Please note: The McDonald Observatory is
located 450 miles from Austin!
If you plan to visit the Observatory during Spring Break 2015 (March 7-21, 2015), please see our expanded public programs schedule.
Join a Guided Tour for an up-close look at large research telescopes at McDonald Observatory in
Your purchase of a Daytime Pass is the ticket to many great activities. Inside the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center, explore the Decoding Starlight exhibit and enjoy a Solar Viewing Program (typically 45-50 minutes) in our theater featuring live (weather dependent) telescope images of our nearest star, the Sun, including views of such solar features as sunspots, prominences, and flares, every day of the week at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
This week, through Friday, February 13, we will, weather permitting, conduct part of our Solar Viewing program outside. See more information in the "WANT TO KNOW MORE..." section below. For insight into the workings of a professional scientific research facility, take an approximately 90-100-minute tour with a knowledgeable guide to one of our large research telescopes immediately following the Solar Viewings. Tours often sell out, especially on holiday weekends and during summer months, so we strongly recommend you reserve discounted tickets online in advance (see below). Daytime passes may be purchased online (assuming availability) until midnight before the program. Check the calendar for program offerings and start times for the date you plan to visit. Want to know more about what to expect on the Daytime Programs? ...
This week, through Friday, February 13, we will be conducting our Solar Viewing program a bit differently. Due to building maintenance happening this week, the "lecture" portion of our Solar Viewings will happen in the Visitors Center classroom rather than the theater. This abbreviated lecture session will be followed by observation of the Sun through specially-filtered telescopes outdoors, weather permitting. All of the live solar features (sunspots, prominences, and flares) that we normally show in our theater will still be visible in the telescopes that we set up this week for our outdoor sessions.
The Visitors Center operates a set of specially filtered telescopes equipped with HD video cameras that allow us to bring live, safe views of the Sun into our multimedia theater. Your knowledgeable guided will discuss some interesting highlights about the history of the Sun, its formation, and what we expect the Sun to do over its expected 5-6 billion year remaining "lifetime". Assuming relatively clear skies, your guide will use the telescopes' remote controls to steer around a live view of the Sun showing and discussing various surface features typically visible. On not so clear days, video and stills from clear days as well as from the web are used. This is typically a 45-50 minute program. Following the Solar Viewing, your guide will instruct you on how to continue on to the Guided Tour. If space is available, we recommend that you take a ride on our small shuttle bus to the top of Mt. Locke. The shuttle is limited to 14 people (max) so shuttle passes are given on a first-come-first-served basis (we also try to reserve space for those with mobility issues and those in large RVs, etc.) If there isn't adequate space on the shuttle or if you'd just prefer to drive your own vehicle the 1.5 miles to the summit from the Visitors Center, your guide will also provide instructions for driving to the top, parking, and making the short walk to the 107" dome for the start of the program. Your guide for the Solar Viewing is also your guide for the Tour immediately following the Solar program. The Tour typically begins at the overlook to the south of the 107" dome. From there, peaks over 80 miles way can be seen. At this location, your guide will typically discuss some of the history of the Observatory and why this location was chosen for an astronomical research facility. After pointing out some of the peaks in the area, the tour typically then proceeds to the ground floor lobby of the 107" dome where some of the history of that telescope is discussed. After a climb up four flights of steps (an elevator is available for those who shouldn't or can't take the steps .. your guide with discuss access to the elevator) the tour continues with descriptions of the parts of the telescope seen at the 5th floor level, demonstrations of the telescope motions, etc. After visiting the 107" telescope, your guide will provide instructions for continuing with the tour at the summit of Mt. Fowlkes and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. At the HET, you'll learn more about that telescope's unique, low-cost (for a world class telescope, at least) design and about new cutting-edge research projects for which the HET is currently being re-engineered. The programs described here are our typical daytime activities. However, research constraints will sometimes force us to alter the content somewhat. Additionally, visitation during certain times of the year (specifically, Spring Break) forces us to reorganize the tour content. While the Solar Viewing will take place much as described above, the content of the 107" tour will take place in somewhat altered order and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope will be self-guided only.
Don't have time for the Guided Tour but still would like to see an up-close, live view of the Sun? Passes for the Solar Viewing-only may also be purchased for those who may be on a tight time-schedule.
Self Guided Tours of our largest telescope, the 362-inch Hobby-Eberly Telescope, are available at no charge from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Want to know more about what to expect on the Self-guided Tour? ...
While we strongly recommend joining our public guided tours held twice daily starting from the Visitors Center, we realize that some folks may not have time or can't make the schedule for those offerings. Some areas of the Observatory are accessible without a guide. We encourage picking up the $6 full color souvenir informational booklet from the Visitors Center before heading up to either summit. At the top of Mt. Locke, the views off to the east, south, and southwest can be stunning on a clear day. The booklet can fill you in on some of the history and contributions of the large telescopes at this peak. Restrooms are available at the 107" dome from 10:00a - 5:00p everyday. There are also several informative short videos available for view in the ground floor lobby of the 107" dome. Over at the summit of Mt. Fowlkes, you can see the largest telescope in North America and the 5th largest in the world .. the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET). An informative video runs continuously at the public gallery where you'll also find restrooms. A large panoramic window gives you up-close views of this unique telescope. UT discount / Refund policy / Pet policy / AOL/Yahoo/HotMail/etc. ...
The Visitors Center does not receive direct funding from the University but we do offer a small discount to our UT colleagues with a current valid UT ID. To receive this discount, simply enter any passes for current UT students, staff, or faculty under the "Military/Senior(65+)" category. Daytime and Solar Viewing Only passes are refundable up to one week prior to the program after which rescheduling will be offered ($5 administrative fee). Please email or call us (432-426-3640, then zero at the message) with your cancellation or reschedule request. Missed programs will not be refunded or rescheduled. Contact us for more information or to let us know if you have special needs. As much as most of us would love to welcome our four-legged furry friends, UT policy does not allow pets in Observatory buildings or in/at public program venues. We've had a number of visitors with AOL/Yahoo/HotMail sorts of email accounts tell us that they've not received their purchase confirmation emails. Apparently, these services agressively filter for spam and our confirmations are getting caught in these filters. Please be sure to check your spam/junk folder and/or add " firstname.lastname@example.org" to your address book as an approved email contact to avoid missing your confirmation email.
Be sure to click on the "Book" button as your final step in making your reservation. Failure to click the "Book" button will result in no reservations being made.
If you plan to visit the Observatory during Spring Break 2015 (March 7-21, 2015), please see our expanded public programs schedule. Buy Tickets