McDonald Observatory Celebrates 75 Years of Discovery

8 October 2013

A yearlong celebration is underway to celebrate the 75th anniversary of The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory. Located in West Texas near Fort Davis, the observatory was dedicated May 5, 1939, and has supported some of the most important astronomical discoveries of recent decades about everything from extrasolar planets to exotic stars to black holes.

Celebration plans include a speaker series featuring University of Texas astronomers in multiple cities across the state. The series will kick off in Austin on Saturday, Oct. 19, when former McDonald director Frank Bash will speak on “McDonald Observatory and the Frontier” at 7 p.m. in the Blanton Museum’s Edgar A. Smith building. The event is free and open to the public.

Other speaker events are planned for Abilene, Alpine, Dallas, Fort Davis, Fort Worth, Houston, Laredo, Midland, Paris (birthplace of observatory benefactor William J. McDonald), and San Antonio. In addition:

• Next summer, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum will feature an exhibit on the observatory’s 75-year Texas story. 

• Free telescope viewings for local residents began this summer at the observatory and continue into fall, honoring the contributions of the West Texas communities to the observatory’s success. An Open House is planned for next spring.

• The observatory has offered free educational videoconferences for schools in Texas and across the nation in recent weeks in honor of its anniversary.

Event information is posted on the anniversary page of the observatory’s website, which will be updated frequently in the coming months.

Visitors to the anniversary Web pages also may share their memories and photos of McDonald on a new interactive blog called “Share Your Story,” peruse a timeline of observatory history and watch several historical videos

Texas Monthly is the official media sponsor of the observatory’s 75th anniversary year. Other sponsors include Making Texas History sponsor Joseph Orr; Galaxy sponsor Carol Whitcraft Fredericks; Supernova sponsors Grant and Sherri Roane, and Ralph and Bette Thomas; and Star sponsors Ted Gray Jr., Frances and Genie Wright, and Rick Herman and Margaret O'Donnell. Additional support has been provided by Humanities Texas, Hillcrest Foundation, The Whitley Group and Whole Earth Provision Co. 

The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas, hosts multiple telescopes undertaking a wide range of astronomical research under the darkest night skies of any professional observatory in the continental United States. McDonald is home to the consortium-run Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET), one of the world's largest, which is now being upgraded to begin the HET Dark Energy Experiment. An internationally known leader in astronomy education and outreach, McDonald Observatory is also pioneering the next generation of astronomical research as a founding partner of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

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75th Anniversary poster art