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General Information | 2006-2007 page 4 of 6 in Chapter 6
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The University of Texas McDonald Observatory at Mount Locke

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, 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. That telescope has been named the Harlan J. Smith Telescope in honor of the first Texas director of McDonald Observatory. Improved supporting facilities and a 0.8-meter telescope were constructed in the 1970s. A partnership with the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, provides access to the 10.4-meter parabolic reflector there.

In collaboration with the Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, and Georg-August- Universität Göttingen, the University of Texas at Austin operates a 9.2-meter telescope on Mount Fowlkes at the McDonald Observatory. This telescope, the William P. Hobby-Robert E. Eberly Telescope, has the largest primary mirror of any telescope in the world. The George T. Abell Gallery offers a view of the telescope to the public.

McDonald Observatory produces the daily astronomy radio program StarDate, which airs on 300 radio stations in the United States and Canada and is heard by ten million people each week. The Spanish-language edition, Universo, is broadcast on more than 170 stations. Sternzeit airs in Germany on public radio. The observatory also publishes StarDate magazine.

The McDonald Observatory Visitors Center at the base of Mount Locke includes a theater, a science museum with interactive exhibits, StarDate Café, and a gift shop. The center is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Solar viewing sessions are conducted daily at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm with guided tours of the research areas immediately following. Daytime passes are $8 for adults, $7 for children, and $30 for families. Every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night, the Visitors Center hosts "Star Parties," during which visitors have the opportunity to view the planets, moon, galaxies, and other celestial objects through large telescopes at the center's Public Observatory. Star Party admission is $10 for adults, $8 for children, and $40 for families. A daytime and Star Party pass costs $15 for adults, $12 for children, and $60 for families. More information about visiting the observatory may be obtained from the McDonald Observatory Visitors Center, HC 75 Box 1337-VC, Fort Davis TX 79734, (432) 426-3640, or at the McDonald Observatory Web site. A recorded message giving seasonal times is available at (877) 984-7827.

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Texas Natural Science Center

The Texas Natural Science Center is dedicated to encouraging awareness and appreciation of the interplay of biological, geological, and environmental forces as they affect the Earth.

The center's exhibits and public programs are based on its world-renowned research collections of 5.7 million specimens in the disciplines of paleontology, geology, herpetology, ichthyology, entomology, and diatomology. Most specimens in the collections are from Texas, and many are unique and irreplaceable. The center's four divisions are the Texas Memorial Museum, Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, Nonvertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, and Texas Natural History Collections.

The public aspect of the center is the Texas Memorial Museum, located on the University campus at 2400 Trinity Street. All of the museum's exhibits and public programs are based on the center's research collections. The museum was constructed with state and federal funds, contributions, and proceeds from the sale of Texas Centennial coins sponsored by the American Legion. It 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 exhibits of fossil vertebrates, the museum displays examples of the world-famous dinosaur footprints originally from Glen Rose, Texas. Other fossils on display are a thirty-five-foot Cretaceous mosasaur, a pterosaur with a forty-foot wingspan, reptiles and amphibians from the Permian period of the Paleozoic era, and remains of Ice Age mammals.

The first-floor Hall of Geology features displays of dinosaurs and fossil animals, rocks, and minerals, as well as an on-site working paleontologist preparing fossil specimens and answering questions from visitors. The second floor showcases some of the museum's most prized and unusual specimens. The third floor features the contemporary native fauna of Texas, including many of the state's reptiles, birds, and mammals. The Biodiversity Hall on the fourth floor currently features a virtual reality exhibit, live-animal exhibits, and hands-on educational tools to help visitors learn about the living world around them.

The center's research facilities, located at the Pickle Research Campus, are the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, ranked ninth in the nation; the Nonvertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, sixth largest in the United States; and the Texas Natural History Collections.

The Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory contains approximately 250,000 cataloged specimens and perhaps three times that number of uncataloged specimens; the Nonvertebrate Paleontology and Paleobotany collections contain more than 4 million specimens of nonvertebrate fossils, rocks, and minerals, including fossils from more than 95 percent of Texas counties; and the Texas Natural History Collections contain well over a million specimens comprising a diverse representation of living and past Texas natural history. These collections form the basis of some of the most significant research at the University, providing specimens for undergraduate and graduate courses, faculty research, and professional researchers from around the world. The Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory supports one of the largest professional vertebrate paleontology instruction programs in the world.

The center is a research unit of the College of Natural Sciences and the home of the college's ichthyology, herpetology, and paleontology collections.

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General Information | 2006-2007 page 4 of 6 in Chapter 6
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Libraries and other resources Office of the Registrar University of Texas at Austin copyright 2006
Official Publications 15 Aug 2006