Tonight, we drove up to McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of Fort Davis, Texas, for a “star party.” Pictured above (courtesy of Marty Harris) is a day-time view of the large telescope domes. In the top left corner, the Hobby-Eberly Telecope dome sits atop Mt. Fowlkes. In the foreground, the dome of the Otto Struve Telescope is at left, and the Harlan J. Smith Telescope at right, atop Mt. Locke.
The observatory is a research site for The University of Texas at Austin, but also a teaching hub for public education and outreach. On this Friday night, the clouds were too dense to see the stars with the kind of clarity one would expect at 6,790 feet. The observatory folks suggested instead that we check out an in-house astronomy lecture, complete with colorful close-up images from the super-powered telescopes on site. Fortunately, by the time we’d gotten up to speed on nebulae and supernovas, the clouds had separated enough for us to get a clear view of the Big Dipper and a few billion of its compadres. In light of such serendipity, we also managed to get a good look at Saturn and its rings from one of said super scopes.
At the observatory’s highest point, we found a cluster of benches — perfect for supine stargazing. There, we took a long look at the gorgeous expanse of sky, peppered with countless heavenly bodies of beaming light. In nearly total darkness, a sweet contentment tapped me on the shoulder. Celestial beauty has always brought me intense solace. And it showed up tonight.
When a particularly bright star flickered and caught my eye, I couldn’t help but think of that old Eskimo adage. “Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”
My mind went immediately to my grandmothers, who I’d like to believe were offering their girl a few winks of approval.