FORT DAVIS, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory is planning to reopen to the public, in a limited fashion, on Friday, Aug. 28. Beginning with a star party that night, the observatory’s Frank N. Bash Visitors Center will begin holding public programs again.
“It is a pleasure to welcome visitors back to McDonald Observatory for our iconic programs that immerse our guests in astronomy, our very dark night skies and the visible cosmos,” said Taft Armandroff, director of McDonald Observatory. “Our team at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center is eager to host you.”
During the initial phase of reopening, all programs will require reservations made online at mcdonaldobservatory.org. Tickets sales for programs on Aug. 28 and later will be available starting Monday.
Visitors will be provided with scheduled entry tickets to allow time for cleaning between programs. Only outdoor programs will be held, and the number of participants will be limited to 25% of previous capacity. Visitors will drive their own vehicles to the summit of Mount Locke for daytime guided tours; shuttle transportation will not be provided.
To ensure the safety of its visitors and staff, the observatory will take several additional steps: Packaged food and drinks will be available for purchase, but no food will be prepared on site. Frequently touched surfaces such as door handles and tabletops will be cleaned twice daily with bleach- or alcohol-based solutions. Hand-sanitizing stations will be provided. Public restrooms will be treated as single occupancy. And new signs will be posted reminding everyone of best hygiene practices.
The observatory will continue to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and to heed the advice of national, state and local health authorities. If the situation improves, the observatory may choose to increase the capacity of public programs and again hold some programs indoors.
Since it closed to the public on March 13, the observatory has begun a number of new livestream programs to interact with astronomy lovers. These Deep Sky Tours, Moon Tours and Solar Tours have proved extremely popular. They will continue once the visitors center reopens for on-site public programs.