Last fall, our program had the opportunity to visit Fort Davis, Texas, which is about six hours out from Austin and is also home to the highest-elevated county seat in Texas at 5050 ft.
Nearby is the McDonald Observatory, which was where we were headed for. The observatory is actually part of the University of Texas at Austin, and the research there is focused on a wide variety of topics and projects, including planetary systems, stars and stellar spectroscopy, the interstellar medium, extragalactic astronomy, and theoretical astronomy. The facility has a number of different instruments for imaging and spectroscopy, including the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, which as of 2012, was tied for the 5th largest telescope in the world.
During our weekend there, we got a tour of the observatory, and spent the night at the beautiful stars (the skies are clear and dark, perfect for star-gazing). We’d actually spent some time during the night at the observatory, where you could look through various telescopes at the stars and got to listen to experts explain the stars and talked about the roots of astrology. In the morning, we woke up early to watch the sunrise, although that was slightly anti-climatic, as the sun rose from behind a hill and we were unable to see it.
Overall, though, it was an incredible experience to see these instruments, listen to all the research being conducted there, and spend a fun weekend up there with friends!