Alas, we’ve come to our final summer basin destination. But worry not, we’ve saved the best (and farthest destination on our summer tour list) for last. 

About a three-hour drive from Odessa and Midland, respectively, the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis is a premiere research facility and home to the world’s second largest telescope, the Hobby-Eberly telescope. 

What began as a collaboration between the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Chicago in the early 1900s, has evolved into a family-fun environment where people of all ages can learn about the night sky. 

As you drive through the Davis Mountains, you immediately see the observatory’s three telescope domes.

The smallest dome houses the 82-inch telescope that was donated in 1939 and while it’s over 75 years old, Visitors Center Manager, Frank Cianciolo says it’s still in heavy use.

The middle-sized dome, houses the 107-inch telescope built back in the 1960s and the largest and newest dome is home to the Hobby-Eberly telescope, installed back in 1997. 

Depsite the origins of each telescope, all three are used for cutting-edge research. According to Public Affairs Specialist, Martinique Pautzke, astronomers are currently using the Hobby-Eberly in a dark energy research project, something the observatory takes great pride in.

“We’ve got great tools, great astronomers discovering things and it’s just really cool,” Pautzke explained. “We have this right here, in the middle of nowhere, but right here in West Texas.” 

Visitors can explore the universe as well with one of the many educational programs offered. From the daytime Solar Viewing Tour to the early evening Twilight Program, there are plenty of opportunities for guests to get an up-close glimpse into the universe. 

“We need to have places like this that allow people to come and experience this dark sky that so many of have become so unfamiliar with,” Cianciolo expressed.

One of the ways, visitors can become more familiar with the “beautiful, dark West Texas sky” is at a Star Party.

By far the observatory’s most popular program, the Star Party begins with a naked eye constellation tour in the outdoor ampitheatre, followed by a closer look through telescopes. 

Insider Tip: Make reservations online for the Twilight Program and Star Party, because tickets to both sell out fast. 

When the moon isn’t out and the sky is completey dark, Cianciolo says guests can take a look at “galaxies and star clusters and nebuli; places where stars are being born, but also where stars have run out of fuel.”

It’s a mystical experience that 7th grader Julia Trimble from Austin was eager to have. 

“I’m excited to see [the stars] close up, because usually they just look like little dots in the sky…,” she laughed “…but here I’ll actually get to see and learn about them.”

And while the observatory is known for it’s state-of-the-art facility and innovative research, it’s the interactive experiences and welcoming staff members like, Frank and Martinique, that keep guests coming back.

“[Visitors] thank us for the tours. They thank us for the programs. They thank us for putting [the science] in words they can understand and it really sparks their interest,” Pautzke shared.

You can learn more about the McDonald Observatory, book your tour of the facility, buy a daytime pass and make reservations to the Twilight Program and Star Party here

Thank you for tuning in every Friday and joining us on our summer-time tour of the basin’s best/greatest destinations. 

If you and your family get the chance to check out any of the stops featured in our SBD segment, send your pictures to mball@nexstar.tv and you could be featured on our Local 2 page.