controlled Burn

The controlled burn of Sunday, April 17, 2011, as seen from the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center's public telescope park at McDonald Observatory, where public star parties are held three times each week. The Southern Area Incident Management Team undertook the controlled burn to starve the Rock House wildfire of fuel, should it turn back toward the observatory. (Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory)

0.9-meter Telescope with Fire on Horizon

This view of the Rock House wildfire was shot on the night of April 9, 2011 overlooking the dome of the 0.9-meter Telescope. (Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory)

Smith Telescope with Fire on Horizon

This view of the Rock House wildfire was shot on the night of April 9, 2011, from the catwalk of the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope dome looking east. The 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope is at left. (Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory)

HET with Controlled Burns on Surrounding Peaks

The Southern Area Incident Management Team undertook controlled burns on Sunday, April 17, 2011 to get rid of fuel on the mountains around McDonald Observatory. This would starve the Rock House wildfire of fuel should it head back in our direction. Here, Black Mountain is burning. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope dome is at right. Above it, the bright line on the right is the wildfire which broke through a burn-out line on Sunday afternoon. The bright line on the left is the front of a back-fire set to stop that portion of the wildfire. Silhouetted by the back-fires on Black and Spring (to the left) Mountains is Guide Peak now with only small pockets of active fires. (Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory)

HBC 722

This composite image reveals the hidden power sources of this volatile star forming region. Blue represents starlight as seen by the UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT), green is Herschel's view of the heated gas by ultraviolet radiation from protostars, and red is cooler gas seen by the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory. X marks the outburst, an area astronomers will keep an eye on. (Credit: J. Green, Univ. of Texas/ESA/UKIRT/CSO)

Binary White Dwarf

Two white dwarfs have been discovered on the brink of a merger. In just 900,000 years, material will start to stream from one star to the other, beginning the process that may end with a spectacular supernova explosion. Watching these stars fall in will allow astronomers to test Einstein's theory of general relativity as well as the origin of a special class of supernovae. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

Kepler-18

The top graphic shows the orbits of the three known planets orbiting Kepler-18 as compared to Mercury's orbit around the Sun. The bottom graphic shows the relative sizes of the Kepler-18 and its known planets to the Sun and Earth. Credit: Tim Jones/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

The top graphic shows the orbits of the three known planets orbiting Kepler-18 as compared to Mercury's orbit around the Sun. The bottom graphic shows the relative sizes of the Kepler-18 and its known planets to the Sun and Earth. Credit: Tim Jones/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Visitors Center at Dusk

The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory at dusk.

The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory at dusk. The domes of the Harlan J. Smith and Otto Struve Telescopes are visible atop Mt. Locke in the distance. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

Inside the Theater

Inside the theater at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center.

Inside the theater at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

Visitor Orientation Presentation

Visitors watch an orientation presentation.

Visitors watch an orientation presentation inside the theater at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

"Decoding Starlight" Exhibit

A portion of the "Decoding Starlight" exhibit.

A portion of the "Decoding Starlight" exhibit at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

StarDate Café

The StarDate Café inside the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory, looking out to the patio with Mt. Fowlkes and the dome of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope in the distance. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

Patio of the StarDate Café

The patio of the StarDate Café at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory, looking out to the domes of the Harlan J. Smith and Otto Struve Telescopes atop Mt. Locke in the distance. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

Sodium in Extra-Solar Planet Atmosphere

Seth Redfield used HET's High Resolution Spectrograph to detect the well-known signature of sodium, a pair of absorption lines known as a "doublet," at specific wavelengths (indicated here in angstroms) in the atmosphere of the extra-solar planet HD189733b. Credit: S. Redfield/T. Jones/McDonald Obs.

HET Observations of an Extra-Solar Planet's Atmosphere

The dotted line shows the planet's orbit around the star HD189733. The planet orbits the star once every 2.2 Earth days, crossing the face of the star well below its equator. The small circles indicate the planet's location during each of Seth Redfield's more than 200 HET observations over the course of one Earth year. The red circles indicate observations during transit; the rest of the circles denote out-of-transit observations. Credit: S. Redfield/T. Jones/McDonald Obs.

The 'Hot-Jupiter' Orbit of an Extrasolar Planet

HD189733b is a "hot Jupiter"-type extrasolar planet. It is 20% more massive than Jupiter, but orbits 10 times closer to its star than Mercury orbits the Sun. Mercury's orbit around the Sun is shown for comparison. Credit: S. Redfield/T. Jones/McDonald Obs.

Sundial Court

Visitors enjoy the Sundial Court at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. The domes of the Harlan J. Smith and Otto Struve Telescopes are visible atop Mt. Locke in the distance. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

Astronomy Gift Shop

The Astronomy Gift Shop at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

Information Desk

The Information Desk and the Astronomy Gift Shop at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory

The Information Desk and the Astronomy Gift Shop at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

Information Desk and Astronomy Gift Shop

The Information Desk and the Astronomy Gift Shop at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. © 2002, Hester + Hardaway Photographers

William J. McDonald photo

William Johnson McDonald

Hobby-Eberly Telescope, Aerial View

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Credit: Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory.

