Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Our McDonald Observatory Adventure

Robert contends that he is too "busy" to do this post, so Dad will step in and do it.July 19, right after our Fort Davis adventure, we had a lunch that couldn't be beat, and then we headed about twenty miles down the road to McDonald Observatory !
This is a sundial, a clock which is hard to wind.

Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall once visited this place.
This is holy ground.

This is the shuttle bus which took us the rest of the way up the mountain to the big telescopes.

It is very dark here at night and the air is thin, which is why it's a great place for stargazing.

The history of this place is fascinating. It was endowed by an amateur astronomer and banker named William McDonald. His family was surprised and dismayed by this bequest, and a long legal battle was waged.
This is the 107-inch Harlan J. Smith telescope. The last time I was here, in 1973, it had an eyepiece you could look through. Now it's all hooked up to computers. They normally have a big screen on which you can see live images of the sun, but on this day a huge thunderstorm blew in and made that idea impossible. The dome is normally open as well.

This telescope was once the victim of a handgun assault! Sheesh!

This is Robert moving 160 tons of telescope by remote. The guided tour shows you a spot on the floor where an absent-minded astronomer once moved the thing too far and left a huge dent in the floor. The astronomer is now delivering pizzas somewhere.

(No, not really.)

The above building houses the Harlan J. Smith telescope.

The uniquely-designed 360-inch Hobby-Eberly telescope is also impressive, the fifth largest telescope in the world, but it's protected (from handgun assault?) by plexiglass, so when you photograph it you get ghostly images like the two above.

This dome houses the Hobby-Eberly telescope. The 360-inch mirror, if I understand correctly, is actually made up of 91 identical hexagonal mirrors. The little ball on a stick near the roof is a focus object which helps align the 91 individual mirrors.

Way cool!

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