It should come as no surprise that stargazing is a favorite past-time in Space City, and 45 miles from the bright lights of the Bayou City’s skyline, the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s historic George Observatory in Brazos Bend State Park offers a view of the night sky Houstonians just can’t get from their backyards these days.
But since 2019, the historic observatory, like the stars themselves, has been just out of reach while the facility underwent an extreme makeover. Luckily, that wait ended last month when the George—as it’s lovingly referred to by local amateur astronomers—welcomed guests for the first time in two years.
What led to the two-year closure? While the scenic beauty of the surrounding Brazos Bend certainly adds to the ambiance of any trip to the observatory, which has called the park home since it first opened in 1989, 30 years' worth of wind, rain, and floods had put some wear and tear on the facility.
“We decided that this was the perfect time to not only address those long-term physical infrastructure issues, but also take the opportunity to update the observatory for the next 30 years,” says Kavita Self, senior director of the HMNS at Sugar Land and the George Observatory.
And what an update it’s been.
In addition to new roofing, a fresh paint job on the three telescope domes, and replacement railings on the observation deck, there’s been a major design to the interior, including new exhibits on everything from light pollution to the moon, as well as an updated Expedition Center that will allow visitors to transform into scientists, engineers, or researchers as they perform space-like missions. There’s even new real-time cameras that allow for better social distancing onsite.*
And, of course, an in-person trip to the observatory is never complete without spending a bit of time at its 36-inch Gueymard research telescope—one of the country’s largest research-grade telescopes that is open to the public (we’re Space City, did you really expect anything less?).
“We have many experts on hand during stargazing nights to help visitors not only learn how to use their equipment, but how to also find an identify objects in the night sky,” says Self.
*A previous version of this story misidentified the use of the real-time cameras. It has now been corrected.