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UT News

Bass Foundation Gift Strengthens Outreach at McDonald Observatory

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FORT DAVIS, Texas — McDonald Observatory is honored to announce a generous gift of $4 million from the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation. Funds will support updates to McDonald Observatory’s Frank N. Bash Visitors Center and improve and expand the observatory’s visitor experience.

“We are grateful for their investment in this Texas gem,” said Taft Armandroff, director of McDonald Observatory. “Renovations in the visitors center translate into big impacts for our education and outreach programming.” In a typical year, the space welcomes 75,000 guests and orients them to the science of astronomy and the observatory’s contributions to the field.

Inaugurated in 2002, the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center was built to serve the needs of increasing tourism at the site. The building it replaced was designed to accommodate only 20,000 people a year. First called the Texas Astronomy Education Center, it was renamed in 2006 to honor Frank N. Bash, the observatory’s director from 1989 to 2003 and a champion of public outreach.

Current exhibits share the history of McDonald Observatory, core astronomical concepts, and how scientists study the universe. Though these exhibits are still relevant, major advances in scientific discovery have been made since they were first unveiled.

New exhibits will add information about:

  • The abundance of planets outside our solar system.
  • The characteristics and evolution of galaxies.
  • The lives of stars.
  • The mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.
  • The Giant Magellan Telescope, currently under construction in Chile, and the new age of discovery this amazing instrument will unlock.

Exhibit renovations are part of the observatory’s broader goal to connect learners of all ages with life-changing astronomy and science experiences. Toward this purpose, it also plans to develop new films, create audio tours, renovate visitor spaces at the Harlan J. Smith and Hobby-EberlyTelescopes, and expand its outdoor public facilities.

Work is already underway, with the design and installation of the “Preserving Dark Skies” exhibit in 2022, marking the first major update. “Our thanks to the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation, as well as the project’s many other supporters,” Armandroff said. “You are vital partners in our mission to contribute to the public’s understanding of science.”

The Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation supports nonprofit organizations dedicated to science, education, the arts, and human services. The late Harry W. Bass Jr., after whom the foundation is named, ran an oil company, developed ski resorts in Colorado, and amassed one of the world’s great coin collections.

Though today it is one foundation, it represents the merger of two independent entities. The first, the Harry Bass Foundation, was established in 1945 by petroleum entrepreneur Harry W. Bass Sr. to support Dallas-area charitable organizations. The second, the Harry W. Bass Jr. Research Foundation, was founded in 1991 as an extension of Bass Jr.’s passion for numismatics, the study of coins. In 2002, the two were merged under the common goal of enriching the lives of Texans by funding strategic initiatives.

The family foundation has long supported the observatory’s education and outreach efforts, including grants to fund on-site teacher professional development workshops. To learn more about the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation, visit hbrf.org. To make your own donation to McDonald Observatory’s Frank N. Bash Visitors Center renovation project, please visit give.utexas.edu.