Otto Struve, the first director of McDonald Observatory, works at his desk at the University of Chicago. The Observatory was established with a bequest to the University of Texas, which had no astronomy department. Texas contracted with Chicago to operate the facility until the early 1960s. Struve headed Chicago's astronomy program and directed its Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin. [McDonald Observatory/University of Chicago]
When McDonald Observatory was dedicated in May of 1939, astronomers were only just beginning to understand how stars shine — by “fusing” elements in their cores to make heavier ones. That discovery opened up many more questions for astronomers to answer.
And answering those questions was the priority of McDonald’s first director, Otto Struve, a Russian émigré who also directed Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin. He talked about the research program for the Observatory’s new 82-inch telescope in a radio interview at the dedication.
STRUVE: We want to find out why it is that matter in the universe is concentrated in essentially two types of form. There are the ordinary stars like our own Sun. The other form of matter is finely divided dust and gas. And we at the McDonald Observatory hope to find out why it is that only these two forms have been created in our universe. In order to solve this problem and similar, related problems — for example the problem of the generation of energy by the stars — we have made this telescope as efficient as we knew how to serve as a photographic and spectrographic instrument.
The original McDonald telescope has helped answer some of those questions and many others about the stars. And it continues to probe the stars today — 75 years after its dedication.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2014
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.