Struve Telescope Mirror, about 1935

The 82-inch telescope's primary mirror, around 1935.

J.S. Plaskett, C.A.R. Lundin, and George A. Decker view the 82-inch telescope's primary mirror at Warner & Swasey Company in Cleveland prior to shipment to Texas. The telescope was later re-named the Otto Struve Telescope. This photo was likely taken in 1935. Photo courtesy Warner & Swasey Company.

Struve Telescope Dome with Workers, mid-1930s

Workers take a break from construction on the dome of the 82-inch telescope (later re-named the Otto Struve Telescope). The dome is 62 feet wide and weighs 115 tons. Construction on the telescope began in 1933 and ran through 1939. Credit: McDonald Observatory.

Struve Telescope Construction, mid-1930s

Workers at Warner & Swasey Company in Cleveland put the finishing touches on the polar axis and driving gear of the 82-inch telescope (later re-named the Otto Struve Telescope) destined for McDonald Observatory. Photo courtesy Warner & Swasey Company.

Struve Telescope Tube, mid-1930s

The tube of the 82-inch telescope (later re-named the Otto Struve Telescope) en route to McDonald Observatory. Credit: McDonald Observatory.

Drawing of Struve Telescope

Engineering diagram of the 82-inch telescope (later re-named the Otto Struve Telescope). Credit: McDonald Observatory.

Construction of Smith Telescope, late 1960s

Construction on the 107-inch telescope.

Construction on the 107-inch telescope (later re-named the Harlan J. Smith Telescope) began in 1966 and ended in 1968. Credit: McDonald Observatory.

William J. McDonald painting

William Johnson McDonald

Otto Struve, first director of McDonald Observatory

Otto Struve, first director of McDonald Observatory

Otto Struve (d. 1963) was the first director of McDonald Observatory, serving from 1932 to 1947. During this period, McDonald was run jointly by The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Chicago. Struve served simultaneously as the director of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory. Credit: McDonald Observatory.

Dedication of McDonald Observatory, 1939

Many of the world's foremost astronomers attended the dedication of McDonald Observatory on May 5, 1939. This photo includes, among others, Walter Baade, Bart Bok, Edwin Hubble, Jan Oort, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, Henry Norris Russel, Martin Schwarzschild, and R.J. Trumpler. Credit: McDonald Observatory.

Lagoon Nebula

The Lagoon Nebula is a star-forming region in the constellation Sagittarius. It also goes by the names M8 and NGC 2563. This image was made with the 0.8-meter Telescope at McDonald Observatory, using the Prime Focus Corrector instrument. To obtain a color image, three exposures were added together, one made with a red filter, one with a green filter, and one with a blue filter. Credit: Mary Kay Hemenway/AASTRA teacher program/McDonald Observatory.

Eagle Nebula

The Eagle Nebula, also known as Messier 16, lies in the constellation Serpens. This image was made by the 0.8-meter Telescope at McDonald Observatory, with the Prime Focus Corrector instrument. To obtain a color image, three exposures were added together, one made with a red filter, one with a green filter, and one with a blue filter. Credit: Mary Kay Hemenway/AASTRA teacher program/McDonald Observatory.

Trifid Nebula

The Trifid Nebula lies about 8,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius. It also goes by the names Messier 20 (M20) and NGC 6514. This image was made by the 0.8-meter Telescope at McDonald Observatory, with the Prime Focus Corrector instrument. To obtain a color image, three exposures were added together, one made with a red filter, one with a green filter, and one with a blue filter. Credit: Mary Kay Hemenway/AASTRA teacher program/McDonald Observatory.

Dumbbell Nebula

The Dumbbell Nebula lies in the constellation Vulpecula. It is also known as Messier 27 (M27) or NGC 6853. This image was made by the 0.8-meter Telescope at McDonald Observatory with the Prime Focus Corrector instrument. To obtain a color image, three exposures were added together, one made with a red filter, one with a green filter, and one with a blue filter. Credit: Mary Kay Hemenway/AASTRA teacher program/McDonald Observatory.

Horsehead Nebula

Lying just below the belt of Orion, the Horsehead Nebula is actually two nebulae, one lying in front of the other. The foreground nebula, which includes the horsehead figure, appears dark because there are no nearby stars to illuminate it. The background nebula emits the characteristic red light of hydrogen, caused to glow by the energy of nearby stars. The Horsehead is also known as IC 434. This image was made with the 0.8-meter Telescope at McDonald Observatory, with the Prime Focus Corrector instrument. Credit: Tom Montemayor/McDonald Observatory

Bubble Nebula

The Bubble Nebula, also known as NGC 7635, is a sphere of active star formation glowing faintly in the constellation Cassiopeia. The hydrogen gas cloud from which the stars form emits red light, the characteristic color of hydrogen, by absorbing energy from them. This image was made with the 0.8-meter Telescope at McDonald Observatory, with the Prime Focus Corrector instrument. Credit: Tom Montemayor/McDonald Observatory.

