After closing on March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory is reopening to the public on Friday, August 28.
The acclaimed West Texas observatory, named one of the best places in the U.S. to see stars, will require online reservations during this initial reopening phase. Tickets went on sale August 24; all outdoor programs will be held at 25 percent capacity.
"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," says director Taft Armandroff in a release. "Our team at the Frank N. Bash Visitors Center is eager to host you."
Beginning with a "star party" on August 28, observatory visitors will be provided with scheduled entry tickets to allow time for cleaning between programs. 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 is taking 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.
- 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 increase the capacity of public programs and start holding some programs indoors.
Since it closed to the public five months ago, the observatory has been livestreaming new programs to interact with astronomy lovers. These popular Deep Sky Tours, Moon Tours, and Solar Tours will continue once the visitors center reopens for onsite public programs.