Chapter 5 -- Texas Astronomy

Chapter 5 -- Texas Astronomy - GEO 1013 THE THIRD PLANET E....

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GEO 1013 – THE THIRD PLANET E. R. SWANSON – SPRING 2009 TEXAS AND THE UNIVERSE Cosmic Texas Institutions McDonald Observatory McDonald Observatory is located in the Davis Mountains of west Texas, on top of Mount Locke 6,809 feet above sea level. There are no golden arches at this McDonalds, but the observatory and its W. L. Moody, Jr., Visitors Center serves over 100,000 visitors annually. The observatory was founded as the result of a million dollar bequest from the estate of William Johnson McDonald, a prosperous banker from Paris, Texas, who died in 1926. After a "contest of wills" with distant relatives, the University settled for approximately $800,000. That was enough to build an observatory, but two astronomical problems remained. UT had no astronomers and no technical expertise to actually build an observatory. The solution was to joined forces with the University of Chicago. The resulting telescope, with its 82-inch (2.1 meter) mirror , was dedicated in 1939. This was the world's second largest telescope at that time, and it performed yeoman’s duties during WW II while most large observatories ceased operations. The University of Texas assumed sole control of McDonald Observatory in 1962, and with the aid of NASA funding, added a 107-inch (2.7 meter) reflector telescope in 1969, the world’s third largest at that time. Thousands of discoveries have been made at McDonald Observatory including oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars, small amounts of water vapor on Mars and Venus, and methane ice on Pluto's surface. McDonald also pioneered laser ranging experiments that accurately measure the distance between Earth and reflectors left by astronauts on the Moon. The observatory also has a 36-inch and two 30-inch reflectors telescopes and a 16- foot millimeter-wave dish satellite dish to catch waves emitted by interstellar dust. An array of antennae in eight straight lines known as the “Two-Mile Telescope” is found at Marfa, forty miles south of McDonald, where it detects wave lengths of roughly three feet that come from quasars and galaxies with active nuclei. Quasars exist (or existed) over ten billion years ago and are (or where) objects of extreme power. Some emitted a thousand- trillion times more energy than our Sun, yet they are so far away that if the Two-Mile Telescope had been operating since the beginning of time, it wouldn’t yet have gathered enough energy to burn a light bulb for a single second! The latest addition to McDonald is a modern instrument with ninety-one, 1-meter mirror sections, the equivalent of an 11- meter instrument. It was built “on the cheap” and not all of the 11 meters are usable (an effective aperture of 9.2 meters), but it keeps McDonald Observatory a world-class institution. This super telescope was dedicated in the fall of 1997 and it is dubbed the Hobby-Eberly telescope (or HET) after former Texas Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby and Pennsylvania State University benefactor Robert Eberly. The HET telescope exceeds all
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This note was uploaded on 09/09/2009 for the course GEO 301 taught by Professor Long during the Spring '07 term at University of Texas at Austin.

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Chapter 5 -- Texas Astronomy - GEO 1013 THE THIRD PLANET E....

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