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New McDonald Observatory Instrument Revolutionises Galaxy Studies
University of Texas at Austin graduate student Guillermo A. Blanc is talking dissection. But he's not a biologist - he's an astronomer. Blanc is using a new instrument at the university's McDonald Observatory to dissect nearby galaxies to learn how stars form, and in the process, generating a flood of new information that will benefit other scientists' work. Blanc is presenting his first results this week at an international conference called "SFR@50: Filling the Cosmos with Stars" in Sarteano, Italy.
The conference celebrates the 50th anniversary of a landmark study of the star formation rate (SFR) in galaxies. Blanc's research will set a new landmark in this arena, with a new way to study star formation in nearby galaxies using the best instrument in the world for these kind of studies.

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RE: The W.J. McDonald Observatory
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The 9.2 m Hobby-Eberly Telescope, HET, is one of the largest optical telescopes in the world. (More videos about this group of telescopes will be added.) It has the second largest mirror in the world, 36 feet across, but not all of the mirror is operational. It now ranks as the fourth largest telescope in the world. Its cost is about 20% that of other similarly-sized telescopes. It cost only around 20 million dollars (the mirror itself, if not mosaic, would cost around 100 million dollars).

The observatory operates several research telescopes including the:
9.2 m (360") Hobby-Eberly Telescope, HET
2.7 m (107") Harlan J. Smith Telescope
2.1 m (82") Otto Struve Telescope
0.8 m (30") large format imaging telescope
A 0.9 m (36") telescope, formerly used for research, is now used for visitor programs.

ITT Fabricated the world's largest segmented mirror for Hobby-Eberly Telescope:

The McDonald Observatory is located near Fort Davis in Jeff Davis County, Texas. It is located on Mount Fowlkes and Mount Locke in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. Its high, dry peaks of make for some of the darkest and clearest night skies in the country and provide excellent conditions for astronomical research.
It is the property of the University of Texas at Austin and is equipped with a wide range of instrumentation for imaging and spectroscopy in the optical and infrared spectra. It operates the first lunar laser ranging station.
Its 2.1 m telescope, dedicated on May 5, 1939, was the second largest telescope in the world.
The HET is operated jointly by the University of Texas at Austin, Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University, Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, and Georg-August University of Göttingen. The McDonald Observatorys research encompasses a wide variety of projects, including planetary systems, stellar spectroscopy, the interstellar medium, extragalactic astronomy, and theoretical astronomy.
It also hosts one of the four globally networked Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) telescopes, and is a Monitoring Network of Telescopes (MONET) site.

ITT Fabricated the world's largest segmented mirror for Hobby-Eberly Telescope. The 11m-diameter mirror is a major component of the world's first major telescope designed specifically for spectroscopy

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HETDEX project
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An experiment to determine the nature of dark energy, that mysterious force thats causing the universes expansion to speed up, is driving telescope upgrades and the creation of new instruments at McDonald Observatory in West Texas. The exciting science results already obtained from this project demonstrate the power of the researchers approach.

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RE: The W.J. McDonald Observatory
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Hobby-Eberly Telescope
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The Hobby-Eberly Telescope was designed and constructed with a unique objective: to gather a very large amount of light, specifically for spectroscopy, at extremely low cost. A fixed elevation-axis design, based on the radio telescope at Arecibo, and an innovative system for tracking stars, contributed to an 80% reduction in initial costs compared to optical telescopes of similar size.

Hobby-Eberly
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Latitude: 30°40'53.13"N; Longitude: 104° 0'55.07"W
Elevation: 2026 m

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RE: The W.J. McDonald Observatory
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McDonald Observatory, Department of Astronomy Complete $2 Million Director's Chair Endowment
With the help of 141 donors and the Abell-Hanger Foundation of Midland, The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory and Department of Astronomy have completed the new $2-million “Frank and Susan Bash Endowed Chair for the Director of McDonald Observatory.”
Fundraising for the endowment began in 2003. In the spring of 2006, with $300,000 to be raised, the Abell-Hanger Foundation provided a challenge grant of $150,000, offering to match new gifts dollar-for-dollar. This enabled McDonald Observatory to complete the endowment by the end of September 2006.

