Research and Publications
Research in the Astronomy Program at The University of Texas is divided roughly into five categories: Planetary Systems, Stars, Extragalactic, Interstellar and Theory. There is also work in Instrumentation and Device Development, as well as research in Astronomy Education & Public Outreach.
The Planetary Systems and Interstellar research groups have joined forces around a common theme, star and planet formation. Members of these groups address topics related to the solar system and other planetary systems, including star formation, protoplanetary disk formation and evolution, planetary atmospheres, comets and asteroids, and planetary nebulae. UT-Austin also hosts one of the most active planet-search teams in the world.
Members of the Stars group study various properties of stars, including their chemical composition, pulsations, and evolution, as well as the properties of compact objects such as white dwarfs and neutron stars. The members also use stars as tracers of the formation and evolution of our own Galaxy.
Members of the Extragalactic group work on a broad array of astrophysical questions relating to the expansion history of the universe, the evolution of cosmic structures, reionization, galaxy mergers and secular processes, galaxy clusters, black holes, dark matter, and dark energy.
Work in Instrumentation & Device Development currently includes production of VIRUS, the integral field spectrograph array for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX), GMTNIRS, a near infrared spectrograph for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), and IGRINS: Immersion Grating Infrared Spectrograph.
Education & Public Outreach
McDonald Observatory is one of the country's leaders in astronomy Education & Public Outreach. The Education and Outreach Office manages programs in professional development for teachers, star parties, and facility tours at the Visitors' Center in West Texas, which hosts 60,000 visitors per year. StarDate radio, the oldest and most popular radio program of its kind in the country, reaches an estimated 5 million people weekly. Outreach websites are accessed by nearly a million unique visitors each month. These programs provide opportunities for both researchers and the public.
Members of the Theory group study a broad range of problems in astrophysics and cosmology. These studies involve various physical processes operating in diverse environments and vastly different length scales: in planets, stars, and the interstellar medium; in supernovae and gamma-ray bursts; in galaxies, supermassive black holes, and the intergalactic medium; and in the universe as a whole. The Theory Group's research activities cover all the important epochs and events in the cosmic history, from the Big Bang to the ongoing processes in the solar system.