‘The stars at night are big and bright’: These are the stellar Texas observatories you need to check out

The George Observatory
The George Observatory (HMNS)

Like one wildly popular Texas tune goes, “the stars at night are big and bright and the prairie sky is wide and high, deep in the heart of Texas.”

But in Houston and the state’s other big cities? Not so much. Ironically, here in Space City, the solar system’s superior celestial sights elude us and Texas’ famous stars at night remain hidden behind some serious light pollution. City dwellers who want to glimpse a meteor as it streaks across the night sky, gaze in wonder at the Milky Way, pick out a distant planet amid a twinkling sea of stars or simply trace a few familiar constellations, will have to motor a good ways away from as many bright city lights as possible . . . or find a really big telescope. Luckily, the Lone Star State has several stellar observatories open to burgeoning astronomy buffs.

Suggestion: Crank this apropos Texas beat while you peruse the list.

McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis

McDonald Observatory (©2007 Phillip L Jones)

Located high in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, just northwest of Fort Davis, McDonald Observatory offers astronomy enthusiasts daily tours, evening viewings and weekly star parties using huge telescopes. Built in the 1930s, the observatory is run by the Astronomy Department at the University of Texas. It has several high-powered telescopes that allow viewers to look deep into the night sky. When it comes to stargazing in Texas, you truly cannot get a closer view.

Be warned, Houstonians -- This observatory is no weekend getaway destination. It’s quite a ways away from the Houston area. And when we say quite a ways away, we mean it’s literally on the other side of the state. A trek to the McDonald Observatory will take you around nine blissful hours. So if you want to visit, plan to set aside some vacation days.

Oh, and a word of warning: If you attend a star party, bring a sweater. Yes, even in the summer. It gets pretty chilly up there.

The McDonald Observatory is located at 3640 Dark Sky Drive in Fort Davis, Texas. For more information, visit mcdonaldobservatory.org or call (432) 426-3640.

The George Observatory, Needville

The George Observatory (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

First opened in the fall of 1989, the George Observatory recently reopened after undergoing a two-year renovation. The facility, located in the Brazos Bend State Park, offer expert interactions with astronomers and a laser tour of the night sky.

The observatory’s interior exhibits saw a “major redesign,” which included new displays in the main exhibit hall, classroom and Expedition Center, according to the museum. New stargazing video feeds and a solar camera were also installed. The facility’s three telescope domes received new roofing and were repainted and railing along the observation deck was replaced.

Tickets are $10 per person and are available for purchase here. No tickets are available for purchase on site. A paper or electronic receipt is needed for entry into the observatory.

In the event of overcast skies, tours and talks by experts will still be available. Visit Brazos Bend State Park’s website to purchase a separate park entrance reservation.

The George Observatory open to the public every Saturday at 3 p.m.

The George Observatory is located inside Brazos Bend State Park at 21901 FM 762 Rd. Needville, Texas. For more information, visit www.hmns.org or call (281) 242-3055.

Eagle Eye Observatory, Burnet

Modern life comes with its conveniences but it’s also got its fair share of stress. Chances are your phone’s constantly buzzing with breaking news, work emails, traffic alerts and the like. And even if you’ve only occasionally peeked at your phone, the stress of so many alerts and updates may have left you feeling a bit burnt out. An escape from the hubbub of city living could probably do you some good.

Enter Canyon of the Eagles, a resort and nature park nestled on 940 acres of rural Texas Hill Country land along the shore of Lake Buchanan. The resort promises beautiful scenery and diverse wildlife combined with breathtaking views, spectacular sunsets, and starry skies. The resort is in a dark-sky location situated some 1,100 feet above sea level. It’s considered “one of the best astronomic viewing sites” in the state, according to the resort. An on-site observatory equipped with several modern telescopes offers visitors an even closer look at the big and bright Texas night sky. The observatory is currently open to overnight guests only

The Eagle Eye Observatory is located at the Canyon of the Eagles Resort at 16942 Ranch Rd 2341 in Burnet, Texas. For more information, visit canyonoftheeagles.com.

The Houston Astronomical Society Observatory, Columbus

Houston’s resident astronomical society has its own dark site observatory some 90 miles west of Houston, near Columbus, Texas. The observatory itself houses three permanently mounted telescopes. There are also several bunkhouses on site for those too weary to travel home after a night of stargazing.

So, outsiders aren’t exactly welcome at this particular observatory. Only dues-paying members of the Houston Astronomical Society Observatory are permitted on the site, which is nicknamed Padhenge as a nod to the numerous concrete pads arranged in a circular pattern around the observation field. Annual memberships begin at $36.

For more information, visit astronomyhouston.org.

Sam Houston State University Observatory, Hunstsville

The Sam Houston State Observatory is located off campus at 39 Knox Circle in Huntsville, Texas. The observatory is open several nights per month, on various days of the week . All observatory meetings begin promptly at 8:00 PM. A schedule online lists the days it is open along with information about what viewers might be able to observe. Detailed directions to the observatory are available here. Real-time viewing conditions and 360° observatory camera are available here.

The Sam Houston State University Observatory is located at 39 Knox Cir in Huntsville, Texas. For more information, click here.

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About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.