Astronomy Program News & Events

see also: McDonald Observatory press room / archive

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Giant Magellan Telescope

December 2014

The extremely stable components of the 1,200 ton Giant Magellan Telescope are designed to virtually eliminate vibration during operation. The full structure will float on a thin bearing of oil, never touching the ground. Each 17 ton mirror will float on a cushion of air, never touching the telescope. The secondary mirror, 15 stories above, will float by magnetism, oscillating and reshaping in real time as adaptive optics cancels atmospheric distortion.

Watch an informal overview of the Giant Magellan Telescope by Director Pat McCarthy from Sep 2013 at SlidesLive.

[James Tyrwhitt-Drake]

A timelapse of the Sun in 4K

December 2014

The surface of the sun from October 14th to 30th, 2014, showing sunspot AR 2192, the largest sunspot of the last two solar cycles (22 years). The animation shows the sun in the ultraviolet, at a rate of 52.5 minutes per second, using more than 17,000 images produced by the Solar Dynamics Observatory [Helioviewer]. The view is rotated 180 degrees so that south is "up". The audio is processed from SOHO HMI data by Alexander G. Kosovichev. Image data courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams. Mouseover for full screen option..

Public Lecture

dr. meg urry

Black Holes, Galaxies and the Evolution of the Universe: An Observer's View

Prof. Meg Urry - Yale University

Wed., Dec. 3, 4:00 PM · ECJ 1.202


Visit of Dr. Urry
Dec. 2-5


also..  Women in Natural Sciences presents: "Why So Few? The Dearth of Women in Science" with Dr. Meg Urry

Thurs., Dec. 4, 4:00 PM · NHB 1.720 · Details

comet 67p/churyumov-gerasimenko


Dramatic Landing for Philae Marks First Touchdown on a Comet

November 2014

WIRED consults with planetary scientists, including McDonald Observatory Asst. Director Anita Cochran, on the milestone encounter with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In coming months, from the surface, the lander will collect and submit data as the comet approaches the sun, emits jets of gas and changes shape, perhaps even breaking apart.

What’s Next for the Rosetta Mission and Comet Exploration

gmt mirror 4 mold

[University of Arizona]

Oven Mold for GMT Segment 4

November 2014

This October photo from the University of Arizona Mirror Lab shows the construction of the furnace mold for the Giant Magellan Telescope's 4th mirror segment. This segment will have an opening in the center, for light to pass from secondary mirrors to instruments below. The GMT's 8-meter, asymmetrically curved mirror segments are the most challenging yet constructed.

More on the GMT primary mirror

Partial Solar Eclipse
Solar and filtered telescopes open at RLM
Thurs., Oct. 23--Open: 4:30 PM, Max: 5:56 PM

Public Lecture ~ Environmental Science Institute

The Roving Search
for Life on Mars

Fri., Oct. 18, 7:00-8:15 PM, Welch Auditorium · Details

Astronomy Students Association

Talk: Astronaut Kevin Kregel

52 days flight time

Friday, October 3, 6:30 PM, RLM 15.216B

alpha centauri

Close neighbor Alpha Centauri, 4.3 light-years distant [Lorenzi]

Possible Shortcut to Finding Extrasolar Planets

September 2014

Forbes magazine recently featured research by Ivan Ramirez, who is known for work with stars closely resembling our sun. Dr. Ramirez and colleagues hypothesize that a slight depletion of the key metals that comprise rocky planets--barium, aluminum, iron, magnesium, titanium, chromium, silicon, yttrium--in the spectra of stars similar to the sun, may indicate the presence of planets, just as in our solar system.

Nearby Star 'Alpha Centauri A' May Harbor Rocky Planets: 'Find' Heralds Planet-Hunting Shortcut.

simulation of the epoch of reionization

[Park, Shapiro, Choi, D'Aloisio]

First Billion Years: The Epoch of Reionization

Prof. Paul Shapiro's Cosmology Research Group has performed one of the world's largest and most sophisticated computer simulations of the transformation of the early universe--from a featureless expanding gas, to a place where galaxies formed, stars formed within those galaxies, and radiation from the stars ionized the neutral hydrogen in the vast intergalactic regions.

The visualization is among a collection of images solicited by the College of Natural Sciences to illustrate the beauty of science.

View an excerpt of the simulation, and an explanation by Prof. Shapiro at:
Visualizing Science 2014: Beautiful Images From College Research


McDonald Observatory: Brain Motor

StarDate Radio host Sandy Wood narrates a 15-minute overview of McDonald Observatory, from a 1926 financial gift from Paris, Texas banker William J. McDonald, to the current leading-edge search for Dark Energy at the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Historic footage and interviews with observatory directors and research scientists chronicle dramatic changes in research methods, advancing engineering capabilities, the construction of new telescopes, evolving science, and the development of one of the world's largest public outreach centers.

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.

rebecca gale telescope park

Summer Teacher Workshop at McDonald Observatory [Cianciolo]

Recently in the News

Presidio Passes Ordinance Dedicated to Preserving Night Skies

NewsWest 9

Looking into the past, future: 75 years of 'beautiful science'

Alpine Avalanche

Seeing Stars in Dripping Springs

The Texas Observer

Final Weekend

75th Anniversary Event

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

The McDonald Observatory: 75 Years of Stargazing

3rd Floor Rotunda Gallery through June 29. Admission is free.

Family Day: Starry Extravaganza - Saturday, June 28 - 12-3 pm


dr. william cochran

75th Anniversary Public Lecture

Exploring New Worlds:
Amazing Planets Orbiting Other Stars

--Dr. Bill Cochran

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

Saturday, May 24, 2:00 PM


dr. steve finkelstein

75th Anniversary Public Lecture

Billions of Years in the Making:
Very Distant Galaxies and the HETDEX Project at McDonald Observatory

--Dr. Steven Finkelstein

Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum

Saturday, May 10, 2:00 PM


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.

dr. david lambert

75th Anniversary Lectures

The W. J. McDonald Observatory:
Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Dr. David Lambert

Director, McDonald Observatory

Perot Museum, Dallas

Thursday, May 1, 2014 · details

Paris, TX

Friday, May 2, 2014 · details


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.

honeycomb structure

Honeycomb structure of Giant Magellan Telescope mirror 3 [Arizona Daily Star]

Giant Magellan Telescope 24.5-meter concept arose from image quality of the 6.5-meter Magellan Telescopes

Visible from the construction site of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), at Chile's Las Campanas Observatory, sit the twin 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes, perhaps the best natural imaging telescopes in the world. GMT partner, the Carnegie Instution of Washington, on behalf of the Magellan Project, pioneered the structured monolith design behind the concept of the GMT. Read more about the Magellan Telescopes.

cassiopeia a

75th Anniversary Public Lecture

Cosmic Catastrophes: Supernovae Through Space and Time

Prof. J. Craig Wheeler

Apr. 10 - Reception 6:30 PM, Talk 7:30 PM

Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX


75th Anniversary Public Lecture

Black Holes, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy through the Eyes of Texas

Prof. Karl Gebhardt

Lamar Bruni Vergara Science Center
Laredo, TX

Wed., Apr. 2, 6:30 reception, 7:30 talk

Details | Upcoming events

75th Anniversary Public Lecture

Hunting for Alien Worlds

Dr. Fritz Benedict

Witte Museum
San Antonio, TX

Fri., Mar. 21, 6:30-8:30 PM


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..

dr. don winget

Dr. Don Winget

22nd Annual Great Lecture in Astronomy: Small Stars in a Large Context

February 2014

Prof. Don Winget, Harlan J. Smith Centennial Professor in Astronomy, will deliver the public lecture, "Small Stars in a Large Context," Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 1:00 PM, in POB 2.302 on The University of Texas at Austin campus. Dr. Winget will discuss white dwarf stars. White dwarfs are the simplest stars, with the simplest known chemical surface compositions, yet they exhibit properties to probe the widest parameters of the universe. Now, they have become the first stars ever produced in a lab! Discover McDonald Observatory's world leading, mind-expanding exploration of this amazing class of stars..

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

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

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

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.

medal award

Presentation of the 2014-15 Antoinette de Vaucouleurs
Lectureship and Medal

Dr. Meg Urry, Israel Munson Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Chair of the Physics Department, and Director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Physics Yale University, receives the Antoinette de Vaucouleurs Lectureship and Medal from Department of Astronomy Chair Dan Jaffe, recognizing outstanding contribution to Astronomy.

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 2013-14 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.