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This summer, The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute (MSI) introduces a new two-minute radio program: Science and the Sea. The program takes listeners on an exploration of the unseen underwater world that covers three-fourths of our planet. Its entertaining stories convey how scientists approach, and ultimately solve, some of the oceans’ mysteries.
Science and the Sea is available free to public, commercial, and non-commercial radio stations, and is designed to be sponsored and underwritten locally.
http://scienceandthesea.org/

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CTI-II telescope
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Astronomers are studying two sites at McDonald Observatory to find the prime location for a new federally funded telescope. Called the CCD Transit Instrument II (CTI-II), the 1.8-meter telescope will be part of the federal “NESSI” program — the Near Earth Space Surveillance Initiative.

The NESSI program is being funded by federal appropriations to The University of Texas at Austin, The University of New Mexico, and the Air Force. U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) sponsored the appropriation. Mr. Bonilla represents the 23rd Congressional District, which encompasses much of West Texas, including McDonald Observatory.

"The important discoveries being made by researchers at the McDonald Observatory are improving the lives of so many here on Earth. I have been working for many years on obtaining this new technology for the McDonald Observatory which will vastly enhance its research potential and competitiveness, while providing quality jobs for the people of West Texas" - Congressman Henry Bonilla (R-Texas).

After the site is chosen, a groundbreaking ceremony for the 1.8-meter CTI-II telescope will soon follow.

The telescope is being designed and constructed at The University of New Mexico prior to shipping it to McDonald Observatory, where is will make some of the most precise measurements of the sky ever made. McDonald Observatory’s clear dark skies are ideal for this type of long-term measurement. The data from this telescope will support many additional astronomical projects, including providing training for Texas and New Mexico students.

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StarDate Online
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StarDate Online is celebrating ten years of being online.
On May 8, 1996, the McDonald Observatory public information office launched StarDate Online — the web companion to its popular public radio program about astronomy and space exploration.

StarDate celebrated its 10,000th broadcast on February 15, 2006. The program debuted in 1978, making it the longest-running national radio science feature in the US, and airs on more than 360 radio stations in the United States.

StarDate tells listeners what to look for in the night sky, and explains the science, history, and skylore behind these objects. It also keeps listeners up to date on the latest research findings and space missions. And it offers titbits on astronomy in the arts and popular culture, providing ways for people with many diverse interests to keep up with the universe.

http://stardate.org/radio/listen/

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The W.J. McDonald Observatory
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The W.J. McDonald Observatory of The University of Texas at Austin has received a pledge of a $750,000 joint donation from George P. and Cynthia W. Mitchell, The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, and the George and Cynthia Mitchell Charitable Remainder Unitrust.

The gift will fund cosmology research and public education in astronomy.
Two-thirds of the gift ($500,000) will be used for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment (HETDEX). The project is led by University of Texas at Austin astronomers Karl Gebhardt, Gary Hill, and Phillip MacQueen.


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Discovered in the past few years, dark energy is a mysterious force which causes space to push against itself, making the universe expand faster than expected. Dark energy makes up about 70 percent of the matter-energy content of the universe (another 25 percent is dark matter, and only about five percent is normal matter we can see).
Though it makes up the largest amount of “stuff” in the universe, no one knows much about dark energy.

The goal of HETDEX is to provide the first fundamental observational constraints on dark energy. It will be the largest galaxy survey ever undertaken. Several other planned studies are targeting dark energy, but the very distant galaxies - and thus, very early age of the universe - that HETDEX will explore provides a probe that no other survey will obtain.

HETDEX offers Texas the ability to be the most important player in understanding dark energy, a role that could place us as a standard reference in textbooks,” - Karl Gebhardt.
The Mitchell monies will fund the construction of a prototype of an instrument called VIRUS for the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, which will measure the positions in space of 10,000 galaxies every night. When built, VIRUS will map out a million galaxies in 100 nights.

This gift enables us to build the prototype spectrograph for VIRUS. We are now out of the starting blocks for a most exciting race to define dark energy. May the Hobby-Eberly Telescope win.” - David L. Lambert, director of McDonald Observatory.
More information on HETDEX is available online here.
The remaining one-third of the Mitchell donation ($250,000) will be used to create the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation Education Endowment. Beneficiaries will be designated “The Mitchell Scholars.”
It will help to fund McDonald Observatory's programs for K-12 student field experiences, K-12 teacher professional-development workshops, as well as efforts in the field of distance education.

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