Astronomy Program News & Events

see also: McDonald Observatory press room / archive

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Texas Astronomy Undergraduate Research Symposium 2014

September 2014

The University of Texas at Austin Department of Astronomy will be hosting the fourth annual Texas Astronomy Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, September 19, 2014. Undergraduates from central Texas are invited to give 10 minute talks on their astronomy research, based on either their summer or academic year research projects. Other students, postdocs, and faculty are invited to attend and hear about the first-rate research being done by these undergraduates.

The Inner Regions of Quasars

September 2014

The symposium The Inner Regions of Quasars will be held Friday, September 12th through Sunday, September 14th, 2014 on the 15th floor of Robert Lee Moore Hall (RLM) [map] on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin, to celebrate the work and career of Dr. Beverley Wills. Bev has been one of the pioneers in observing and interpreting the broad emission lines in all types of AGNs. Her enthusiasm and dedication inspired a generation of researchers in the field. This meeting celebrates Bev's contributions (many with Derek Wills) by presenting new results and by reviewing what has been achieved recently in this area of research.

97-point grid

97-point grid of the spherical plane of focus. [John Good]

HETDEX Update: Tracking Sphere

August 2014

Mechanical Engineer John Good was in West Texas in late July to run point tests with HET's new tracker. The tracker sits 13 meters above the stationary primary mirror array, and moves within six axes (hexapod), to track stars. The image above defines the contact lens shaped plane along which the tracker must move to both track a star and maintain focus. These plotted, six axis measurements are accurate enough to quantify the deflection of the HET frame as the tracker assembly moves. The 20-ton, automated tracker will routinely traverse the focal sphere with a precision of a few microns, about 1/10th the diameter of a human hair.

Keep up with the HET Wide Field Upgrade at HET Blog.

award winning undergraduates


Astronomy Undergraduates Earn Recognition

May 2014

With programs like the Freshman Research Initiative, UT Astronomy continues to develop as a leading program for high achieving undergraduates, who participate directly in research and publication with scientists and faculty. From left top: Arina Rostopchina, Outstanding Senior; James Diekmann, Ralph Cutler Greene Scholar; Rebecca Larson, Karl G. Henize Scholar; Mark Moore, Phi Beta Kappa; Amanda Turbyfill, Phi Beta Kappa; Sae Saito (not pictured), Eva Stevenson Woods Endowed Presidential Scholarship.


Coyne Gibson

Revolutionary IGRINS enters engineering runs

April 2014

McDonald Observatory's newest instrument, the Immersion Grating Infrared Spectrograph (IGRINS), began engineering runs in March. It will increase the spectral range, the range of instantaneous collectable wavelengths, 30x over the premier CRyogenic high-resolution InfraRed Echelle Spectrograph (CRIRES) at the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT). IGRINS will have the ability to better penetrate dust obscured regions where stars and planets form, and will be used to find and characterize extrasolar planets. IGRINS will be available to observers as a PI instrument in Fall 2014.

industry light pollution

Bill Wren

West Texas Energy Boom A Threat to Astronomy

March 2014

A glow over the northern horizon at McDonald Observatory near Ft. Davis, Texas. The light is generated by round-the-clock oil and gas operations in the Permian Basin. Read more at Fronteras

UT Game Changers: Karl Gebhardt, Black Holes and Dark Energy

March 2014

In this excerpt from LHN Game Changers, University of Texas astrophysics professor Karl Gebhardt addresses some big issues in his work..

virus units in assembly

Assembly and alignment of VIRUS spectrographs

February 2014

The Hobby-Eberly Telescope in West Texas, is clearing room for the pending arrival of the first of 150 VIRUS spectrographs, undergoing assembly and alignment in Austin. Top left: units house optics and electronics in a vacuum. Top right: completed and aligned VIRUS pairs begin to fill a rack. Bottom right: optical fiber feeds the pairs during alignment, as mirrors and electronics are calibrated. Alignment alone requires about two days per pair. Bottom left: Trent Peterson and undergraduate Ingrid Johnson describe the demanding assembly. Learn more at HET Blog and HETDEX: Illuminating the Darkness.

dr. robert kennicutt, jr.

Dr. Robert C. Kennicutt, Jr.

Public Lecture: The Hidden Universe Revealed

10 February 2014

Dr. Robert C. Kennicutt, Jr., Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, will deliver the public lecture, "The Hidden Universe Revealed," Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 4:00 PM, in CPE 2.208 on The University of Texas at Austin campus. Dr. Kennicutt will discuss completely new classes of objects and phenomenon revealed by international space telescopes observing in the infrared and terahertz, regions of the electromagnetic spectrum previously hidden from telescopes. Dr. Kennicutt is the 17th recipient of the Antoinette de Vaucouleurs Memorial Lectureship, recognizing a lifetime of outstanding contribution to Astronomy.

cosmic dark matter halo simulation

Heavy Metal in the early cosmos

National Science Foundation

22 January 2014

Simulations shed light on the formation and explosion of stars in the earliest galaxies.

smith dome and milky way

Afraid of Losing the Dark

Texas Monthly

9 January 2014

The McDonald Observatory, celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary this year, forges ahead with groundbreaking research and crusades to keep the night skies of West Texas pristine and unadulterated.

dr. taft armandroff

Dark Energy And The Expansion Of The Universe

New Director of McDonald Observatory Dr. Taft Armondroff talks with West Texas Public Radio on McDonald, Astronomy, and Philosophy (27:45)

Finding the Sun's Long Lost Sibling

star forming region

Public Lecture: Truth and Beauty in Astronomy Visualization

10 February 2014

Astrophysicist Dr. Frank Summers, from the Space Telescope Science Institute, will present the public lecture "Truth and Beauty in Astronomy Visualization", Thursday, March 6, 2014 from 7-8:00 PM, in ECJ 1.202. The talk will showcase compelling visuals and describe techniques used in creating sequences for schools, the press, planetariums, and IMAX films.

medal award

Presentation of the 2014 Antoinette de Vaucouleurs
Lectureship and Medal

Dr. Robert Kennicutt, Jr., Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, receives the Antoinette de Vaucouleurs Lectureship and Medal from Department of Astronomy Chair Dan Jaffe, recognizing a lifetime of outstanding contribution to Astronomy.