Destination :: McDonald Observatory

  • McDonald Observatory: One of the large telescopes and other facilities are visible on a hill, with mountains in the background.

    An Observatory Telescope. May 2018. Image 1/1

The McDonald Observatory is an active research facility of the University of Texas at Austin. The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center is open to the public, and the Observatory hosts public events including a daytime tours and live sun viewings and evening star parties.

Among other initiatives, the Observatory works with neighbors and groups across the country to minimize light pollution.

Brief History

W.J. McDonald bequests most of his fortunate to the University of Texas at Austin for the purpose of creating an observatory.1
November 1, 1932
Otto Struve is appointed the first director of the Observatory.
November 23, 1932
Because it had no astronomy program at the time of the bequest, the University of Texas at Austin enters into an agreement with the University of Chicago, which operates the Observatory for the first 30 years.
April 17, 1933
Mrs. Violet Locke McIvor donates additional land to the University. Today, most of the telescopes are located on Mount Locke.
August 3, 1933
The estate of Judge Edwin H. Fowlkes donates Mount Fowlkes to the University.
May 5, 1939
The McDonald Observatory is dedicated.
Gerard Kuiper is the first to detect an atmosphere on a moon in the solar system when he discovers on on Titan, one of Saturn's moons.
Harold Johnson and W.W. Morgan define a system for measuring the color of stars; it is still in use today.
Gerard De Vaucoulerus proposes that the Milky Way galaxy is shaped like a barred spiral.
The Observatory bounces a laser off a reflector left on the moon by the Apollo 11 team; the experiment allowed the Observatory to measure the distance between the Earth and the Moon to within a few inches.
R. Edward Nather invents High Speed Photometry, which allows the measurement of changes in brightness on very short timeframes.
Tom Barnes and David Evans define a method to size stars via brightness and temperature, which is still used today.
October 1, 1978
The Star Date Radio Program debuts. It is the longest-running nationally syndicated science show on radio.
The W.L. Moody Visitors Information Center opens.
Astronomers and engineers from the University of Texas at Austin contribute to the development of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Bill Cochran and other Observatory astronomers discover the first planet orbiting a close binary star.
April 6, 2002
The Frank N. Bash Visitors Center opens.
The most powerful supernova to date is discovered in a research project run by Robert Quimby.
Gary Hill and Karl Gebhardt begin a Dark Energy experiment; dark energy is believed to cause the universe to expand as it ages.


3640 Dark Sky Dr
Fort Davis, Texas, 79734
United States



If you are in the area…

I attended one of the daytime tours, which was informative and well presented; in addition to seeing live views of the sun, the tour gave us close-up views of some of the large telescopes.

Visits: 1 Visited: May 2018

Quick Statistics



  1. Timeline information is sourced from "Milestones," UT Austin.
  2. "McDonald Observatory," UT Austin.


  • "McDonald Observatory." Department of Astronomy. The University of Texas at Austin. Accessed September 6, 2018. Link.
  • "Milestones." The McDonald Observatory. The University of Texas at Austin. Accessed September 6, 2018. Link.