McDonald Geodetic Observatory

The fast, fully-steerable 12-meter wide radio telescope at the base of Mount Locke is the newest addition to the McDonald Observatory campus. A new laser ranging telescope will be installed on Mount Fowlkes near the Hobby-Eberly Telescope dome (background, left). These instruments, along with ultra-precise Global Positioning System receivers (foreground), are the main components of the McDonald Geodetic Observatory which is scheduled to begin science operations in 2022.

The new observatory will focus on Geodesy - the science of Earth’s shape, gravity, and rotation - and how these change over time.

The McDonald Geodetic Observatory is a joint project by The University of Texas at Austin Center for Space Research, McDonald Observatory, and NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center.  It is part of a global effort to create a “terrestrial reference frame” for scientists — a collection of landmarks that all other locations on Earth can be measured against precisely. The project will help scientists better understand Earth with the potential to minimize the effects of geohazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, sea level changes, and landslides.

Led and managed by the Center for Space Research, the McDonald Geodetic Observatory will bring together scientists and engineers from many parts of the university, with diverse interests in space research, the study of global change, and the characterization of natural hazards. The team comes from UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering, Jackson School of Geosciences, and Applied Research Laboratory. The McDonald Observatory site and infrastructure belong to the College of Natural Sciences.