The stars at night are big and bright
Deep in the heart of Texas
The prairie sky is wide and high
Deep in the heart of Texas
Yes, that’s how the song goes, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, the truth is most of the time in Houston you can’t see many stars at all due to pervasive light pollution.
But did you know that there’s an observatory open to the public just an hour south of town where you can see those stars at night, big and bright? We bet you haven’t heard of it. In fact, most Houstonians have never heard of the George Observatory, even though it’s celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Our Healthy Living Houston Activity for August: Get Out and See Texas’ Stars at Night.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science (our neighbor across the street in here in the Museum District) operates the George Observatory, located about an hour south of downtown Houston, inside the boundaries of Brazos Bend State Park.
We recommend you get out of town and enjoy some fresh air in the park and take in some stargazing during some of the interesting astronomical events coming up. These two videos from NASA will give you a good overview of what you’ll be able to see in the August skies.
August’s Perseid Meteor Shower is a Great Time to Visit the Houston Museum of Natural Science’s George Observatory
There will be a special stargazing event the evening of Tuesday August 12 from 7 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. to watch the annual Perseid Meteor Shower, so you might want to check that out.
Saturdays nights during the summer are also a good bet as local astronomy club members will be available to chat with you about stargazing.
If you have an iPhone, you might also want to download the free ‘Planets’ app for iOS devices like iPhones and iPads.
It’s a very useful tool for learning about astronomy and it will help you get the most out of visiting the George Observatory at Brazos Bend State Park.
Just point your iPhone up towards the sky and the app identifies which stars and planets are visible from your location.
Other Things to See and Do When Visiting Brazos Bend State Park
The Houston Museum of Natural Science’s George Observatory is just one of the attractions within Brazos Bend State Park.
With more than 5,000 acres, Brazos Bend State Park offers Houstonians nearby access to biking, horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, fishing, birding, camping and of course, stargazing. The park is situated on the west bank of the Brazos River. It preserves some of the original coastal prairie as well as hardwood forests and marshes, making it an important bird refuge. More than 300 different species have been seen in the park. The Nature Center and Gift Shop are open on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
Brazos Bend State Park Entrance Fees
Adults and children over 12 years old are $7 per person; children under 12 are free.
Tickets for the George Observatory Telescopes are Sold On-Site, on a First-Come First-Served Basis
Once you are inside Brazos Bend State Park, you can drive to the parking area for the George Observatory. It’s a good ten or twenty minute walk to the observatory station; the walk takes you past a large, picturesque lagoon. With so much water around, we recommend wearing long pants, socks and maybe even long-sleeved shirts at dusk to fend off mosquitoes. Bring some Deet-based mosquito repellant as well.
Tickets to view through the big telescopes at the George Observatory are sold on a first-come, first-served basis in the George Observatory Gift Shop, located in the lower level. Telescope tickets cost $5 per person, and they are well worth it. It’s a good idea to bring cash in case there are problems with their credit card machine.
Combine Your Trip to the George Observatory with an Afternoon Visit to the Varner-Hogg Plantation
If you want to make a full day trip, you could start your outdoor adventure at the Varner-Hogg Plantation, which is located 20 miles further south. (See our related article for tips on touring the Varner-Hogg Plantation, Ima Hogg’s family home.)
After visiting the childhood home of Houston’s patron of the arts, Ima Hogg, you can head back north to discover the Brazos Bend State Park in the late afternoon and then stay into the evening for stargazing at the George Observatory. Or you can turn it into an overnight trip if you want to camp at one of Brazos Bend’s campsites.
Houston Museum of Natural Science George Observatory: Saturday Night Star Gazing
Houston Museum of Natural Science George Observatory: Special Perseid Event
Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer Organization: www.brazosbend.org (website)
Texas Parks and Wildlife: Brazos Bend State Park (website)
Texas Parks and Wildlife: Brazos Bend State Park Activity Guide (PDF)