Star Gazing at MacDonald Observatory

We hated to see our Big Bend experience come to an end but it was time to move on so we broke camp and headed 106 miles to Fort Davis. Actually part of the drive we’d already seen as we had to go back to Alpine to get to Fort Davis. It was a pleasant easy drive although the wind picked up as we neared Fort Davis. (There was a high wind advisory)and we arrived at noon. The office at MacMillian RV Park was closed but there was a phone number posted on the door so I called. The man who answered said the lady who kept the office was sick and he was out on the road. He told me just to pick a spot and we’d settle up later. We picked a spot and began to to set up first taking the car off of the dolly. It was so very windy but we finally got everything done. As we were eating lunch the wind was buffeting us around and blowing the sides so that we decided to bring the living room slide in before we left. That seemed to be the one out affected.

We rode out to MacDonald’s Observatory just to check things out. We knew they had a starlight program on Friday nights and reservations were necessary. It took us about 20 minutes to get there and upon arrival we found out that there were three separate programs. One at 2:00 for an hour and a half, the Twilight Tour at 5 for an hour and a half and the Star Party at 7:00. We realized that if we wanted to see all three we would not have time to return to the RV so we just spent the afternoon there.

img_3455The first program was more interesting to Jerry than to me as it was very technical but after a talk of about 45 minutes we took the shuttle up to see two of the microscopes. That was awesome. The first microscope was the Harlan J. Smith and it is enclosed in a building with a top that opens when the microscope is in use. The second microscope, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope is so very difficult to operate that there are only four astronomers and their four assistants who are allowed to use it. If someone wants to use it for a research project they send the relevant information to MacDonald, the research is done there and then downloaded back to the originator of the project.

I thoroughly enjoyed the second session. Our speaker, Kelly explained the various zodiacal constellations and their positions to each other. He had a very unique way of demonstrating it. It would be a great day to introduce it to children. He talked about the various planets, explained why Pluto was no longer considered a planet and showed everything in relation to the sun. I thought it was interesting that out of 3700+ members of International Astronomical Union only 400 voted to designate Pluto as a dwarf planet. Guess a quorum was not necessary.

We got a quick bite to eat in the cafeteria and then we were ready for the star gazing – except we really weren’t. It was all outside and it was 39 degrees. I had worn my down coat but had on tennis shoes and golf socks and the thinnest pants I own. Jerry had on a heavy shirt and his State pullover. We were definitely not dressed to be outside for any length of time. Oh, did I mention that the wind was blowing? :). The first part of the program is held in an amphitheater and boy were those seats cold. We saw people who had brought blankets to sit on and wrap up in. Obviously they knew more than we did. The speaker had a laser pointer that could actually point out the various stars and constellations. That in itself was amazing. He pointed out the North Star, the Morning Star and numerous constellations plus the Milky Way galaxy. Afterward we went to various stations to look at the sky through telescopes. Unfortunately we only stopped at two stations as we were so terribly cold. Upon leaving we were directed to turn right out of the parking lot away from the Visitor’s Center so that our headlights would not shine toward the center and destroy the dark skies and any adjustment one’s eyes had made. An interesting point that was made was that from here east there is nowhere that the dark skies can really be observed due to the prevalent lighting of our cities. Also encroaching on this area are fracking companies which put off a lot of light. In fact we could see the glow of one of the companies. There is some sort of ordinance for seven surrounding counties regarding lights after dark. One corporate store opened and despite corporate instructions they turn the lights off every night.

We came back to the campground and settled in for the night.