Helix Nebula

The Helix Nebula, also known as NGC 7293, is a wreath placed by nature around a dying star. Nearing the end of its life and running out of nuclear fuel, the star in the center of the nebula has blown off its outer atmosphere. The blue-green interior color of the nebula is caused by oxygen emission; farther out the red color is caused by hydrogen emission. Our Sun will likely meet the same fate in about five billion years. This image was made with the 0.8-meter Telescope at McDonald Observatory, with the Prime Focus Corrector instrument. Credit: Tom Montemayor/McDonald Observatory.

Spiral Galaxy M33

More than a billion stars form the whirling spiral galaxy Messsier 33 (M33) in the constellation Triangulum. Its spiral arms glow blue with the light of hot, new stars. Older, yellow stars populate the nucleus. At a distance of only 3.5 billion light-years, M33 is one of the nearest spiral galaxies. This image was made with the 0.8-meter Telescope at McDonald Observatory, with the Prime Focus Corrector instrument. Credit: Tom Montemayor/McDonald Observatory.

Rebecca Gale Telescope Park

The Rebecca Gale Telescope Park at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center is home to three star parties each week, under some of the darkest night skies in North America. Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

The Rebecca Gale Telescope Park at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center is home to three star parties each week, under some of the darkest night skies in North America. Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

Frank N. Bash Visitors Center

The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory opened in 2002. The interior houses exhibits, a theater, and cafe. This photo of the Center shows the Sundial Court in front, the patio of the StarDate Cafe (left), the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park (right, rear) and the Amphitheater (center, rear). Credit: Martin Harris/McDonald Observatory

GMT Model

Model of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

Model of the Giant Magellan Telescope. Note the person at bottom right, indicating scale. Credit: Marsha Miller/Univ. of Texas.

SALT with Star Trails

The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) at the South African Astronomical Observatory. SALT is a near-twin of the Hobby-Eberly Telesocope at McDonald Observatory. The HET Board is a partner in the SALT consortium. (Credit: SALT Consortium)

Dr. Khotso Mokhele & Dr. Frank Bash

Dr. Khotso Mokhele (left), president of South Africa's National Research Foundation, with Dr. Frank Bash, former director of McDonald Observatory. Dr. Mokhele visited McDonald in 2000 to give a talk on the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), whose design is based on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald.

Smith Telescope with Nearly-full Moon

A nearly full gibbous Moon shines at sunset over the dome of the 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope.

A nearly full gibbous Moon shines at sunset over the dome of the 2.7-meter (107-inch) Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald Observatory. While the dome was viewed from about half a mile away, the Moon, at the time of this photograph, was nearly 222,000 miles away. Distances can be truly deceiving in West Texas! Credit: Frank Cianciolo/ McDonald Observatory

0.9-meter (36-inch) Telescope, Interior

The 0.9-meter (36-inch) Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Today, this telescope is mostly used for public outreach programs, including Elderhostel programs and Special Viewing Nights. Credit: Kevin Mace/McDonald Observatory

0.9-meter (36-inch) Telescope, Dome

The 0.9-meter (36-inch) Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Kevin Mace/McDonald Observatory

The 0.9-meter (36-inch) Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Credit: Kevin Mace/McDonald Observatory

Edge-on Spiral Galaxy

This snapshot of an edge-on spiral galaxy was taken with a digital camera attached to the MONET/North telescope at McDonald Observatory, as a quick test of the new telescope. Photo by Stathis Kafalis, Stathis-Firstlight.

MONET at Dusk

The clamshell enclosure of the MONET/North telescope is open, revealing the 1.2-meter robotically controlled telescope. The crescent Moon shines above. Photo by Dr. Frederic Hessman, University of Göttingen.

MONET Enclosure

The barn-shaped enclosure of the MONET/North telescope at McDonald Observatory sits atop Mt. Locke, below the Otto Struve Telescope (top left) and the Harlan J. Smith and 0.8-meter telescopes (top right). Photo by Dr. Frederic Hessman, University of Göttingen.

MONET Team with Telescope

The MONET/North team poses with the telescope, celebrating completion of its clamshell-style enclosure and placement of the 1.2-meter robotically controlled telescope inside. Photo by Diane Peterson, McDonald Observatory.

