Skip Navigation

McDonald Observatory

McDonald Observatory Visitors Center

3640 Dark Sky Drive

McDonald Observatory, TX 79734

Built:  1939

Show Description:

Around 75,000 visitors a year attend tours and star parties at this West Texas landmark annually. Within the observatory, three massive telescopes search for galaxies and hunt objects at the edge of the visible universe.

The Three Telescopes:

Otto Struve Telescope | McDonald Observatory

Designed by Warner & Swasey Company and constructed between 1933 and 1939, the Struve Telescope was the first major telescope at the McDonald Observatory. Its 2.1-meter (82-inch) mirror was the second largest in the world at the time. The telescope is still in use today.

Harlan J. Smith Telescope 

Named after the first Texas director of McDonald Observatory, the Harlan J. Smith Telescope was completed in 1968 by Westinghouse for $5 million. At the time, it was the third largest telescope in the world. It weighs in at 160 tons. It’s helped astronomers discover several stars and a black hole in the Leo 1 dwarf galaxy.

Hobby-Eberly Telescope

With its 433-inch mirror, the Hobby-Eberly Telescope is one of the world’s largest optical telescopes. It was designed specifically for spectroscopy, the decoding of light from stars and galaxies to study their properties. Since it was dedicated in 1997, astronomers have used it to study black holes and discover planets orbiting stars. An upgrade began in 2016. Today, the telescope is used to study dark energy.

What to do while you’re visiting the Davis Mountains

Davis Mountain Scenic Loop
The 75-mile drive loops around the Davis Mountains with some of the most scenic views in Texas.

Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center & Botanical Gardens
Explore nearly 5 miles of hiking trails. Take in the sights at Botanical Gardens which include a pollinator garden, a grasslands exhibit and a garden featuring over 200 species of Chihuahuan Desert cacti.

Fort Davis Historic Site
Visit the restored cavalry post, considered one of the best surviving frontier military posts from the Indian Wars in the Southwest. Learn about the Troopers of the Ninth U. S. Cavalry, the first

Other Places to See the Stars in Texas

George Observatory, Damon, Texas

Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas

Rafes Urban Astronomy Center, Ponder, Texas

Big Bend Observatory, Terlingua, Texas