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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gerard Kuiper discovered the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan, the first detection of an atmosphere for any moon in the solar system.