Harlan J. Smith, first UT director of McDonald Observatory

Harlan J. Smith (1924-1991) served as director of McDonald Observatory from 1963 to 1989. He was the first University of Texas director, after a partnership with the University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory ended. Among many other accomplishments, he initiated the construction of the 2.7-meter (107-inch) telescope at McDonald that now bears his name. (Credit: McDonald Observatory)

Gerard P. Kuiper, second director of McDonald Observatory

Gerard P. Kuiper was the second director of McDonald Observatory, after Otto Struve. The Observatory was run by the University of Chicago's Yerkes Observatory at that time. Kuiper was best known for his studies of solar system bodies. While at McDonald Observatory, he used the 2.1-meter (82-inch) telescope to make in-depth studies of Mars' atmosphere, to discover methane in the atmosphere of Titan (Saturn's largest moon), and to discover new moons of both Uranus and Neptune. (Credit: McDonald Observatory)

Test Site for CTI-II Telescope, Day

Adjusting the dome of a fully automated 'RoboDome' telescope. Come nightfall, the 10-inch telescope will measure sharpness of star images. This testing will enable astronomers to choose the best site at McDonald Observatory for the coming CTI-II Telescope. The domes of two McDonald telescopes are visible in the background. Image courtesy Dr. John McGraw, University of New Mexico

Test Site for CTI-II Telescope, Night

The fully automated 10-inch telescope inside the 'RoboDome' (atop the wooden tower) is measuring the sharpness of star images. The testing will enable astronomers to choose the best site at McDonald Observatory for the coming CTI-II Telescope. The domes of three McDonald telescopes are visible at bottom left. Image courtesy Dr. John McGraw, University of New Mexico

CTI-II Test Site with Researchers

University of New Mexico research faculty members and a student install a fully automated 'RoboDome' telescope that measures the sharpness of star images.

University of New Mexico research faculty members and a student install a fully automated 'RoboDome' telescope that measures the sharpness of star images. The telescope measures the twinkling of starlight, or astronomical "seeing." Astronomers seek sharp, stable stellar images with minimal twinkling, which is created by atmospheric turbulence. Image courtesy Dr. John McGraw, University of New Mexico

Frank N. Bash Visitors Center sign

The visitors center at McDonald Observatory was re-named the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory in a ceremony on July 22, 2006, to honor former Observatory director Dr. Frank Bash. Photo by Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

Star Party

Visitors enjoying a star party at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory.

Visitors enjoying a star party at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

Redfield, Seth

Seth Redfield is a post-doctoral researcher and Hubble Fellow at The University of Texas at Austin. Credit: McDonald Obs.

HET at Twilight

The mirror of the 9.2-meter Hobby-Eberly Telescope is visible through the open louvers in this twilight view. In daylight, the flagpoles on the right show the flags of the five HET partner institutions. Credit: Marty Harris/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Interacting Galaxies from GEMS (1 of 4)

One of the many interacting galaxy pairs seen by the GEMS survey with the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: S. Jogee/UT-Austin/GEMS Collaboration/STScI/NASA

Interacting Galaxies from GEMS (2 of 4)

One of the many interacting galaxy pairs seen by the GEMS survey with the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: S. Jogee/UT-Austin/GEMS Collaboration/STScI/NASA

Interacting Galaxies from GEMS (3 of 4)

One of the many interacting galaxy pairs seen by the GEMS survey with the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: S. Jogee/UT-Austin/GEMS Collaboration/STScI/NASA

Interacting Galaxies from GEMS (4 of 4)

One of the many interacting galaxy pairs seen by the GEMS survey with the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: S. Jogee/UT-Austin/GEMS Collaboration/STScI/NASA

Mitchell Spectrograph

The George and Cynthia Mitchell Spectrograph mounted on the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at McDonald Observatory. (Martin Harris/McDonald Observatory)

Gary Hill and the Mitchell Spectrograph

Phillip MacQueen and VIRUS

HETDEX Search Area

HETDEX will search a large region of the sky that overlaps the Big Dipper. While the Dipper's stars are only a few dozen light-years away, though, the galaxies that HETDEX will target are around 10 billion light-years away. [Tim Jones]

Upgraded Field of View

This diagram shows HET's new, upgraded field of view (center), compared to its original field of view (right) and the full Moon (left). [Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory]

What is the Universe Made Of?

GMT Artist's Concept

An artist's concept of the GMT

An artist's concept of the Giant Magellan Telescope. Credit: Todd Mason/GMT Consortium/Carnegie Observatories

HET in the morning

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory basks in early morning sunlight in this aerial view. The dome is open, revealing some of the structure at the top of the telescope itself. [Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory]

McDonald in the Morning

Early morning sunlight bathes the three largest telescopes at McDonald Observatory, in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, in this aerial view. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (foreground) is atop Mount Fowlkes, with the Harlan J. Smith and Otto Struve telescopes atop Mount Locke. [Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory]

HET from Above

Blue sky reflects in the primary mirror of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at McDonald Observatory in this aerial view. The mirror is made of 91 individual segments. A dark instrument platform, which sits at the top of the telescope, partially obscures the mirror. [Martin Harris/McDonald Observatory]

McDonald Telescopes

Early morning sunlights illuminates the three largest telescopes at McDonald Observatory: the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (foreground) and the Harlan J. Smith and Otto Struve telescopes. [Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory]

