McDonald Observatory Survives Wildfire Encounter

By Alexis C. Madrigal

A photographer captures the massive wildfire that threatened this scientific outpost in Texas

The 200,000-acre Rockhouse Fire threatened the McDonald Observatory in Texas, but it appears the installation is out of danger, thanks to back-fires set by crews responding to the blaze.

A series of positive updates to the Observatory's Facebook page confirm that the three telescopes of the installation will remain unharmed. The site's prize scope is the Hobby-Eberly, which has a 433-inch mirror. It's accompanied by the smaller Harlan J. Smith and Otto Struve Telescopes.

Now that it's out of danger, we can appreciate the eye-popping nature of Frank Cianciolo's photographs of the wildfire, embedded above.

The McDonald is a research unit of the University of Texas-Austin and is located near Fort Davis in west Texas. Like many other observatories, it's located on a mountain in a dry, hot place because those spots provide the best celestial viewing conditions. Unfortunately, those same areas tend to be fire-prone. For example, in 2009, the famed Mt. Wilson Observatory in southern California was similarly threatened.

Though the McDonald is clear of the trouble, fires continue to burn in Texas, where more thanĀ one million acres have been scorched.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/04/mcdonald-observatory-survives-wildfire-encounter/237558/