Big Bend Conservancy
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Seeing the night skyUpdated: 3/11/2007 6:07:57 PMBy: Staff and wire reports On a clear night away from the city, you can see about 2,000 stars with the naked eye from the Davis Mountains.Tucked away in the mountains is The University of Texas McDonald Observatory that gives stargazers a first class ticket to the heavens.“Ever since ancient times when man could first look at the sky, people wondered about the sun, the planets, the stars and, of course, in today's world, we still wonder about these things,” research scientist William Cochran said.Cochran has made a career out of that curiosity. He conducts research at the observatory a few weeks out of the year, using telescopes to gather and study images of the night sky.“We take that back to Austin with us and we spend the next couple of months analyzing and investigating what this really tells us about the stars,” Cochran said.But the kind of research done at McDonald, located in far West Texas, and ranked among the top 5 observatories in the world, is headed for a whole new level.The McDonald Observatory now houses the largest telescope in the continental United States, the Hobby-Eberley telescope. Dedicated in 1997, it specializes in spectroscopy, the study of light emitted or absorbed by objects.“It allows us to take the light from stars and objects in space, distances and velocities, and give us a better understanding of objects that are even farther away from us in space than we can presently see with large telescopes that we have,” Marc Wetzel of the McDonald Observatory said.That’s not bad for a night's work.“A lot of times, I'll walk outside at night and I'll look up at the sky and I'll realize that I'm actually very privileged to be doing something that is different and sort of rare and extremely interesting,” Cochran said.
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