Pulsations of a Carbon White Dwarf (color)

This 'light curve' shows the changes in light output over time, or 'pulsations,' of the first-discovered pulsating carbon white dwarf, as measured by the Argos instrument on the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Credit: K. Williams/T. Jones/McDonald Observatory

Pulsations of a Carbon White Dwarf

This 'light curve' shows the changes in light output over time, or 'pulsations,' of the first-discovered pulsating carbon white dwarf, as measured by the Argos instrument on the 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope at McDonald Observatory. Credit: K. Williams/T. Jones/McDonald Observatory

First Pulsating Carbon White Dwarf

McDonald Observatory astronomers Michael Montgomery, Kurtis Williams, and Steven DeGennaro discovered that the star SDSS J142625.71+575218.3 is the first pulsating carbon white dwarf. Credit: Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) Collaboration (http://sdss.org)

Scout Patch

Boy Scouts participating in Scout Nights at McDonald Observatory receive this souvenir patch, funded by a grant from Mr. Harry E. Bovay, Jr. of Houston, Mr. Lowell Lebermann of Austin, and Ms. Virginia Lebermann of Marfa. (credit: Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory)

Cochran, Anita

Anita Cochran is a Research Scientist and Assistant Director of McDonald Observatory. Credit: McDonald Observatory/UT-Austin

Hemenway, Mary Kay

Dr. Mary Kay Hemenway is Senior Lecturer and Research Associate in the astronomy department at The University of Texas at Austin. She specializes in astronomy education for elementary and secondary teachers and the history of astronomy. Credit: McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

HET at Dusk

The last rays of Sun strike the aluminized dome of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at dusk, producing pastel shades of pink, lavender, and silver. Credit: Bill Nowlin Photography

HET in its Landscape

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope sits atop Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. Credit: Bill Nowlin Photography

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope sits atop Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. Credit: Bill Nowlin Photography

Gerard de Vaucouleurs

French astronomer Gerard de Vaucouleurs (1918-1995) was among the first group of five faculty members to join the new The University of Texas Astronomy Department in 1960. He is best known for his extensive galaxy studies, and his Reference Catalogue of Bright Galaxies, which was published by The University of Texas Press in three editions. (Credit: McDonald Obs./UT-Austin)

Winget, Don

Astronomer Don Winget speaks to an audience at a meeting of the UT Astronomy Program Board of Visitors. Credit: Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory

Whirlpool Galaxy with the Mitchell Spectrograph

The Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) is seen at left in an image taken with the one-meter MONET North telescope at McDonald Observatory. At right: The MItchell Spectrograph (formerly known as VIRUS-P) measured the intensity of the hydrogen-alpha emission at 246 points across the central region of the galaxy. The H-alpha emission traces the light from very young stars, and thus is a good indicator of the rate of star formation at each of these locations. Red dots indicate higher levels of star formation; the blue and black dots indicate lower levels of star formation. Credit: G. Blanc/K. Fricke/T. Jones/McDonald Obs.

Star Formation in the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51)

The Mitchell Spectrograph (formerly known as VIRUS-P) on McDonald Observatory's 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope measured the intensity of hydrogen-alpha emission at 246 points across the central region of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51). The H-alpha emission traces the light from very young stars, and thus is a good indicator of the rate of star formation at each of these locations. Red dots indicate higher levels of star formation; the blue and black dots indicate lower levels of star formation. Credit: G. Blanc/McDonald Obs.

Whirlpool Galaxy

This image of the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51) was taken with the MONET North telescope at McDonald Observatory as part of the observatory's educational outreach program. Credit: K. Fricke/MONET/McDonald Obs. (funded by Astronomie & Internet, a Program of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation, Essen)

AEP Texas Funds West Texas School Trips

AEP Texas has granted $3,000 to McDonald Observatory to fund scholarships for West Texas schoolchildrent to visit the Observatory during the 2009-2010 school year. Pictured with presentation check, left to right, are: Sandra Preston (Observatory Assistant Director for Education and Outreach), Joel Barna (Observatory Development Officer), Graham Dodson of AEP Texas, and Dr. David L. Lambert (Director of McDonald Observatory).

WMAT with domes

The new Wren-Marcario Accessible Telescope (WMAT) sits on a concrete pad behind the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. This 100% wheelchair-accessible telescope will be dedicated July 17, 2010. It will allow mobility-impaired visitors greater participation in the Observatory's popular star parties, and will also be used by other visitors. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) is visible in WMAT's central mirror, and the domes of Mt. Locke are visible in the background (Harlan J. Smith Telescope at left, Otto Struve Telescope at right). Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

WMAT diagram showing wheelchair access

The Wren-Marcario Accessible Telescope at McDonald Observatory's Frank N. Bash visitors center is designed to be 100% wheelchair accessible. The telescope's open design and wide wheelchair pathways will allow mobility-impaired visitors greater access to the Observatory's popular star parties, and will also be used by other visitors. Credit: Tim Jones/Mike Jones/McDonald Observatory

