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University of Texas Telescopes Reopen to Public

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People using one of the telescopes at the University of Texas at Austin campus. | Image by Vivian Abagiu via The Universiy of Texas at Austin College of Natural Sciences website

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For stargazers who have been observing meteor showers for the past few months, the University of Texas at Austin (UT) has announced its telescopes are reopening for public viewing this summer. 

On Wednesdays, would-be astronomers can join the stargazing event at the telescope atop the Physics, Math, and Astronomy building. The Painter Hall telescope, which is older, will reopen in the fall. 

“It’s a very popular and beloved landmark in the state of Texas,” says Steven Finkelstein, an associate professor at the University of Texas’s Department of Astronomy, speaking to KXAN.

The telescopes have been a part of the UT campus for over 30 years. Public Outreach Coordinator Lara Eakins, an alumna of UT, says she used identical telescopes. 

“When we were students, we were just beginning to nibble at being able to discover planets around other stars. Now we know of 1000s of them,” Eakins said.

The telescope and the dome it sits in were built in the 1970s. Since then, the only thing that has changed is the robotic arm that moves the telescope, upgraded in the 1990s.

The telescope still uses DOS, which is an older operating system that was popular before Windows. The system holds a catalog of planets, stars, nebula, and galaxies that the push of a button can call up. 

“People are astonished if you can show them a planet, show them a nebula, show them a galaxy,” Finkelstein said. “I’ve seen people when they see Saturn through the telescope, they’ve seen images of it on their computer, but they can’t believe it’s real.”

A few obstacles inhibit viewing the Austin night sky, including light pollution and warm, humid Gulf of Mexico air that mixes with the cool air within the dome, causing the telescope to shake and making it hard to view great distances. Eakins says that though some obstructions exist, viewing the night sky will still be possible, especially toward the west. 

“Things like the planets, the moon, some of the brighter objects, like the Orion Nebula in winter, we’ll still pretty much always be able to see those.”

Summer viewing runs from June 8 until August 10, from 9:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m on Wednesdays. Once the University of Texas Painter Hall telescope opens in the fall, night sky viewings will be available on Fridays and Saturdays.

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