in On the road, Reposted from FB, The State We're In, Things we do, Uncategorized

The stars last night, were big and bright …. and we got mashed potatoes!

It was a big deal! Like, galaxy-sized!

Here’s how it happened: Our younger son is a physics and astronomy major at UT. UT runs the McDonald Observatory in far west Texas. At a recent luncheon for parents of science majors, we met a gentleman who works for the observatory, and he comped us tickets for a tour, a Star Party, and dinner in the cafeteria where the actual astronomers eat, instead of at the cafe in the visitor’s center. See? Stellar deal.

Here are scenes from our daytime guided tour of two of the three giant telescopes: the 107-inch Harlan J. Smith atop Mount Locke, and the Hobby-Eberly on nearby Mount Fowlkes.

Map of the observatory compound, complete with my notes on what to pack for the star party. Temps were in the 30's!

Map of the observatory compound, complete with my notes on what to pack for the Star Party. Temps were in the 30’s!

The Harlan J. Smith and Otto Struve telescopes

The Harlan J. Smith and Otto Struve telescopes

Inside the dome housing the Harlan J. Smith telescope. (Random guy from our tour group for comparison)

Inside the dome housing the Harlan J. Smith telescope.
(Random guy from our tour group for perspective)

The Hobby-Eberly telescope

The Hobby-Eberly telescope

We did not get to tour the Otto Struve Telescope, so we took a selfie in front of a model of it instead. You're welcome.

We did not get to tour the Otto Struve Telescope, so we took a selfie in front of a model of it.
Regrettably, my head is blocking the teensy little figurine of Mr. Struve.

Highest road maintained by TXDOT...

Highest road maintained by TXDOT…

... and the stunning view behind that sign

… and the stunning view behind that sign

The Astronomers Lodge, where visiting researchers and special guests stay while working at the observatory, is that low yellow building there below the Harlan J. Smith Telescope. (Home of the famous mashed potatoes!)

The Astronomers Lodge, where visiting researchers and special guests stay while working at the observatory, is that low yellow building there below the Harlan J. Smith Telescope.
(Home of the famous mashed potatoes!)

Our view from the dinner table: the sun is setting, and it's almost time for the Star Party!

Our view from the dinner table: the sun is setting, and it’s almost time for the Star Party!

The Star Party began at 7 p.m., and conditions could not have been better: no moon, the darkest spot in Texas, and skies so clear that we could see the Andromeda Galaxy just by looking up. OK, so it was a little blurry, but considering it’s 2.3 million light years away, that ain’t bad!

Another thing that made the evening special: there were only about 70 of us there. Last Tuesday? They had 7-hundred-70 people in attendance at the Star Party. This meant a lot less jostling in the dark, and very short wait times at the telescopes, from which we were able to view Uranus, the Ring Nebula, Globular Cluster M15, and the Andromeda Galaxy.

No photos were allowed at the Star Party, so as not to interfere with the dark skies. So here's a picture of my scarf, gloves, blanket, and party sticker. Visit to the McDonald Observatory: highly recommended

No photos were allowed at the Star Party, so as not to interfere with the dark skies. So here’s a picture of my scarf, gloves, blanket, and party sticker.
Visit to the McDonald Observatory: highly recommended

(Disclaimer: I don’t do science, so I’ve kept details to a minimum here, so as not to get stuff wrong and sound like an idiot. Sorry, sciency people. But I’ve included links to reputable sources of information, so that you can read more.)

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