Comet Hartley 2

This photo of Comet Hartley 2 (green, right center) was taken by Joe Wheelock near McDonald Observatory on October 8. On this date, the comet appeared to the right of two star clusters called the "Double Cluster" in the constellation Perseus. The red nebulae to the far left are collectively called the Heart and Soul Nebula. The photo was taken using a camera with a 105-mm telephoto lens piggybacked onto a 16-inch Newtonian telescope. Credit: Joe Wheelock/McDonald Observatory

Komatsu, Eiichiro

Dr. Eiichiro Komatsu is director of the Texas Cosmology Center and a professor of astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Komatsu is also a member of the science team for WMAP, NASA's Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe. (Credit: Texas Cosmology Center/UT-Austin)

M87 Black Hole Artist's Concept

Artist's concept of what a future telescope might see in looking at the black hole at the heart of the galaxy M87. Clumpy gas swirls around the black hole in an accretion disk, feeding the central beast. The black area at center is the black hole itself, defined by the event horizon, beyond which nothing can escape. The bright blue jet shooting from the region of the black hole is created by gas that never made it into the hole itself but was instead funneled into a very energetic jet. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA illustration by Lynette Cook

Christmas Burst

The merging of the helium and neutron star produces a broad torus, plus two jets aligned with the rotation axis of the system. The jets interact with the previously ejected torus causing the observed spectrum. (Credit: A. Simonnet, NASA, E/PO, Sonoma State University)

Dodson-Robinson, Sally

Dr. Sally Dodson-Robinson is an assistant professor of astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. (credit: UT-Austin)

Supermassive Black Hole

Artist's concept of stars moving around a galaxy's black hole. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA/Lynette Cook

An artist's conception of stars moving in the central regions of a giant elliptical galaxy that harbors a supermassive black hole. Credit: Gemini Observatory/AURA artwork by Lynette Cook

Karl Gebhardt

Karl Gebhardt is the Herman and Joan Suit Professor of Astrophysics at The University of Texas at Austin.

Karl Gebhardt is the Herman and Joan Suit Professor of Astrophysics at The University of Texas at Austin. Credit: McDonald Observatory

Dramatic Transformation of Massive Galaxies over 10 Billion Years

The most massive galaxies present two to three billion years after the Big Bang differ dramatically from today’s, when the universe is 13.7 billion years old. A remarkably high fraction of the massive young galaxies host disk components, making them look like thick pancakes. In contrast, today’s most massive galaxies (ellipticals and lenticulars) typically have large bulges, and are shaped like watermelons. Additionally, 40% of the young massive galaxies are ultra-compact, compared to less than 1% of their massive elliptical and lenticular descendants today. Credit: T. Weinzirl, S. Jogee (U. Texas)/ A. Feild (STScI/NASA)

Comparison of Massive Galaxies at Early Times vs. Today

Massive galaxies today are substantially larger and more bulgy than massive galaxies 10 billion years ago. Credit: T. Weinzirl, S. Jogee (U. Texas)/STScI/NASA/SDSS

Massive galaxies today are substantially larger and more bulgy than massive galaxies 10 billion years ago. The left column illustrates the difference in size by comparing a face-on view of the massive present-day elliptical galaxy (NGC 4472) to the Hubble NICMOS image of a face-on ultra-compact galaxy from 10 billion years ago. The right column highlights the disky nature of massive young galaxies by contrasting an edge-on view of a modern bulge-dominated spiral (NGC 4594, the Sombrero Galaxy) with the an edge-on view of a massive disky galaxy from 10 billion years ago. Credit: T. Weinzirl, S. Jogee (U. Texas)/STScI/NASA/SDSS

Major Merger

This Hubble image of NGC 4676, nickednamed “The Mice,” illustrates an ongoing major merger between two colliding galaxies of similar mass. The gravitational forces between the two galaxies have produced two long tails of gas and stars stretching away from the galaxies, as well as a bridge of stripped material between the galaxies. Credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M.Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team, and ESA

McDonald Laser Ranging Station

The McDonald Laser Ranging Station at The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory. (credit: Kathryn Gessas/McDonald Observatory)

Lunar Lunar Laser Ranging Station

The Lunar Lunar Laser Ranging Station at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Photo by Randall L. Ricklefs/McDonald Observatory

Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET)

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory. Photo by Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory.

Aerial From Mt Locke

The large telescope domes of McDonald Observatory. In the top left corner, the Hobby-Eberly Telecope dome sits atop Mt. Fowlkes. In the foreground, the dome of the Otto Struve Telescope sits at left and the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at right, atop Mt. Locke. Credit: Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory.

The large telescope domes of McDonald Observatory. In the top left corner, the Hobby-Eberly Telecope dome sits atop Mt. Fowlkes. In the foreground, the dome of the Otto Struve Telescope sits at left and the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at right, atop Mt. Locke. Credit: Marty Harris/McDonald Observatory.

