The McDonald Observatory was originally endowed by the Texas banker William Johnson McDonald (1844–1926), who left about $1,000,000 – the bulk of his fortune – to the University of Texas to endow an astronomical observatory. The provision of the will was challenged by McDonald’s relatives, but after a long legal fight, the University received about $800,000 from the estate and construction began at Mt. Locke. The then-unnamed Otto Struve Telescope was dedicated on May 5, 1939, and at that time was the second largest telescope in the world. McDonald Observatory was operated under contract by the University of Chicago until the 1960s, when control was transferred to the University of Texas at Austin under the direction of Harlan J. Smith.
Research today at the McDonald Observatory encompasses a wide variety of topics and projects, including planetary systems, stars and stellar spectroscopy, the interstellar medium, extragalactic astronomy, and theoretical astronomy.
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