McDonald Observatory holds Dark Skies Festival

FORT DAVIS The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory will hold its first Dark Skies Festival April 29 and April 30, a press release detailed.

The festival will include daytime and evening events for the whole family, plus the debut of the new “Preserving Dark Skies” exhibit in the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center. Both the exhibit and the festival are funded by Apache Corporation.

“We are eager to welcome the West Texas community to McDonald Observatory and to share information on dark skies preservation,” McDonald Observatory Director Taft Armandroff stated in the press release. “The productive collaboration with local community groups to establish the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve makes this Dark Skies Festival even more meaningful.”

Daytime events include speakers, tours, outdoor booths, and educational activities, plus live music and food trucks, the press release detailed. All daytime events are free, and no reservations are required.

Friday afternoon’s first talk is “Lighting it Right: Solutions to Light Pollution for Oil and Gas.” This will be a joint presentation by the observatory’s Dark Skies Initiative Coordinator Stephen Hummel and Apache Corporation’s Clay Bretches, Executive Vice President, Operations. Following that, Emily Card of Sul Ross State University’s Borderlands Research Institute will present her talk “Cut the Lights! Artificial Light Pollution and its Impacts on Birds in the Chihuahuan Desert.”

Saturday afternoon speakers include the International Dark-Sky Association’s Bettymaya Foott on “The International Dark Sky Movement,” followed by observatory Superintendent Teznie Pugh on “The Changing Face of the Night Sky: from Candlelight to Satellites.” Then astronomer Karl Gebhardt will give an exciting science talk about “The Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment” currently under way at McDonald Observatory.

Also on Saturday afternoon, Telescope Open House tours will take visitors behind the scenes to learn about the observatory’s largest telescopes from the people who operate and maintain them, the press release stated.

Star Parties will be held both nights of the festival. Additionally, Friday evening will feature an astrophotography workshop. Saturday evening will include the Twilight Program “Modeling the Night Sky,” a space trivia contest, and more. All evening events require reservations.

The highlight of the festival is the launch of the “Preserving Dark Skies” exhibit funded by Apache Corporation. The exhibit features a multimedia wall and interactive components to educate visitors on how they can keep their skies dark for skywatching and wildlife habitats without compromising light needed on the ground for safety. Over a projected 10-year lifespan, this exhibit will be viewed by one million visitors to McDonald Observatory.

“We are excited to partner with the McDonald Observatory to help bring the farthest points of the night sky into focus for visitors and researchers,” Clay Bretches, Executive Vice President, Operations at Apache Corporation, stated in the press release.

“Our partnership with the observatory is built on mutual respect for our distinct scientific disciplines and the belief that working together will continue to yield better outcomes for both organizations. Our win-win partnership has led to increased education on dark skies friendly lighting practices resulting in increased energy efficiency, safer operations, and reduced light pollution.”

To get more information about the festival and to make reservations for its evening programs, visit: