Saturday, July 25, 2009

McDonald Observatory - Outreach and Research

SAAA at McDonald
We started off the day with going to Balmorhea State Park and when snorkeling in the natural spring pool. It was really fun we saw many different types of fish and a turtle. Later we drove back to Alpine to take a nap. Public Star Party at McDonald
At around 8:30pm we set up our 16” Dobsonian at the visitor’s center at McDonald Observatory. I kept the my scope on the Ring Nebula all during the public star party. Tina ran an old orange tube C8 SCT and she kept on Saturn most of the time and eventually switched to Jupiter. Tina and I were each paired with a UT research student. There was around 400 people in attendance. At around 11:30 PM the star party was over and Tina’s partner, Jose, was talking about going to the 36” Telescope to do some observations on Jupiter. He did some calling around the mountain and found out that wasn’t going to be possible. Then my partner, Greg, was telling us about his research project a pulsating white dwarf star GD66. Greg is a research assistant using the 82 inch Otto Struve Telescope to collect data on the star.
AlpineTrip2009_day4_5 153
Since the 36” was unavailable he invited Tina and I to go meet the lead astronomer on the research project and “hang out” at the 82 inch Otto Struve Telescope. We drove up around 11:50 pm and went into the 86” observatory. We walked in the control room and met the researchers and a few people that were there also just hanging out. I met Jimi Lowery, owner of the largest privately owned telescope a 48” reflector. I met many people about 10 and I can’t remember all their names but a few knew people from San Angelo that I knew from when I got started in Astronomy. We literally got to see the raw data collection being done and analyzed. The particle count was up so they were required to shut down observations and so they dome was closed. We were allowed to go into the dome telescope area and walk up the inside service ways to look at the scope. Later that night we walked out the outside catwalk of the observatory. It was really dark outside however you could see some far off light glow from El Paso and Ft. Davis. I asked the astronomers and they did seem very concerned about the encroaching light pollution.
Me at Hobby-Eberly Telescope
About 1 am after playing around the 86” we got clearance to visit the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) 11.1 x 9.8 meter telescope. We walked right into the control room with the research partners we paired up with. We got a first hand look at the scope. They have to shut down sooner than the other telescopes because the HET doesn’t have a cover for the mirror like the 107” and the 86”. So we were allowed to go right up to the HET inside the dome. (On a tour you see if through a glass window.) They even moved the scope around for us. We spoke about an hour about the telescope and about the research being done that night. They were analyzing and collecting data for exo-planetary search. We left about 2:30am and drove the hour drive back to Alpine with an experience of a life time. We were literally standing on the forefront for Astronomical research.

Hobby-Eberly Telescope Control Room

Other Photos:
Public Star Party at McDonald

My Telescope with 107" and 86" in background:
Public Star Party at McDonald

Visitor Center Observatory with Milkyway:
McDonald Observatory Star Party

ISS Pass Over Visitor Center at McDonald Observatory
ISS Pass over McDonald Visitor Center

Iridium Flare over Hobby-Eberly Telescope. Jupiter in Tree.
Iridium Flare over McDonald Observatory

Line at telescope:
Public Star Party at McDonald

All Photos Copyright 2009 -MPR Photography
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