Press Release

Media Representatives Invited to April 6 Preview of New McDonald Observatory Visitors Center

By SpaceRef Editor
March 8, 2002
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Fort Davis, TX — McDonald Observatory has long been one of the
most-visited travel destinations in Texas, and there’s even more to
enjoy now with the April 6 official opening of the new McDonald
Observatory Visitors Center! The Center will welcome as many as 130,000
visitors each year to its bilingual (English/Spanish) exhibits, theater,
cafe, and gift shop.

“I’m pleased to report that Jeff Davis County, Texas now has one of the
best small science centers in the country,” McDonald Observatory
Director Frank Bash said.

Members of the media are invited to an April 6 slate of events to
celebrate the Center’s opening. These include a 2:30 p.m. tour of the
Hobby-Eberly Telescope, a 3:30 p.m. welcome meeting with Frank Bash, a
4:00 p.m. preview of the new Center, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony at
5:30 p.m. with The Honorable Pete P. Gallego (State Rep., D.-Alpine) and
University of Texas at Austin President Larry R. Faulkner. At 6:00 p.m.,
media representatives are invited to a press dinner at the StarDate Cafe
at the Visitors Center, and are welcome to attend the public star party
outside the Center afterward, weather permitting. We invite the general
public to a free-admission Open House on April 7 to celebrate the
Center’s opening.

Press kits will be available on March 18. An electronic press kit,
including publication-quality photos of the Visitors Center, will be
available online at http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/news on March 18.
Contact Rebecca Johnson to request a hard copy of the press kit and
directions and information on lodging near McDonald Observatory.

Background

The new 12,000-square-foot Visitors Center houses an interactive
exhibit, 90-seat theater, the StarDate Cafe, and an astronomy gift shop.
Expanded outdoor venues surround the building, and will accommodate more
visitors than ever before at McDonald’s famous star parties,
constellation tours and solar viewing. Guests will view sky objects
through large telescopes in the two new 20-foot domes of the public
telescope park, and attend constellation tours in the outdoor
amphitheater – while marveling at some of the darkest night skies in
North America.

McDonald is home to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the largest telescope in
the world specializing in the study of light through spectroscopy. The
“Decoding Starlight” exhibit inside the new Visitors Center explains
spectroscopy – basically, how astronomers break light into its
wavelengths to unlock its secrets – in both English and Spanish. More
than five years of planning and a $1.1 million grant from the National
Science Foundation went into producing this exhibit. Exhibit highlights include:

— a live two-meter-wide, detailed projection of the Sun’s spectrum,

— interactive displays that explain how astronomers crack the code
embedded in light from stars and galaxies,

— an introduction to the tools and technology that astronomers use,

— and a behind-the-scenes look at life at McDonald Observatory.


In addition to welcoming thousands of families and vacationers to the
Observatory, the new Center will take on a larger role in K-12
education. “It’s important to McDonald Observatory to promote K-12
science education,” Bash said. “This new facility will help us excite
students about science and technology, and is designed to inspire them
to pursue careers in those fields.”

Teacher workshops will be given at the Visitors Center’s
laboratory-style classroom, which is equipped with advanced audio and
video capabilities. Workshop leaders will use astronomy-based activities
to promote both the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and the
National Science Education Standards. The Texas State Board of Educator
Certification recently authorized McDonald Observatory to offer
continuing education credits to Texas teachers.

“Teachers who come here will be totally immersed in astronomy, staying
for one to five days – attending workshops by day and observing the
stars at night,” said Marc Wetzel, Education Coordinator for McDonald
Observatory. “We hope to share with them the fun and fascination of
science, and that they will pass it on to their students.” Pre- and
post-visit support, funded by a grant from NASA and designed with the
help of teachers, will be available through a free web site, teacher
guides, and other materials.

The new Visitors Center replaces the existing W.L. Moody, Jr. Visitors’
Information Center, which will be converted to office space for Visitors
Center staff. The Moody Center, along with its adjacent 14-inch
telescope and dome, will also become a resource for amateur astronomers.

Built in 1980 to handle 20,000 visitors per year, the Moody Center was
handling 130,000 visitors per year by 1988. At that time, McDonald
Observatory decided to begin raising funds for a new facility. More than
$6 million has been raised in contributions from donors, foundations,
grants, and revenues to fund the construction, which began with a
ground-breaking ceremony in late July, 2000. The Observatory continues
to raise operations funds for its K-12 education and public outreach programs.

— END —

Note: RSVPs for the media events of April 6 would be greatly
appreciated, but are not required.

SpaceRef staff editor.