Stargazing in Fort Davis, Texas

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Plan now for next month’s Leonid Meteor Showers!

Airstream

My little Airstream International is very cozy in the campground!

Last weekend, I took my Airstream and went camping at Davis Mountains State Park. It’s a great destination all by itself, but it’s also a great home base while you explore the town of Fort Davis, visit the Fort Davis National Historic Site, drive the Scenic Loop west of town, and do a little stargazing at the McDonald Observatory.

Telescope

Photo of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope courtesy University of Texas McDonald Observatory.

 

 

This trip, I think I enjoyed my visit to the McDonald Observatory most of all. I was delighted to find an all-new visitor’s center complete with an outdoor amphitheater for the evening star party, and a “telescope park.”

First, we took a guided tour of the night sky, and it was great to get reacquainted with Draco and Andromeda, Vega and Polaris, as well as several other stars and constellations. And even though there were lines to look through the high-powered telescopes, the lines moved quickly, and the magnified views were worth the wait.

 

Star Party

You’ll need a ticket for the star party. If it’s a popular weekend, you may want to get yours in advance. The lines for the telescopes will move fast, and it’s worth the wait! Photo courtesy University of Texas McDonald Observatory.

If you’re contemplating a road trip to West Texas, I’d recommend planning your trip around Leonid Meteor Showers in November. Here’s more info on the meteor showers from our friends at EarthSky:

November 16/17, 2012, late night November 16 until dawn November 17 Leonids
Radiating from the constellation Leo the Lion, the Leonid meteor shower is famous. Historically, this shower has produced some of the greatest meteor storms in history – at least one in living memory, 1966 – with rates as high as many thousands of meteors per hour. Indeed, on that beautiful night in 1966, the meteors did fall like rain. Some who watched the shower said they felt as if they needed to grip the ground, so strong was the impression of Earth plowing along through space, fording the meteoroid stream. The meteors, after all, were all streaming from a single point in the sky – the radiant point – in this case in the constellation Leo the Lion. Leonid meteor storms sometimes recur in cycles of 33 to 34 years, but the Leonids around the turn of the century – while wonderful for many observers – did not match the shower of 1966. And, in most years, the Lion whimpers rather than roars, producing a maximum of perhaps 10-15 meteors per hour. Like most meteor showers, the Leonids ordinarily pick up steam after midnight and display the greatest meteor numbers just before dawn. In 2012, however, the waxing crescent moon will be setting at early evening, leaving a dark night for Leonid meteor shower.

Have you visited the McDonald Observatory? What’s your favorite constellation?

~ G. Elaine Acker

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