McDonald Observatory is a 500-acre satellite campus of the University of Texas at Austin, located in the heart of the Davis Mountains of far West Texas. This world-class astronomical research facility is home to some of the world’s largest telescopes and darkest night skies. In recent years, the glow of nighttime lighting from increased oil and gas activity in and around the Permian Basin has begun to threaten these skies.

The Observatory is surrounded by seven counties, each of which have outdoor lighting ordinances designed to protect the night skies for ongoing astronomical observations. Additionally, each of the cities within these counties have their own municipal ordinances.

The traditional industry approach to lighting, i.e., “the brighter, the better,” typically results in excessive, even debilitating glare, and light spilling offsite, wasted into the surround area and into the sky. Dark sky friendly lighting practices serve the industry by directing light to where it is needed and wanted, and not into workers eyes.

In its “Notice to Operators,” issued in 2016 and again in 2019, the Railroad commission of Texas concludes “The solutions can be simple and cost effective and can actually improve nighttime visibility and increase worker safety.”

Primary Author / Conference Presenter:
William Wren
Special Assistant to the Superintendent
University of Texas McDonald Observatory
McDonald Observatory, Texas, USA