“The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.” Technically we are a bit south and west of the heart of Texas, but I think we can be forgiven for a little literary license.
We have been to many parts of Texas, yet we have barely scratched the surface. For sure, though, one of our favorite areas is southwest Texas – roughly the area between San Antonio to El Paso south of I-10; from the Hill Country west of Austin, to Big Bend, Alpine, Marathon, Fort Davis, and Marfa, this part of the state is beautiful.
There is the river influence from the Rio Grande, and its lush green surroundings. Within feet, though, you enter into either mountain and/or desert environments. There are the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend, as well as the Davis, Guadalupe and Franklin Mountains.
One of the big areas of interest here is “dark skies”; not the horror movie, but stargazing or exploring the stars above us. With a low population (less outdoor light pollution), relative high altitude (the town of Alpine, population of about 6,000 people, sits at around 4,500 ft elevation), low levels of pollution, and dry air (less moisture to diffract lens light rays), this area is particularly conducive.
The McDonald Observatory (about 6,700 feet elevation) performs extensive nightly research on the stars and galaxies, and is located in this area for these very reasons. Operated by the University of Texas at Austin (ranked one of the top 50 astronomy and physics university programs in the world), the McDonald Observatory performs research every clear-sky night available, with a staff of about 60 on-site team members, as well as additional university program members and interns on an as-relevant basis.
Full disclosure: My professors did not consider math, physics, and advanced computing (or any other subjects quite frankly) to be my core competencies. I will not pretend to explain the research that goes on here, but I can say a trip here is extremely interesting! Astronomers are researching star and galaxy activities as far away as 450 light years. For perspective, one light year is about 6 trillion miles away. For you New Englanders, that’s pretty freakin’ fah!
Another place in the local geography that deals extensively with the stars, galaxies and things that are kind of out there is the town of Marfa. Now I tend to think there may be more astrologers than astronomers here, but hey – let’s not judge. We’ve been here and reported previously, but of course that was 7 years ago and it never hurts to go back: trust but verify. Hippies, rednecks, cowboys, artists, astrologers, astronomers – it’s all good.
I can think of few states with as much geographical diversity as Texas. Of course, when you are 760 miles tall and 660 miles wide, I guess you can be diverse. Still, I would have to say that southwest Texas could certainly be one of our favorite places!
As the astronomers say, onwards and upwards!