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The Mcdonald Observatory

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Submitted By jade133
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February 19, 2012

The McDonald Observatory

The McDonald Observatory is located on Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. This observatory was constructed in the 1930s. The initial funding for construction came from Texan banker, William Johnson McDonald, who left provisions in his will that $800,000 be donated to the University of Texas at Austin in order to construct an astronomical observatory. This structure which is open to the public sees more than 60,000 visitors each year. Likewise, the observatory has been the center of attraction for many astronomers, and its numerous resources have also contributed to the discovery and continuous research of many astronomic phenomena. The McDonald Observatory is presently the property of the University of Texas at Austin and currently receives most of its funding from them. It operates four research telescopes. One of the most pronounced features attached to the observatory is Otto Struve Telescope. When this telescope was dedicated in 1939 it was then the second biggest telescope in the world. Two other telescope note mentioning are the Harlan J. Smith Telescope (named after once director of the observatory, Harlan J. Smith), and the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (known to be the fifth largest telescope in the world). The Hobby-Eberly is arguably the observatory’s most prized possession. This powerful telescope specializes in spectroscopy which enables astronomers to get a glimpse at stars, planets, and galaxies located light-years away.
One ongoing project at McDonald’s is observation of supernovas. Such events are sudden and therefore require the right equipment. Firstly, the astronomers use one of its smaller telescopes to identify newly exploded stars. Then they use the Hobby-Eberly Telescope to gather images and data of the stars dispersed remains, such as its brightness and composition. It is collected data like these that continues to give insight on the cause of the supernova phenomenon.
Apart from its telescopes, the observatory is equipped with many other instruments that improve the quality of research they are able to perform. Such instruments include spectrographs which, when attached to telescopes, allow astronomers to perform a host of tasks such as capturing light from the stars, and separating it into its spectrum. The observatory also has different filters that allow them to block out light of different wavelengths so that they can observe the different colors separately.
Many have come to believe that the McDonald Observatory’s location has somewhat contributed to its success. It is high in the Davis Mountains away from the city and its lights, thus providing clear night skies and minimal interference.

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