Getting a tour at the McDonald Observatory has been on my bucket list for a long time. Yesterday I made reservations for the day tour and solar viewing since the weather forecast was “sunny”. Well we woke this morning and it was very wet, icy, and foggy. OH NO! We decided to head up the mountain anyway and were glad we did. Our tour consisted of four of us – so it was like a private tour.
This was in their parking lot – notice the ice on the trees and grass:
Very thick fog:
Sundial – too foggy to work:
We started in their classroom with our tour guide who took us thru information on the sun, solar flares, stars, and so much more. Since it was so cloudy, we did not see the sun real time from the observatory, however, he did show us the sun from other observatories in real time.
Here is a great site to see lots of that information – some in real time: http://www.spaceweather.com/
From there we headed up the summit of Mount Locke to the Harlan J. Smith telescope.
We first took a walk around the building- it was soupy out there – :
The Superintendent’s house:
More ice (it was very cold and windy up there):
We first went into the lobby where we were told the history of McDonald Observatory and the telescopes there.
In 1968, when this telescope was finished, it was the third largest in the world.
“For almost a decade, the telescope also reflected a laser off mirrors left on the Moon by Apollo astronauts, in a program called “lunar laser ranging.” These results have helped refine the distance to the Moon and enabled a better understanding of its interior, and provided a test of Albert Einstein's theory of General Relativity. That program has since moved to a dedicated laser ranging telescope on neighboring Mount Fowlkes.”
From the lobby, we walked down a long hallway into an elevator. The lights went out in the elevator right before the doors opened and this is what we saw when they opened – I was in AWE!
Our guide took us the thru all the details of the telescope and the instruments around the room. In order to have the researcher get closer to the telescope, the floor moves up:
The telescope moves and the dome moves:
Here are two videos on the movement – THIS WAS AWESOME!
Can I continue to say WOW!!!!!!!
And the tour continues. We walked out the back door and the sun was out – YEA! The shutter doors that open to the outside:
Our next stop was the top of Mount Fowlkes to see the Hobby- Eberly Telescope. It was housed in this building:
Dan Weedman and Larry Ramsey of Pennsylvania State University were the inventors of this telescope. More information can be found here: http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/research/telescopes/HET
The telescope is currently being retrofitted to do a study on dark energy. Astronomers all over the world are finding that the universe is expanding faster as it gets older. This study is to determine why (how cool is that!). More info can be found here: http://hetdex.org/
We were taken into the HET visitor center for a background of this telescope and then we were able to see some of the work being done:
From the outside:
We were taken to the visitor center for the end of our tour where we had lunch and explored the museum. Notice the clear skies:
The HET Telescope Building:
The sundial now working:
After lunch, Andy and I explored that area. The telescopes on Mount Locke:
The views from Mount Locke:
Heading toward Mount Fowlkes and the HET building:
Views from that area:
We slowly made our way down the mountain and to our spot in Fort Davis. If you are ever in this area, please put this on your list and take the guided tour instead of the self tour. The guided tour will take you places where the others do not. (And plan to spend a few hours there too.)
We were back by late afternoon, put some things away, and relaxed. Tomorrow we continue our journeys into east Texas so stay tuned and enjoy today.