Lunar Laser on the Harlan J. Smith Telescope

From the late 1960s to mid-1980s, McDonald Observatory astronomers measured the Earth-Moon distance by beaming a laser from the 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope to reflectors placed on the Moon by Apollo astronauts. (credit: Frank Armstrong/UT-Austin)

Drs. Rankin & Lambert with GMT Model

Dean of Natural Sciences Dr. Mary Ann Rankin and McDonald Observatory Director Dr. David Lambert, with a model of the Giant Magellan Telescope. An illustration of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope is in the background. Credit: Marsha Miller/Univ. of Texas.

McDonald Observatory Fire Truck

McDonald Observatory's new custom-designed, orange fire truck was purchased with grant funds from the Texas Forest Service and the UT-Austin administration. The domes of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope (left) and Otto Struve Telescope (right) can be seen in the background, atop Mt. Locke. Photo by Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory.

Steve Bramlett, Safety Officer & Fire Marshal

Steve Bramlett, Safety Officer & Fire Marshal for McDonald Observatory, in front of the Otto Struve Telescope dome with the Observatory's new emergency services vehicle. Photo by Yadon Hardaway/McDonald Observatory.

Volunteers Tour HET

On May 18, 2006, McDonald Observatory honored volunteers who help out with our thrice-weekly star parties and other events. After a reception and dinner, they were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Hobby-Eberly-Telescope. Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

Volunteers at 0.9-meter Telescope

On May 18, 2006, volunteers who help out with McDonald Observatory's thrice-weekly star parties and other events were treated to a private star party on the 0.9-meter Telescope (seen here), after a reception and dinner. Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

Testing the Mitchell Spectrograph

McDonald Observatory astronomers Phillip MacQueen (left) and Gary Hill test the VIRUS prototype (now called The George and Cynthia Mitchell Spectrograph) from the control room of the Harlan J. Smith Telescope. [Martin Harris/McDonald Observatory]

HET in the Davis Mountains

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope sits atop Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. The telescope will be the site of the HETDEX experiment. [Damond Benningfield]

de la Cruz, Teresa 'Fendi'

Teresa "Fendi" de la Cruz is the voice of McDonald Observatory's Spanish-language radio program Universo. Credit: Damond Benningfield

Marco Lara and Ignacio 'Nacho' Acosta

Marco Lara (left) and Iganacio "Nacho" Acosta during a recording session of McDonald Observatory's Spanish-language radio program Universo. Lara is the program's associate producer; Acosta is its audio engineer. Vocal talent Teresa "Fendi" de la Cruz can be seen in the background, inside the soundproof recording booth. Credit: Damond Benningfield

Moon, Venus, and Jupiter over UT Tower

The Moon, Venus, and Jupiter blaze over the Tower of The University of Texas at Austin campus on December 1, 2008. This photo was taken from a 16th floor window of Robert Lee Moore Hall, which houses the administrative offices of McDonald Observatory and the Department of Astronomy. Credit: Joel Barna

Black hole diagram

The illustration shows the relationship between the mass of a galaxy's central black hole and the mass of its central bulge. The new higher mass Gebhardt and Thomas computer modeled for M87's black hole, 6.4 billion solar masses, could change this relationship. They used a more complete computer model than previous work. This may mean that the black holes in all nearby massive galaxies are more massive than we think, signaling a change in our understanding of the relationship between a black hole and its surrounding galaxy. Credit: Tim Jones/UT-Austin after K. Cordes & S. Brown (STScI)

Lambert, David L.

Dr. David L. Lambert is the Director of McDonald Observatory, and holds the Isabel McCutcheon Harte Centennial Chair in Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin

Hemenway Awarded AAS Education Prize

Dr. Mary Kay Hemenway was presented with the American Astronomical Society's Education Prize by AAS President Dr. John Huchra (left), in Washington, D.C. in January 2010. (Credit: Richard Dreiser/AAS)

Paul and Ruthie Premack

Paul and Ruthie Premack of San Antonio's premack.com have funded McDonald Observatory's dark skies awareness efforts that kick off in Summer 2010. Credit: Joel Barna/McDonald Obs.

WMAT with HET

The new Wren-Marcario Accessible Telescope (WMAT) sits on a concrete pad behind the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. This 100% wheelchair-accessible telescope will be dedicated July 17, 2010. It will allow mobility-impaired visitors greater participation in the Observatory's popular star parties, and will also be used by other visitors. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) atop Mt. Fowlkes is visible in WMAT's central mirror. Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

Harold C. Simmons Dark Energy Optical System (mock-up)

This montage shows a mock-up of the new top end for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), including the Harold C. Simmons Dark Energy Optical System, under construction at The University of Texas at Austin's Center for Electromechanics. Once completed, it will travel to McDonald Observatory to be mounted atop the HET in preparation for the HET Dark Energy Project. Credit: Univ. of Texas/Center for Electromechanics

Upgraded HET

Artist's concept of the upgraded Hobby-Eberly Telescope. The VIRUS spectrographs are contained in the curved gray "saddlebags" on the side of the telescope. They receive light through the green cables, which contain bundles of fiber-optic lines. This illustration shows the telescope without its enclosing dome. Credit: McDonald Observatory/HETDEX Collaboration

NN Serpentis

This artist's concept shows two newly discovered planets orbiting the binary star NN Serpentis. Credit: Stuart Littlefair/Univ. of Sheffield

Miller, Sarah

Sarah Miller, and undergraduate student in astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin, has been chosen as a Rhodes Scholar for 2008. The scholarship will fund her doctoral studies in astrophysics at Oxford University in the U.K.

