From the Board of Visitors Executive Committee


Eclipse photo courtesy Tom Montemayor; Spica is at lower right.

Cianciolo’s lunar-eclipse movie
gets a big boost on Twitter

Frank Cianciolo is officially the Senior Program Coordinator of the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center at McDonald Observatory. He’s better known as the wriest of the observatory's wise-cracking, green-laser-toting hosts for constellation tours who have brought the heavens to Earth for hundreds of thousands of visitors at public star parties.

An excellent and widely published photographer, Cianciolo created a 44-second time-lapse movie of the lunar eclipse that happened between 2 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. the morning of April 15. It was quite a technical feat: he writes in comments at the McDonald Observatory Facebook page that his exposures through an f/15 5" Maksutov telescope ran from 160th of a second at ISO 100 to 5 seconds at ISO 800. Then Cianciolo posted the movie to that Facebook page -- where it quickly generated millions of shares on social media.

McDonald Observatory’s Press Officer, Rebecca Johnson, wrote later that day that the action started at 7:27 a.m., when The University of Texas at Austin sent out a tweet (“Watch: Time-lapse video of the #BloodMoon, from UT's McDonald Observatory”) to some 525,000 followers on its Twitter feed. Later the link was retweeted by Rep. Lamar Smith and by the Science, Space, and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

You can see Cianciolo’s time-lapse movie at:

Eclipse of April 15, 2014, at McDonald Observatory's Facebook page


'The Hook' features UT Austin's role in the GMT

“The Hook,” a recently inaugurated Texas Exes weekly online video news program, has a March 20, 2014 episode highlighting the March 7, 2014 decision by The University of Texas Board of Regents to authorize $50 million in funding for the University of Texas at Austin’s planned 10-percent share in the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT).

Interviewed for the report, McDonald Observatory Assistant Director Anita Cochran talks about how GMT will be used to reveal the Universe’s faintest objects and to study distant planets in unmatchable detail. You can find the video at:

Mirror-mirror at 'The Hook'

Planets crashing in Super 'Planet Crash'.

Sophisticated software for studying planetary systems, disguised as a fun game, goes viral on the web

On April 7, Texas and California astronomers released a link to some sophisticated web-based software for studying planetary systems — disguised as a fun game.

BoV members who attended the February 2014 meeting heard an excellent presentation by Dr. Stefano Meschiari about searching for planetary systems around distant stars. Meschiari, the W.J. McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow at UT Austin, also talked about software he had developed, originally with his thesis advisor, Dr. Greg Laughlin of UC Santa Cruz, that pulls planet discoveries out of robotic telescope data from around the world. The software, called Systemic, has been used in a number of colleges and as a free web app. You can see it, and use it to understand radial velocity data, at:


On April 7, Recently, Meschiari released a web-app game (based on Systemic) called “Super Planet Crash” that allows users to add planets of various sizes to a planetary system — to see how long they can last before becoming unstable.

The game has gotten hundreds of web links. Space.com  and Huffington Post raved about it, comparing Super Planet Crash to Angry Birds for addictive game play, and TweakTown.com said it’s “the best physics-based game on the internet.”  See:



Huffington Post

By April 13, the game had been played online more than two million times. You can see Dr. Meschiari’s game for yourself at


Best of all, Dr. Meschiari asks players, if they enjoy the game, to make a donation to McDonald Observatory’s Education and Outreach fund (through a link provided on his page).

[Joel Barna]

April 2014
Astronomy Program · The University of Texas at Austin
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