The McDonald Observatory, Texas

Article and Photography by
George Hosek

The McDonald Observatory is one of the great Observatory Centers of the world. Built in the 1930's under terms of legacy from William Johnson McDonald.

A Paris, Texas banker interested in the stars. A well educated man, McDonald lived frugally. As a hobby, he read science books and viewed planets through a small telescope. His will granted the University of Texas $800,000 to build an observatory and promote the study of astronomy.

The site was selected because of its high ratio of clear nights. Its 6800 foot altitude, its distance from artificially-lighted cities, and its quite unique low latitude that permits Observation of Southern skies.

The Observatory was operated for its first 25 years mainly by astronomers from the University of Chicago. More recently primarily from the University of Texas. Until 1948, its 82-inch telescope was second largest in the world.

Discoveries made at the McDonald have included interstellar polarization and the satellites of several planets.


Visitor Center

The Visitor Center offers a unique astronomical experience, insight into the workings of this scientific facility, and special access to research telescopes.

McDonald Observatory is one of the darkest sites in the world for astronomical observing. Visitors have opportunities to view the sky using telescopes in the Rebecca Gale Telescope Park adjacent to the Visitors Center.

The Visitor Center is the check-in point for all daytime and evening visitor activities. Inside the Visitor Center, you will find extensive exhibits which explain what astronomers do at the observatory, as well as a theater, astronomy-related gift shop, cafe, and restrooms.
The Hobby-Eberly Telescope

The HET's 432 inch primary mirror is the largest in the world, yet the telescopes innovative design cost only $16.6 million to build, about 15 percent of the cost of comparable size telescopes.

The Hobby-Eberly also has a museum area which features a continually playing movie about the telescope, exhibits and a remarkable view of the structure and mirror.

2.7m (107") Harlan J. Smith Telescope

Primary Mirror
Diameter: 2.72m (107")
Focal length: 10.68m (35')

Started: April 1966
Completed: October 1968

The McDonald Observatory is located in the heart of the Davis Mountains of West Texas. Visitors travel east on interstate 10 from El Paso take Highway 118 south at Kent for the 34-mile drive to the Observatory.

Visitors traveling west on Interstate 10 may take Highway 17 south at Balmorhea to Fort Davis, then Highway 118 north 16 miles to the Observatory.

Visitors Center, call toll-free 877-984-7827. For other inquiries, call 432-426-3640  info@mcdonaldobservatory.org.

Gift Shop, giftshop@mcdonaldobservatory.org or call 432-426-3645

Membership, To make a tax-deductible contribution and join the Friends of McDonald, call toll-free 888-442-4356 or join online.




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Content copyright George L. Hosek. The articles and photographs on this site are for viewing on your computer only, absolutely, no commercial or personal reproduction without written consent from George Hosek.