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The McDonald Observatory, constructed from the proceeds of a bequest by W. J. McDonald in 1929, was originally operated jointly by the University of Texas and the University of Chicago. Today the observatory is maintained and administered by the University of Texas at Austin. Located on Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains at an altitude of 6,800 feet, the observatory sits on 650 acres of land, 400 acres donated by the owners of the Fowlkes and McIvor ranches and 250 purchased from the Eppenauer Ranch.
The 2.1-meter reflector was installed in March 1939, and the observatory was formally dedicated on May 5, 1939. For some years the 2.1-meter reflector was the second largest telescope in the world, and it is still among the world's major telescopes. A 0.9-meter reflector built primarily for stellar photoelectric photometry was installed in January 1957.
The development of the observatory and of the 2.1-meter reflector was largely the work of Otto Struve (1897-1963), the first director of Yerkes and McDonald Observatories, and one of the outstanding scientists of his generation. In recognition of his contributions, the 2.1-meter reflector was officially designated "The Otto Struve Reflector of the W. J. McDonald Observatory," in an international dedicatory symposium in May 1966.
Supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the University of Texas, and assisted by the National Science Foundation, a 2.7-meter telescope began operation in early 1969 as the third largest telescope in the world. Improved supporting facilities and a 0.8-meter telescope were also constructed at that time. Between 1967 and 1989 a precision 4.9-meter parabolic reflector was in operation at the observatory for radio astronomical studies. A current partnership with the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, provides access to the precision 10.4-meter parabolic reflector there. The partnership permits continued and higher frequency studies by researchers and graduate students at the University.
In collaboration with the Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat Munchen, and Georg-August-Universitat Gottingen, the University of Texas at Austin is constructing a 9.2-meter telescope on Mount Fowlkes at the McDonald Observatory. This telescope, the William P. Hobby-Robert E. Ebberly Telescope, will have the largest primary mirror of any telescope in the world. The George T. Abell Gallery will offer a view of the telescope and public exhibits on astronomy.
McDonald Observatory produces the daily astronomy radio program, Star Date, which airs on more than 200 radio stations in the United States and Canada and is heard by ten million people each week. A Spanish-language edition of Star Date, Universo, is broadcast on more than 140 stations. Sternzeit airs in Germany on 40 radio stations. The observatory also publishes Star Date magazine for fifteen thousand subscribers.
The W. L. Moody Jr. Visitors' Information Center, located at the base of Mt. Locke, is open to visitors daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Weather permitting, solar viewing sessions are conducted daily at 11:00 am and 3:30 pm, and a guided tour is conducted at 2:00 pm. From June through August, there is an additional tour each day at 9:30 am. Tours are $2 for adults and $1 for children. Every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday beginning at evening twilight, visitors have the opportunity to view the planets, moon, galaxies, and other celestial objects through 14-inch and 24-inch telescopes. No reservations are necessary. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children. More information about visiting McDonald Observatory may be obtained from the W. L. Moody Jr. Visitors' Information Center, Box 1337, Fort Davis, Texas 79734, (915) 426-3640.
Constructed with state and federal funds, contributions, and proceeds from the sale of Centennial coins sponsored by the American Legion, the museum was opened to the public January 15, 1939. In 1959, by legislative enactment, it became a division of the University of Texas.
The museum is open every day, except major holidays, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm weekdays, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Saturday, and from 1:00 to 5:00 pm Sunday. Admission is free.
Known worldwide for its collection of fossil vertebrates, the museum exhibits examples of the world-famous dinosaur footprints originally from Glen Rose, Texas. Other fossils on display are a thirty-five-foot cretaceous mosasaur, reptiles and amphibians from the Permian period of the Paleozoic era, and remains of Ice Age mammals. Geology is explored on the first floor in a display of gems, minerals, and rocks. The third floor features the contemporary native fauna of Texas, including many of the state's fascinating reptiles, birds, and mammals. The fourth floor is dedicated to Native American cultures with displays of prehistoric to more recent artifacts and tools. The museum's collection of antique firearms, exhibited at the entrance level, highlights the history and diversity of the gunsmith's art. Temporary exhibits from the museum's collections and from other institutions provide variety.
Operating as divisions of the Texas Memorial Museum, but located at the Pickle Research Campus, are the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, containing more than 150,000 fossil specimens and over 6,000 recent vertebrate skeletons; the Invertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany Collections, containing more than 3,500,000 specimens of fossil and modern invertebrates and fossil plants; and the Geological Collections (rocks, minerals, meteorites, and tektites) containing over 50,000 specimens. The Division of Vertebrates, holds approximately 350,000 specimens of fishes, over 50,000 amphibians and reptiles, over 7,000 mammals, and 2,000 birds. The Division of Invertebrates houses over 325,000 specimens of insects, arachnids, and mollusks. The Materials Conservation Laboratory provides for the stabilization, preservation, and restoration of the scientific and ethnohistoric teaching/research specimens in the museum's collections. The Radiocarbon Laboratory, administered by the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, collaborates with research projects in archaeology, geology, oceanography, paleontology, and paleobotany, where age determinations of organic materials within the time range of the past forty thousand years are required.
The museum produces the following scholarly publications: the Bulletin; Pearce-Sellards Series; Speleological Monographs; Conservation Notes; Miscellaneous Papers, Museum Notes, and information circulars.
The museum is the academic home of the museum studies courses offered in the College of Liberal Arts. The courses are designed to provide basic training for students preparing for careers in the museum profession, or for those who have an interest in museums growing out of scholarly interests in other fields.
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