The original Public Observatory was dedicated in July of 1988 and was made possible through the generous donations of these Friends of McDonald Observatory: Mrs. W. Jean Kachelries, Mrs. Patsy Steves and the Marshall Steves, Jr., family, and Mr. Edwin Wiegand. This facility was in use at the original W.L. Moody Visitors Center, opened in 1982. In early 2002, all visitor center operations were moved to our current, larger, and more modern facility, the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center, which includes the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park.
The centerpieces of the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park are two 20-foot Ash domes that currently house a RCOS 16" Ritchey-Chrétien telescope donated by Mr. Wayne Rosing of the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, and a 22" classical cassegrain donated by the late Larry Forrest of Austin, Texas. Mr. Forrest also donated a 22" Newtonian telescope, which is utilized in the telescope park along with an exquisite 8" fixed eyepiece scope designed, built, and donated by the late John Gregory. The Alva Carlton family donated funds for our JMI NGT-12.5 12.5" telescope, and we also utilize several other 12" & 8" reflectors commercially available from Orion Telescopes, Mag1 Instruments, Celestron Telescopes, and Meade Instruments, including a Meade LX-90 generously donated by Frank and Bonnie McElvaney.
Also located in the telescope park is a unique 18" telescope known as the Wren-Marcario Accessible Telescope, or WMAT. This telescope is the result of many years of R&D, and its main feature is a wheelchair-accessible fixed eyepiece. Regardless of where the telescope is pointed on the sky, the eyepiece is in a stationary location. Computer control also allow fast target acquisition for individual objects, or quick tours of the sky for a list of objects. The WMAT is named in honor of George B. Wren II (1917-1993), and Mike Marcario (1954-1998), and made possible by donations from Wayne Rosing and Dorothy Largay, Mike and Shirley Marcario, Mike I. and Dee Jones, Bill and Becky Wren, and anonymous donors. The telescope was dedicated at the Observatory on July 17, 2010.
The latest addition to the telescope park is a 20" telescope located in another Ash dome. This telescope was jointly designed and built by Dr. Alan Y. Chow and Wayne Rosing, is owned by Dr. Chow, and is on loan for visitor center usage during public star parties and other viewing programs. The telescope, based on a RCOS design and mounted on a Planewave Instruments L-600 Direct Drive Mount, can be robotically operated from a remote location or used locally from the telescope park. In addition to Dr. Chow, other major supporters of this project include Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope, Wayne Rosing and Dorothy Largay, the estate of Leopold Tedesco, and the Frank & Susan Bash Endowed Chair for the Director of the McDonald Observatory. For more information, see the official press release.
In addition to these main telescopes, we also deploy several other telescopes for use at the public Star Parties in the Telescope Park area (staff permitting).