ROTSE IIIb enclosure

The ROTSE IIIb telescope is inside this enclosure on McDonald Observatory's Mt. Fowlkes, not far from the much larger Hobby-Eberly Telescope. ROTSE, the Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment, headquarters at The University of Michigan, has placed telescopes in four locations on Earth to cover the entire sky in search of gamma-ray bursts. Credit: Tim Jones/McDonald Observatory

GMT Site Blasting

On March 23, 2012, engineers began a series of detonations to level the peak of Las Campanas Mountain in Chile. The mountaintop is the future site for the Giant Magellan Telescope.

Credit: Francisco Figueroa/GMTO

LCOGT First-Light Team

The LCOGT installation crew. From left: Vincent Posner, David Petry, Annie Hjelstrom (Project Manager), Wayne Rosing (Chief Engineer and founder), and McDonald Observatory's Bill Wren. Credit: LCOGT Network

LCO 1-meter Telescope

The first 1-meter telescope in the Las Cumbres Observatory global network (pictured) saw first light at McDonald Observatory in 2012. Located on Mount Fowlkes, this robotic telescope is part of a world-wide network of telescopes used in both research and education. On October 30, 2019, a second 1-meter LCO telescope was dedicated at McDonald, in an adjacent dome on Mount Fowlkes. Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

LCOGT Dome with Mt. Locke Domes

The dome of the new 1-meter telescope of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network is seen at front at its home on McDonald Observatory's Mt. Fowlkes. The domes of the 2.7-meter Harlan J. Smith Telescope and 2.1-meter Otto Struve Telescope are visible in the background atop Mt. Locke. Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory

HET with Star Trails

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory/UT-Austin

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope is surrounded by star trails centered on Polaris, the North Star. Credit: Frank Cianciolo/McDonald Observatory.

Students at Hobby-Eberly Telescope

Central Texas high school students participated in a week-long research experience at McDonald Observatory in June 2012. Here the students visit the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Credit: Irina Marinova/McDonald Observatory

Evidence for Gravitational Waves

Data showing the decreasing orbital period of J0651. The dotted lines shows when the eclipse times should occur if the orbit were constant. The top panel shows how the eclipses have changed from when expected; the dashed line fits the observations. The bottom panel shows a zoomed view of the primary eclipses for four different months of observations (the colors correspond to the points in the top panel). Over time, the mid-point of the eclipses happen sooner (they shift to the left), indicating that the orbital period of the binary system is shrinking. The rate at which this orbit is shrinking is so far consistent with predictions from the emission of gravitational waves. Credit: JJ Hermes/McDonald Obs./UT-Austin

Finkelstein, Steven

Steven Finkelstein is an associate professor in the Department of Astronomy at The University of Texas at Austin. (Credit: Steven Finkelstein)

CANDELS galaxies

A small portion of one of the CANDELS fields; click for more information.

A small portion of one of the CANDELS fields; small circles indicate galaxies included in the survey. Galaxies seen at various distances are circled in colors according to epoch. Galaxies at a redshift of 4, or 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang, are circled in magenta, while galaxies at 5, 6, 7 and 8 are circled in blue, green, yellow and red, respectively. The three insets show a zoomed in view of three galaxies; the upper-left panel is one at a redshift of 4, the lower-right is at a redshift of 6, and the lower-left is at a redshift of 7.

This composite image is made up of an optical image (shown in blue) by Hubble Space Telescope as part of the GOODS survey, combined with an infrared Hubble image (red and green) taken in dedicated CANDELS observations.

Credit: S. Finkelstein/CANDELS Collaboration/STScI/NASA

CANDELS galaxy colors

This graph shows that galaxies become dustier over time; click for more information.

The red circles from left to right represent the measured average color of galaxies at a redshift of 4, 5, 6 and 7, where the bottom axis shows the time since the Big Bang. The light blue bar running through the center of the diagram shows the color of the local galaxy NGC 1705, which contains no dust. When CANDELS astronomers saw that the redshift 7 galaxies in their sample have a similar color as NGC 1705, they derived that those are also dust free. The gradual reddening they observed at lower and lower redshifts reveals that the galaxies are getting dustier with time.

Credit: S. Finkelstein/CANDELS collaboration

GMT Artist's Concept