Eagle Eye Observatory near Burnet opens up skies to stargazers
SILVER CREEK — Jim Sheets probably doesn’t mind if you tell him he has his head in the stars. In fact, he might just invite you to join him up there. After all, as the resident astronomer at Canyon of the Eagles, Sheets helps introduce people of all ages to the wonders of the universe.
“I try to give people the best experience they can have,” he said.
To do this, Sheets holds programs Wednesday through Sunday starting at dusk at the resort’s Eagle Eye Observatory. During these nightly programs, Sheets opens up the rolling roof so folks can take in the entire sky. And without any nearby light pollution, the sky over northern Lake Buchanan and Burnet County reveals the solar system, the galaxy and the universe.
“It’s incredible out here,” said Alisha Workman of Canyon of the Eagles. “The nights are just amazing.”
During his regular programs, Sheets utilizes two telescopes: a 12.5-inch classic Plutonic refractor and a 16-inch Cassegrain telescope. He also uses his personal electronic telescope to open up the sky to visitors.
Sheets likes the rolling roof observatory compared to the dome style for educational purposes. With the rolling roof opened, people can take in the entire sky even if others are using the telescopes. He pointed out that with the dome style, you’re usually limited to the telescope itself.
The Eagle Eye Observatory is a joint venture between Canyon of the Eagles and the Austin Astronomical Society. The AAS usually holds programs twice a month at the observatory — one for the public and one for society members only.
Workman pointed out that when the AAS holds the public viewings, members often bring their own telescopes and set them up on the dozens of viewing stations located outside the Eagle Eye Observatory.
“And they love sharing their love for astronomy with others,” she said. “So if you can make it, it’s worth the trip.”
On the one night AAS holds a private viewing for society members, Sheets doesn’t close up shop. He just moves it to the Canyon of the Eagles Resort itself. During “Explore the Universe with Jim,” Sheets shares his insights of astronomy with attendees.
And at 2 p.m. Saturdays, Sheets holds Saturday Solar programs during which he and visitors use a 90mm solar telescope to study the surface of the sun.
“It’s only good for the sun,” he said. “By using it, you can see all the details of the surface of the sun.”
With the night programs, the weather plays a role in what people see. But even on cloudy nights, Sheets doesn’t close down the observatory. He uses a variety of other tools, including a TV screen, to share the secrets of the universe with people.
“You never want to stop learning,” Sheets said.
“It’s a great event for parents to bring their kids to as well,” she said. “It’s a fun, family outdoor activity.”
While the astronomy programs are free for Canyon of the Eagles guests, the public can enjoy the events for the a $6 day-use fee. Children 10 and under are admitted for free. Workman said people can come out earlier during the day and take advantage of other resort and nature park activities such as the trails or the reptile programs.
And August is Dog Days of Summer at the resort, so you can check out some of the special canine-related events. But while dogs are welcome at the resort, they are not allowed at the observatory. Also, turn off or leave your white-light flashlights at home.
The astronomy programs, with the exception of the Saturday Solar ones, start at dusk, which Sheets pointed out is when the last bit of light fades from the sky. But you can arrive before that, he said, as the sun starts dipping down during the various stages of twilight to give your eyes time to adjust to the coming dark.
Once you make a trip to the Eagle Eye Observatory, you might find yourself hooked on the heavens.
Go to canyonoftheeagles.com or call (512) 334-2070 for more information about the observatory and its programs. Canyon of the Eagles is located at 16942 RR 2341 near Burnet. If nobody is at the front-gate building, day-use fees may be paid at guest services at the main resort (follow the signs).
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