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Astronomy Class visits McDonald Observatory

Submitted by Dr. Beverly Meyer on 11/03/2017 Students enrolled in the Earth Science Astronomy class at Oklahoma Panhandle State University taught by Dr. Beverly Meyer recently traveled to the McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, Texas. Students enrolled in the Earth Science Astronomy class at Oklahoma Panhandle State University taught by Dr. Beverly Meyer recently traveled to the McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, Texas.

Goodwell, Okla. — Students enrolled in the Earth Science Astronomy class at Oklahoma Panhandle State University taught by Dr. Beverly Meyer recently traveled to the McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis, Texas. The whirlwind three-day trip to southwest Texas included stops at the UFO Museum at Roswell, N.M., Carlsbad Caverns National Park, McDonald Observatory and viewing of the Marfa Lights.

The first stop on the field trip was Roswell, N.M. to tour the UFO Museum. The museum, which has become a popular local tourist attraction, was organized to inform the public about what has come to be known as “The Roswell Incident” of 1947. The museum is one of the leading information sources in history, science and research about UFO events worldwide.

The second stop was what the group agreed was the most awe inspiring part of the trip, the Bat Flight Program at Carlsbad Caverns. From the outdoor amphitheater the class watched as thousands of bats emerged for their evening of feeding on insects. In a mass exodus at dusk, thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats fly from the cave and over the amphitheater. The sound of bat wings and watching their flight out of the cave in groups of hundreds is mesmerizing.

The following morning the class hiked down into Carlsbad Cavern via the Natural Entrance Route and toured the Big Room. The Big Room Route is a self-guided tour around the perimeter of the cave’s largest room. It features many amazing cave formations including stalactites, stalagmites, cave pearls and pools.

The group arrived at McDonald Observatory near Ft. Davis, Texas in the late afternoon. The observatory, a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin, is located in the mountains of West Texas at 6800 feet elevation. It is one of the world's leading centers for astronomical research, teaching, and public education and outreach. Observatory facilities are located atop Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, which offer some of the darkest night skies in the continental United States. The students participated in two public education programs, the Twilight Program and the Star Party.

The last stop on the field trip was a short drive to the Marfa Lights viewing area located just east of Marfa, Texas. The Marfa lights are a strange and unexplained phenomena that appear on the horizon above the desert. The mystery lights can be colorful or white and appear to rise and fall, twinkle, and sometimes dance. They appear randomly throughout the night and not every night. The group arrived at the viewing area and were rewarded with the appearance of the mystery lights three times during the night.

When asked what their favorite part of the trip was, the consensus among field trip students was the bat flight, followed by the time at McDonald Observatory and the Marfa lights. Everyone agreed that all scheduled stops and tours were very good. The group also agreed that the place they would like to revisit because they did not have enough time to see everything was McDonald Observatory. All in all it was an educational, fun and fulfilling field experience.