Famed for its live music, hot temperatures, cuisine, ranching and cattle, and BBQ, Texas still has another unique and fascinating thing to offer. At night, its wide skies glimmer with light, coming from billions of distant stars from the Milky Way. Lucky for you, you can chase those twinkling heavenly bodies by attending a star party at the McDonald Observatory situated atop of West Texas’ Davis Mountains
McDonald Observatory is one of the leading astronomical sites in the world. Administered by the University of Texas at Austin, its world-class facilities are used for teaching, public education, and research. The site sits atop Mount Fowlkes and Mount Locke, about 724 kilometers or 450 miles West of Austin.
The observatory has several telescopes, such as the Otto Struve Telescope, Harlan J. Smith Telescope, and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. The latter is one of the observatory’s impressive tools and is also among the world’s largest optical telescopes. It is a 30-foot (10-meter) telescope used to study far-flung stars, planets, black holes, galaxies, and other heavenly bodies.
Activities during the daytime include tours around the facility and telescopes, solar viewing alongside riveting discussions, and visits to the interactive exhibit halls. However, it is at nighttime when things start to become more visually enticing. Boasting one of the darkest night skies in the United States, McDonald Observatory conducts late evening Star Parties that are set to bring you a whole new cosmic experience.
Texas’ vast expanse of sky extends deep and dark, allowing the stars to be more vividly stunning. Adding the observatory’s high elevation, everything outside Earth becomes seemingly more reaching, providing an unrivaled view not only of the stars but of the universe.
Before attending a Star Party, you will get to attend the Twilight program. It’s a pre-party, one-hour-long talk, which provides valuable lessons about the Sun, Moon, and the planets. Afterward, the real-treat and most-renowned activity from the facility will unfold.
All other lights, such as those coming from cameras, phones, and even those from LED watches and shoes, are prohibited. That is done to help the eyes properly adjust to the dark, keep distractions at bay, and ensure a full experience.
As darkness kicks in, the universe also begins to divulge its enthralling beauty. With a broad, uncompromised sky, sans the skyscrapers, pollution, and other obstacles which can block visibility, it’s easier to relish what the cosmos has to provide. Be ready to see the Milky Way, star clusters, meteors, and satellites on the horizon.
Take your turn to use one of the dozens of eyepieces available and get a magnificent and captivating view of stars, planets, constellations, and other heavenly bodies in more intricate details. True enough, attending a star party at the McDonald’s Observatory is one of the best ways to enjoy the dark panorama of the universe while on Earth.